Despite naming a thirty-one man squad for a training camp as part of the pre-season build-up ahead of the UEFA Nations League campaign which kicks-off in September, national coach Devis Mangia stressed that the doors of the national team are open for all and that he will not close the door for anyone.
Thirty-one players started the training camp last Sunday which will run for two weeks with the exception of the Floriana, Hibernians and Valletta players who will be allowed to join their clubs on Sunday.
Addressing the media on Thursday, the former Italy Under-21 coach said: “The doors of the national team are open for all players who are eligible to play for Malta. I do not close the door for anyone. We have started this project after watching a lot of games between January and March, from the Premier League, First Division and the Youth League. Based on this, we made our decisions.”
Mangia said that the players selected were only based on technical decisions, stressing that the only other two players who could have joined the current squad were Luke Gambin and Rowen Muscat.
The national coach explained that Gambin who is currently on the books of Colchester United is recovering from an injury and therefore he thought it would make more sense to leave him to recover with the club. On the other hand, with regards to Rowen Muscat, Devis Mangia explained that the Valletta midfielder could not confirm whether he could attend this training right from the start and therefore, out of respect for the rest of the players, he opted to leave him out.
When asked regarding the presence of several young players, Mangia said that age was not a factor.
“After watching league matches, we chose the players. We made no distinction between the young players and the older ones. It is not a matter of good players and the ones which are not. It is more about the players which are more useful. We make technical decisions. These are not based on the age.”
With regards to the presence of Enrico Pepe, Amadou Samb and Mario Fontanella – who are set to become Maltese citizens on sporting merit. Mangia stressed that when choosing players, the decisions were purely technical.
“If a player has Maltese citizenship, or is of Maltese origins, and is available to play for Malta and deserves to be here, he would be selected.”
He added that countries like Germany, Switzerland and Italy have all made use of players not born in the respective countries but who however managed obtain a passport of that country.
“Their inclusion is meant to improve the level of the game.”
The Malta coach thanked the clubs for their support by allowing the players to join this training camp.
“In our preparation, we lost of lot of time as the friendly matches which were due to be played in March and June were called off. I thank the clubs for allowing the players to join the squad for a week or two. National teams usually do not have the luxury of having this amount of time for the players to stay together. Every coach loves to do as many training sessions with his players as possible. I’m positive and trying to make the most of this period of training.”
Asked whether the lack of friendly matches ahead of the first competitive match: the away clash with the Faroe Islands from the UEFA Nations League scheduled on September 3, Mangia admitted that the situation was not ideal as friendly matches could have given him more opportunities to watch the players in action but is satisfied with the players so far.
“I am happy with what I have seem so far. The players’ attitude, their commitment in training …. it is clear that they want to follow our project and that is very important for us. We cannot pretend to change everything in a couple of days. We will continue working hard to move forward and make up for that gap caused by the lack of friendly matches.”
Veteran defender Andrei Agius said that the first impression is a very positive one. He said he believed Maltese football was on the right track. Agius said he felt the biggest difference now was in the attitude.
“There is something which triggers the group. Everyone has to start from scratch. We have to prove ourselves. This is a new project. We really want to show that we want to play for the national team. We are honoured to play for the team. I am sure that with this new setup, we will do better. Please, give the younger players enough chance and in a few years, we will reap the fruits.”
The other members of the technical staff assisting Devis Mangia were presented during the same press conference. Mangia will be assisted by assistant coaches Davide Mazzotta and Gulliermo Giacomazzi, goalkeepers coach Mario Capece and fitness coaches Luca Pagani and Francesco Zanasi.
In the UEFA Nations League, Malta will play the Faroe Islands in Torshavn on September 3 and then host Latvia on September 6. The game away from home against Andorra will be played on October 10 and that against Latvia in Riga on October 13. Malta finally hosts Andorra on November 14 and the Faroe Islands on November 17.