MFA president to meet national team players Technical Director Robert Gatt explains what has been done in MFA’s 5-year plan
MFA President Norman Darmanin Demajo yesterday told reporters that following what happened and what was said after the England and Lithuania matches, he will be inviting the national team players to meet him.
He said this would be an occasion wherein the players will meet him alone and thus would be able to air their grievances or put suggestions as to what can be done to improve Maltese football.
Darmanin Demajo said that in his opinion, unless we have full time professionals it will still be difficult to compete. In fact, he outlined the fact that in this World Cup Group, it seems as if Malta’s part-time team is always facing a fully professional team, like those of Scotland, England and Lithuania.
He added that the association had been – for a long time – seeking foreign clubs to take on promising Maltese youngsters where these can play professional football. “Seventy seven players from abroad, particularly those living in England, Australia and New Zealand, were contacted to see whether they were interested in playing for the national team. Thirty one of them came here for a trial with us. Unfortunately only three made the grade, that is Luke Gambin, Samuel Magri and a former Under 21 international.
“I must say that our dream of having a number of players playing abroad has not happened. Four to five years after we started the project, indications are that we are still far from out targets and this for various reasons. Some of those who attended trials abroad were offered contracts, but for various reasons, those offers were turned down. Having seen this happen, we could have turned to ‘Plan B’, that is, to see whether it was possible to have Maltese players playing in a professional league here. But is that possible?” asked Darmanin Demajo.
He added: “However, I am glad to see our Under 21 side obtaining such good results in the European Championship qualifying Group. Let us not forget that the coach is a UEFA Pro licensed Maltese, Silvio Vella, and his team obtained three victories and two draws for a record 11 points. Considering that half the team is still eligible for the forthcoming two competitions, then we must admit that we can improve.
“I cannot say there has been no improvement, but we still have to solve a number of problems especially the one which haunts us every time we play as part-timers against full time professionals.
“The problem lies with the clubs as, quite unfortunately, they lack the necessary funds to turn professional. To see players turning professional, that is at least training morning and evening, is perhaps the smallest of problems as good contracts can be offered by the clubs, considering the wages they are paying their players today. The bigger problem concerns the future of such players. What will happen after their career as players comes to an end? Can the Maltese clubs guarantee these players a lucrative future as professional clubs do abroad?” he asked.
He went on to say that when he was elected to the top MFA post, he had said that the priority was to see the clubs having their own facilities, that is football pitches with a green surface. “We invested €25 million thanks to Bank loans, UEFA funds and the help of the government. Still, the clubs have no encouraging structure for the future.
Darmanin Demajo added: “We all wish to see our national team making progress, but unless we have a fully professional Premier League with the clubs and their set-up, including the players on a fully professional basis, we cannot ever imagine that we will be making the kind of progress we all wish to see.”
Before the end of the conference, Darmanin Demajo confirmed a report in yesterday’s Times of Malta that there was ‘overwhelming evidence’ that heavy bets were placed – even until 20 minutes from the end – that Malta would lose at least 2-0 against Lithuania.
MFA Technical Director Robert Gatt explained the MFA set-up, especially in the Youth sector.
When he was appointed, Gatt had started a five-year plan for Youth and Grassroots football. “Now we are in the process of starting a pilot project which we are calling “the basis for the future. At first we had 10 Premier clubs which were ready to invest a considerable amount of funds, but two have since dropped out. We sincerely hope the remaining eight clubs will be able to succeed,” he added.
Gatt said a lot of hard work had been done especially with regard to youngsters getting trials abroad. He said: “Twenty five had gone for trials, 12 of whom were offered a contract. At present, however, only four are abroad and these are in England, Catania, Frosinone and Rangers. I can reveal that a few days ago, I received a phone call from the secretary of a Premier League youth academy wishing to get information about young Maltese players who could join that club. I still do not know exactly what they want but we will do everything to see one or more of our players joining that academy in England,” said Gatt.
Among other things, Gatt praised the Coach Education Department saying that it was one of the best in the whole of Europe. “The results achieved are fantastic. So far we have six UEFA Pro licensed coaches and another 19 are undergoing this course which lasts 21 months with about 400 hours of hard work,” he said.
Norman Darmanin Demajo, right, and Robert Gatt, during yesterday’s press conference Photo: Joe Borg