Santa Lucia focus on youths as club embarks on long-term plans

After mainly being focussed on struggling against relegation over the past three years, Santa Lucia embarked on a new long-term plan which includes the appointment of a new technical staff, young promising players apart from a project which will see the transformation of the Santa Lucia football ground into a sports and education hub.

Addressing a press conference on Wednesday, Santa Lucia president Robert Micallef highlighted the work being done by the club, adding that this will be a very challenging year considering that four teams will be relegated.

“For a club like Santa Lucia, who for the past three years has been fighting against relegation, it is a big challenge, but we are looking forward. We will do our best to keep our status which is our first objective.”

Micallef said that after the end of the last season’s Premier League campaign, the club started working hard ahead of the coming season.

“Since day one, we have been working very hard but wanted to work differently. We sat down with members of the committee and evaluated the past three seasons we played in the Premier League. We wanted to invest and look into a different way of working.”

“Before we use engage technical staff on yearly contract and therefore the focus would be on the coming season but this year, because we wanted to engage in a long-term strategy, before starting to work on the squad and the individual players, we wanted to make sure to invest in the right technical staff. Maybe we took long to take a decision on who to engage but we managed to secure our first choice, Alessandro Zinnari as head coach.”

Apart from the team manager, Julian Mallia, almost the rest of the technical staff is new with Alessandro Longo as assistant coach, Brian Bartolo as coach of the Youths team, Matthew Farrugia as goalkeepers coach, Andrew Pace as physical trainer, David Mamo as physio and Dotine Deguara as kit manager.

“The majority of the technical staff are on a long-term contract because we want to embark on a new strategy and philosophy which would take us, now that we have the outline development permit of the commercialisation project, we want to make sure that we have a strategy which would lead us to this unique project which will see the transformation of our football ground into a sports and education hub. This was one of the most important decisions – to have the technical staff who will be available to work on the long-term and build, not just a senior squad but we start working also on the strategy of the club and also build the fundamentals which is the youth sector,” said Micallef.

The squad includes sixteen new players, namely three goalkeepers Francisco Celio da Paz Silva, Samuele Duzzi Nulli and Dominic Vella, Patrick Ramos, Arthur Vieira Araujo, Gonzalo Virano, Carlos Gabriel ‘Hulk’, Tatsuro Nagamatsu, Temitope Abraham Ojo, Evandro Gomes, Lucas Senna Silva, Wagner Alves, Mattias Ellul, Sven Xerri, Jed Valletta and Steve Pisani.

“We have a mix of young promising players and experienced ones and definitely foreigners who can make the difference. I think the mix of these players together with the ones who are still with the club can deliver what we want to achieve this season.”

“The club’s philosophy has always been to invest in young promising talent. In past four years, we were not always in position to do this due to relegation issues to have a squad which could help us remain in premier league but this year, we made it a point, also thanks to the technical staff and the experience of coach Alessandro Zinnari to focus on engaging young Maltese talent.”

He added that Mattias Ellul, Jamie Carbone and Matthias Vella signed three-year contracts while Sven Xerri, Jed Valletta and Adam Bradshaw joined the club on loan.

“This all reflects philosophy we want to achieve and then we wanted to mix this with the experience of players like Steve Pisani. We also brought ten new foreign players who will definitely leave their mark.”

“Our ultimate target is to have a philosophy which will lead us to achieve of Santa Lucia football ground.
We are now working on the full development permit, and we are quite close to submitting the application in order to have the full development permit approved and kick start the project with the first phase of the construction. Hopefully this would not take long. We aim to have the documentation and necessary applications ready by end of this year and therefore by the beginning of next season, works should start. Then it would take two to three years for the project to be completed.

The club’s project includes a full-size football pitch with a spectator stand, media area and control room, a clubhouse, a football school, sports hostel, underground parking, landscaped public open areas, an indoor swimming pool, a gym and spa centre, dining and catering areas, a conference space, a childcare centre, small scale retail spaces, an administration block and a hybrid resource centre.

“It will be no easy ride for sure because all teams got stronger during the close season. We will take game by game and with the organisation that we have now, inside and outside the pitch, we achieve what we aim for.

New coach Alessandro Zinnari joins the club after serving as Malta FA technical coordinator and coach for the Malta Under-18/19 teams.

“We tried to build team with a mix of players, starting from Maltese players rather than from the foreigners. I believe that a good Maltese player has nothing less than a foreign player and we achieved our goal by signing young players who are or were part of the national teams. I believe they could contribute well throughout the season. “

“With regards to foreigners, we went straight for some players after watching them on videos and meeting them in person. We tried to have one Maltese and one foreigner for each position to be able to choose one from the two.

Zinnari said that Alessandro Longo will serve both as assistant coach and match analyst.

“This will be a difficult season. Having four teams relegated means it will not be easy. We start with three games against Floriana, Hibernians and Balzan before meeting Naxxar. We therefore face immediately teams with great history and good coaches. All the teams, this season, did something to improve the level of their squad.”

Zinnari added that he would be sharing his experience within the club’s youth sector. Robert Micallef said that apart from participating in the Youth League Section B, this year, Santa Lucia will be participating in the Under-17, in collaboration with another club, and Women’s Under-16 and hopefully in more age groups next year.

Captain Jurgen Pisani said that the club created a structure, engaged the new coach and technical staff and together with the new players in the squad, they have been working hard together for the past seven weeks and was satisfied with the pre-season.

“It will be a difficult season, but we believe that with the quality of the players we have, we will first aim at avoiding relegation and then take match by match and see how it ends.

On the other hand, Steve Pisani said that at first he was a bit sceptic about joining the club but once he saw the holistic project, he believed in it and agreed to join. He added that having worked with Zinnari before made it easier for him to choose.

“I am really happy with the atmosphere at the club. I believe we have a competitive squad. It will be a difficult campaign but we will go on the pitch, believing that we could make it.

The Santa Lucia president said that having a team playing in the Premier League entails a big sacrifice, especially for a small club and without sponsors it would be very difficult and the burden was increasing from one year to another. He said that discussions between the Malta Premier league and the Malta Football Association are focussed on raising the standard of the Premier league which would hopefully lead to an increase in the revenue for clubs. He added that discussions will hopefully be concluded soon.

Micallef thanked the sponsors, namely Multivend, Avanza, Elmo Insuriance, Levissima, Mirya Limited, RS Construction the supporters group – the Yellow Army and technical sponsor Capelli Sport.