Inħobb il-Futbol Foundation focussed on increasing participation

Focus on increasing participation while establishing a clear pathway from grassroots to elite football is one of the main objectives of the Inħobb il-Futbol Foundation, which was set-up by the Malta Football Association last year.

The Foundation is the development arm which will implement a new performance strategy for youth development. It focuses on three different aspects which should lead to greater participation, the pathway from grassroots to elite level, and player welfare. The Foundation relies on the support of the Association, the Government, and businesses to fund its projects involving grassroots, youths and women’s football, through the various technical, educational, health and inclusivity programmes.

The Inħobb il-Futbol Foundation has been entrusted with the organisation of the BNF National Youth Leagues and some of its projects include the Regional Football Hubs, the Women’s Football Development – Academy, the Fun Fit Football (Primary Schools), the UEFA Playmakers by Disney, the Futsal and Beach Soccer – Youth Development and the Football Social Responsibility.

The board is made up of chairman Gareth Sciberras, vice-chairman Michael Galea, secretary Dr Neville Gatt, Sharon Costantino, Ray Vella, Paul Galea and Pippo Psaila. Joe Cassar sits on the board representing the Youth FA while Bjorn Vassallo and Dr Angelo Chetcuti represent the Malta FA.

Photo: Copyright domenic aquilina

IFF Chairman Gareth Sciberras explained that the Foundation was one of the proposals in the Malta FA strategy which was launched last year. It was set up mainly to increase participation not necessarily in football but also in sports in general, create more room for inclusion and create a clear development pathway for elite football.

Sciberras said the Foundation embarked on a number of projects and initiatives and these are already reaping fruit in a relatively short time. He said the board is made up of a number of people coming from different backgrounds who all have vast experience in the game as players, coaches or administrators and added that the Foundation aims at being trustworthy and inclusive while focussing on teamwork and sportsmanship.

Gareth Sciberras thanked Bjorn Vassallo for showing faith in the members of the board and all those who are making these projects possible, in particular Kurt Formosa and Ivan Woods.

Malta FA General Secretary Dr Angelo Chetcuti said that following the launch of the Malta FA strategy early in 2021, he was pleased with what has been achieved over the past eighteen months despite the difficulties posed by the COVID restrictions which saw the season interrupted last year and a number of initiatives could therefore not get underway.

Dr Chetcuti said that Malta FA President Bjorn Vassallo wanted to focus on the technical aspect for the first four years, with the Foundation representing the investment in the long-term. He said that board is full of experienced people and the Foundation aims at making the most of their experience.

The Malta FA General Secretary said the Foundation shares the idea that it is objective-driven and believes that the future is bright – both for the Foundation as an entity and for the outcome of its work – improvement in the level of the game in all aspects and especially in the pathway which takes a boy or girl from the grassroots to being an elite player.

Dr Angelo Chetcuti concluded by thanking pioneers of football development like Fr Hilary who introduced the idea of Inħobb il-Football, adding that that this was an exciting ongoing project and judging from its first year, it could only get better.

Grassroots Manager Ivan Woods spoke about the two of the main projects – the Fun Fit Football which was launched in February and the Regional Hubs.

With regards to the Fun Fit Football, the project managed to enter almost all Primary Schools from Year 1 to Year 6. It aims to rekindle the love for the game in young children which would in turn lead to increased participation.

On the other hand, with regards to the Regional Football Hubs, this was not only aimed at identifying talent but developing this talent. He said the Inħobb il-Futbol Foundation worked hand in hand with the MFA Technical Centre.

The Regional Hubs started holding training sessions for the Under-14 (born 2008) category in September. Around sixty players coming from ten nurseries started attending the twice-weekly sessions and by the end of April, a squad which will form the Under-14 national team was selected. Preparation started in May and will continue until mid-June when they will be making their international debut, playing two friendly matches against Lithuania away from home.

The Under-12 (2010) and Under-13 (born 2009) had their first sessions in December. Over one hundred players from twenty nurseries were selected, attending sessions twice a week.

There are nine staff coaches in the Regional Hubs. These coaches started scouting in July, watching over 260 matches apart from training sessions and festivals in order to identify talent.

Woods added that apart from the technical and tactical aspects, the foundation also focuses on the children’s holistic development through nutrition sessions and sports psychology, for example.

Staff coaches from the Regional Hubs try to maintain an excellent relationship with nurseries during visits and discuss with their coaches with regards to the young players’ development.

IFF Chief Executive Officer Kurt Formosa said that the Foundation wants to make sure to monitor all ongoing projects. He said that after organising the Under-17, Under-15 and Under-14 leagues, the Foundation will be organising the Under-13 competitions as well. Formosa said that although this was a learning curve, he was confident the Foundation can deliver on that front.

Apart from the Fun Fit Football, the Foundation was aggressive in trying to increase participation by both boys and girls. For the latter, the Foundation has the UEFA Playmakers by Disney which introduce the game of football to the girls, aged five to eight, through story-telling based on Disney movies. For girls, there is also an after-school project for a number of primary and middle schools.

Kurt Formosa added that the Foundation is trying to focus also on Futsal and Beach Soccer, encouraging boys and girls at an early age to play Futsal, not only through the Academy but also through a number of events and this will also be the case for Beach Soccer this summer.

The IFF Chief Executive Officer said that the Foundation was quite active with regards to EU-funded projects with a number of projects underway ranging from inclusion projects for refugees and Train the Trainer projects.