The bureaucracy involved in trying to kick-start the project which would make the club self-sustainable and attracting young promising players to come to play in Malta were the biggest difficulties being faced by Hamrun Spartans Joseph Portelli.
Addressing a press conference at the Giardini Lambrosa on Wednesday, Portelli warned that he would give up on the project unless he is given the go-ahead by the end of the coming year.
“Winning the league and the trophy year in year out is not enough as in a few years’ time, you will get fed up. We are here to write history. Our main objective is reaching the group stage of a UEFA competition. To achieve this, just winning the title means that you are still not strong enough for a good run in Europe … in the group stage of the UEFA Europa League.”
“There are difficulties in trying to achieve this. Foreigners under the age of 25 are not willing to move here, even if paid better salaries than they have, as they feel they cannot promote themselves as much. This problem is something which I am trying to solve.”
“One way is owning a foreign team in a lower division in Italy and England or another country, with players being able to move from Hamrun to the other club. Young players from the club could be offered the chance to move to the foreign club and others move in the opposite direction. You would also avoid the interference of agents who try to ‘steal’ your players as you can still offer them the chance to move to a foreign club.”
“This is not easy as to take over a team in a lower division in Italy, for example, still costs several millions. I think this is the only way a Maltese club makes a breakthrough by exchanging players between the two clubs. “
Joseph Portelli stressed on the need for the club to become self sustainable.
“An agreement over a 49 to 65 year lease of the land where the Victor Tedesco Stadium is located should be signed in the coming weeks. But then, hopefully, we will not find closed doors like Riccardo Gaucci found as we are not ready to wait several years for this project.”
“The project is not to earn profit for myself but to leave the club self sustainable. The project has already been planned and designed. It was scaled down in order to fit more in the area but we cannot wait three to four years to receive the go-ahead. If not given by the end of next year, this would not be carried out.”
“It takes three year to finish a project and therefore we cannot afford three years before we get the go-ahead. This is a genuine case where we want to help a football club. We appeal to the authorities to help clubs. With such projects, the clubs would have much larger budgets. The law (for the commercialisation of sports facilities) was meant to make clubs self sustainable. Help us help our clubs. This would help raise the level of the local game,” added Portelli.
President Joseph Portelli said there were three hundred volunteers working for the club. He thanked those who were already involved in the club who helped the current administration achieve this.
He said that the club will now focus more on the youth sector and will work harder to attract more young players who would eventually play for the senior squad.
With regards to the past season, Portelli said “We did a great job but unfortunately, due to UEFA regulations, we were denied the chance to play in the UEFA Champions League. This was my biggest disappointment. We fought hard and sought the best lawyers, spending a lot of money because we felt we should not pay for a mistake committed seven years ago. I believe that we did not deserve this. Obviously we are all out against any sort of corruption but a mistake was committed. We were the ones to pay it. We lost a lot of money … around one million but it is not only a question of money, but the prestige of playing in the Champions League.”
“Last year, our objective was a top four finish, now win the championship and hopefully the double but this is not enough. To reach the level we aim for, we need to win all matches comfortably. “
Mentioning Friday’s opening match against Valletta, Portelli said he had huge respect for the Citizens and is well aware that they would give any team a hard time. He thanked the authorities for making it possible to have 1,400 spectators for the match and hoped that by the end of the season, the team could play in front of a full stand.
Portelli added that this season, the club doubled the sponsorships despite the fact that the Spartans missed out on participation in the UEFA competition. He said this was thanks to the social media team who managed to attract these sponsors to the club.
The Hamrun president said the budget for this season was quite high as meant to improve the level of the team ahead of the planned UEFA Champions League commitments. However, he stressed that for the team to be prepared to reach the group stage of a UEFA competition, the team has to be much stronger than the rest of the teams in the domestic league in order to be strong enough win with maximum points.
He added that despite the absence of newly-installed captain Matthew Guillaumier due to an injury in the first part of the season, coach Mark Buttigieg has a bigger squad at his disposal.
“You win honours only with hard work. We expect only hard work from the players. Such games (as the one against Valletta) keep you fully focussed to achieve I had assumed that in a matter of months would be given the go ahead
Coach Mark Buttigieg said that the main objective was to continue building on what the club had achieved.
Apart from coach Stefan Sultana, team manager David Camilleri, goalkeepers coach Reuben Debono and match analyst Glendon Refalo, the technical staff was strengthened with Emerico Pellegrini as physical trainer, Virgilio Zaino as physiotherapist and Aaron Ancilleri as masseur. Buttigieg thanked Portelli as this was something which had been promised before and done despite the lack of input of cash from participation in the UEFA Champions League.
The Hamrun coach said the squad has been strengthened with new players and the bulk of the players who played an important role last year were retained.
Among the new signings are Malta international attacking midfielder Luke Gambin and goalkeeper Henry Bonello, Gozitan midfielder Christian Mercieca, Estonian defender Nikita Baranov, French forward Faissal El Bakhtaoui apart from the return of Franklin Sasere.
Buttigieg admitted it was an extremely long pre-season and it was not easy due to the uncertainty related to participation in European football. However, he said, the players showed maturity and are now fully focussed on the league campaign.
“It is not easy to confirm yourself once you are at the top. However we have the potential to confirm ourselves among the challengers once again,” concluded Mark Buttigieg.
Chief Executive Officer Marcel Bonnici said that last year, the club could only promise a vision and a way of how to do things but one year later, the administration transformed the club, also leading it to the championship, and the way how people look at Maltese football.
“Expectations and pressure are now larger. Last year, we aimed for a top-four finish but now we have to defend the title which is a much bigger challenge. There is much more pressure but this is something positive which means that what we did last year, we need to improve on it.”
Bonnici spoke about the club’s managerial structure and said the level of organisation is now appreciated by all. He mentioned the new anthem, written by Mro. Paul Borg and the presentation of the BOV Premier League trophy at the Victor Tedesco Stadium as two examples which show the way Hamrun do things. He said that behind this is a large team of people who have one aim – that the club improves in all aspects.
The Hamrun CEO said that with the launch of website and Tik Tok platform, the club is the only local club present on five different platforms which should be able to attract a much wider audience.
Marcel Bonnici said that for the coming season, after maximising the sports brand identity, Hamrun now hope to widen spectrum, based on three pillars – a sports identity, business and commercial brand identity and a social brand identity – a programme of CSR, inviting companies to be the club’s partners in order to give something back to society.
Bonnici added that the club will continue to improve the level of merchandising and the number of club members, hoping to achieve 1,500 members by the end of the season
Hamrun Spartans are also aiming for technical collaboration with a foreign club for the club’s academy.
Meanwhile former Hamrun Spartans Academy chairman Noel Attard was presented with a memento by Hamrun Spartans president Joseph Portelli after 34 years of service to the youths of Hamrun within the nursery. Efrem Buttigieg has now been appointed as his successor as new chairman of the Academy which will be called Hamrun Spartans Football School of Excellence. Daikin was unveiled as business partner of the academy.