National coach Devis Mangia stressed on the need to avoid raising expectations too much despite recent performances and results. Mangia was speaking after the national team call-up ahead of the European Qualifiers against Croatia on November 11 and against Slovakia three days later, both matches scheduled at the National Stadium.
The qualifying campaign was quite positive so far with five points obtained from eight matches thanks to a 3-0 win over Cyprus at Ta’ Qali in September and two draws away from home against Slovakia in March and against Cyprus last month.
Photos: Copyright domenic aquilina/Malta FA
Since his appointment as Malta national coach, the team showed improvement as his arrival brought a change in the mentality of the players.
“From when we started in July 2020, there was a lot of improvement. This is evident. As regards the mentality, this is something I like because this has to be our mentality.”
However, Mangia was quick to point out that despite the positive results and performances, this was not the right time to raise expectations.
“We always said that this is a project … this is not the moment to raise the expectations. This is not the right moment to put pressure. We are still in a period in which we want to renew. We put in some young players that need to gain experience. When you are trying to gain experience, you will definitely make mistakes but this is normal. When I say that we do not have to raise the expectations, what I mean is not to go up and down from a confidence point of view. We are trying to do this but to achieve this, all the stakeholders, all the people involved – the MFA, the media, the supporters – who I would always want to thank for their big support as we saw in Larnaca – must work together.”
“This is a process and at this moment of this process, we do not have to raise the expectations. We will definitely do our best, as usual, but this is not the moment to expect too much. The right moment will arrive because we have to work and improve. We have to work in the youth sector to create opportunities for other young players and step by step, we will arrive. In one year, you cannot change everything. We need time. This is what happened in other countries who were not so good and then they managed to achieve something. You need to have a clear project and build.”
When asked regarding his thoughts about the level of the domestic league, the Malta coach said, “In general, yes because the level improved which is directly connected with the number of teams in the Premier League. What I expect is that the intensity can increase but this is something all of us can see and know that we can improve. One has to start from the players who are here (with the national team) as they have the luck to go and play international games and you all know that to play these kind of international games, you need to take a step forward with regards to intensity, technical aspect. We can improve. The situation is better but we can improve.”
“We have to improve not only at senior level and we also start to think at youth level that we have to improve. They need to play against players of a good level, to play more games that need a different kind of performance. We need to help them increasing the number of games at international level. Then if there are any players who have the possibility to go to play abroad, that is even better.”
“To increase the level of the competition, we can do something. To do a reform, you have to speak with all stakeholders and share our ideas to find the right solution – do something to improve the level of our young players and give them the possibility to grow. This is our target as Technical Centre but I think that it is also an objective for all those people involved in football.
The Malta national coach said that if the number of foreign players in the Premier League is not increased, there is the possibility to do something for the youngsters and give them the chance to show their skills, adding that he had ideas but needed to discuss this with the administration.
Mangia added that one step in this direction would be for clubs to give young players more playing time. He said that apart from Paul Mbong, Shaun Dimech, Alex Satariano and Adam Magri Overend who are now with the senior side, there are only seventeen Premier League players eligible to play for the Under-21 national team and only three of them played more than 180 minutes in all in the first five games. Nine of these seventeen players played less than ninety minutes.
“With this number, it is clear that we have a problem. We need to find a solution for the Under-21 national team. If we see what happens in other countries, for example, in Italy, fifty eigth players eligible for the Under-21 national team played in the Serie A. This is something we have to work on because if not, we would have a big problem.”
“The situation with regards to the next edition of the Under-21 competition, starting in June, for players born 2002/2003, the situation is worse. The future is theirs. I speak about the national team but we have to speak about Maltese football. If we do not do something in this direction, we have a problem to select players. We are not speaking of the quality, even the selection is a problem.”
“The born 2004 never played an international game because of the pandemic but not only; with the born 2005 and 2006, in my opinion we are working in the right direction.”
“When we see good players we call them, we give them the chance. Then they have to confirm. We have to work together in this direction, knowing that the youngsters will do mistakes but we have to work to give them the possibility to grow. This is the direction to give the young players the chance to gain experience and not arrive at the age of 27 or 28 with just five games at international level. I hope that the young players would arrive at fifty or sixty at that age.”
“Last week, I met (Malta Under-21 coach) Gilbert (Agius) to see what we can do. He called three players born 2003 but the competition is for born 2000-2001. Gaining experience is OK but step by step. We are obliged to choose younger players.”
“In one year and a half, we will host the UEFA Under-19 Championship. One thing is Under-17 and another is Under-19. These players are ready to play first team. We have to do something. We should not focus only on the tournament and stop. In the past, they did something for the Under-17 tournament. I am trying, with my staff, to do something which can continue … not something focussed on just one event that is important and we have to prepare well for. We have to do something to give a future which is inline with strategy of the MFA and the vision of the president.”
Meanwhile with regards to the choice of players in the squad ahead of these final two qualifiers, Mangia said “The door is always open. There are players who were not in the last call-up and now are here and others who were here and are not here now. One of my duties is to take decisions and in this call-up, I decided like this. All the players have to know that the doors are open but they also know that if they are not here means that, in our opinion, they can do something better to win back their place in the squad.”
St. Johnstone defender James Brown who withdrew from the squad ahead of the last two matches due to an injury after receiving his first Malta national team call-up was among the thirty players selected by the former Italy Under-21 national coach. However Mangia revealed that his inclusion in the final squad is still in doubt.
“James had another physical problem. We are now in a situation where we are in contact with his club to understand what is this injury. Probably this is something related to the injury he had last time. We are waiting for the results of some tests he did yesterday. Then we will take a decision. If he is available, he will join us. But we have to wait.”
As regards Alex Satariano who is failing to get playing time in the Italian Serie B with Frosinone, Mangia said “Alex has to be happy and proud of himself because he had the possibility of earning a contract with a Serie B club in Italy and this is only because he deserved it. When you enter in a new situation, you have to adapt a bit and understand.”
Mangia said that Frosinone plans changed throughout summer as towards the end of the transfer market, they had the possibility to bring some players from clubs that had folded, in particular two players from Chievo.
“This situation closed the space a bit for Alex. But he has to remember that he did a very good pre-season. Now he has to continue to work and I know that he is working very well and the club is happy with his behaviour and performance in training. I do not know what will happen in January as he has three years of contract. Even if he is not playing, I think that he can give a good contribution here.”