122nd Malta ap­pear­ance loom­ing for Mif­sud

Malta Independent - - SPORT - Domenic Aquilina

Come this Fri­day, six­teen years af­ter his in­ter­na­tional de­but, Malta’s pro­lific striker Michael Mif­sud will in all prob­a­bilites be trudg­ing on the pitch at the same sta­dium to claim his122nd pres­ence with the shirt of his coun­try, Malta – the lat­est trade­mark in an il­lus­tri­ous na­tional-team ca­reer that kicked off against Al­ba­nia in Fe­bru­ary 2000 – a record num­ber of pres­ences which will be shared with David Carabott who has held this record of ap­pear­ances to date.

Malta will be tak­ing on Slove­nia in their fourth FIFA World Cup Euro­pean qual­i­fier from Group F at the Na­tional Sta­dium, kick off time 20:45 on Fri­day, Novem­ber 11.

With Mal­tese foot­ball in gen­eral very much in the news re­cently, the Malta In­de­pen­dent Sports Team met up with Michael just be­fore this im­por­tant match against the Slove­ni­ans. Malta are rooted bot­tom of Group F with three losses from as many matches with only one goal scored and nine con­ceded.

“We are all ready and sorted to go against Slove­nia on Fri­day at the Na­tional Sta­dium. As al­ways it will not be easy but we will be giv­ing our all to reg­is­ter a pos­i­tive re­sult. Please do al­low me here to thank all the Mal­tese sup­port­ers who come to sup­port the na­tional team on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. You are our twelfth man on the pitch. Play­ing be­fore a very en­cour­ag­ing home crowd at these im­por­tant matches gives us that ex­tra boost to do re­ally well” stated a con­fi­dent Mif­sud.

Asked upon what he still re­calls of his very first game for his coun­try in 2000 against Al­ba­nia, Michael stated that he was over ex­cited to hear that he would be a starter “Big ex­cite­ment! I was still very young – 17, but I had to­tal sup­port from my team mates. Play­ing your first match for your coun­try can al­ways be re­garded as a very big step in any foot­baller’s ca­reer. Yes I can still re­mem­ber that match. I was very happy to be play­ing for my coun­try at such a young age. The dis­s­a­point­ing part was that we lost 1-0 to the Al­ba­ni­ans”

A Sliema Wan­der­ers prod­uct, Mif­sud went on to don the jer­seys of big clubs like Kais­er­slautern in the Bun­desliga. He stayed with the Bun­desliga gi­ants from 2001 to 2004 af­ter which he re­joined Sliema. Lille­strom in the Nor­we­gian elite di­vi­sion was his next stop. But Michael’s big­gest ex­ploits will al­ways be re­mem­bered when he joined Coven­try City in 2007. He stayed un­til 2009 turn­ing out 86 times for the Sky Blues and scor­ing 16 times un­der Iain Dowie and ac­tual Wales head coach Chris Cole­man.

Many still re­mem­ber that cold evening at Old Traf­ford in Septem­ber 2007 when Coven­try sealed, against all odds, a 2-0 shock Car­ling League Cup win over the great Manch­ester United. Span­ish in­ter­na­tional Ger­ard Pique, then with the Manch­ester club and now en­joy­ing il­lus­tri­ous fame with FC Barcelona, had no an­swer to Mif­sud’s two famous goals against the red devils. Since then Coven­try have failed to reach sim­i­lar highs.

The big fol­low­ing Mif­sud still en­joys at Coven­try was re­flected clearly when Mif­sud trudged on the il­lus­tri­ous Wem­b­ley Sta­dium pitch as a sec­ond half sub­sti­tute in Malta’s re­cent 2-0 de­feat against Eng­land on Oc­to­ber 8. Avid Coven­try fans im­me­di­ately took to so­cial me­dia to show their re­spect to a great foot­baller and a great man - “Mif­sud comes on for Malta. What an ab­so­lute God that man is” posted one fan on twit­ter. “I don’t care. I would love to see Mif­sud score against Eng­land” posted an­other.

Dubbed “Mos­quito” by the Sky Blues fans, Mif­sud was all set to sign for Bris­tol City next, but the move broke down and the tal­ented Sliema man ended up on loan to Barns­ley be­fore a re­turn back to his na­tive Malta with Val­letta, pick­ing up a Premier League cham­pi­onship medal in the process. Qormi was his next des­ti­na­tion be­fore mov­ing on again to Val­letta where he re­mained un­til 2011.

In 2013 he moved to Aus­tralia’s top foot­ball di­vi­sion – the ALeague with Mel­bourne Heart – but was soon back to Malta yet again with Val­letta.

Since his move back to Malta life has not been easy for Mif­sud. Ghedin opted for Al­fred Ef­fiong as his main striker up front – mean­ing that Malta’s pro­lific striker had to set­tle for a sub­sti­tute’s role on the bench. He sub­se­quently suf­fered the same fate with his club Val­letta but never gave up “I am a fighter all the way. I keep on train­ing in my best pos­si­ble man­ner in or­der to demon­strate that I am not giv­ing in eas­ily, that I am al­ways knock­ing on the door. In other words I make my pres­ence felt. But of course this is foot­ball and one has to re­spect the fi­nal de­ci­sion of the coach”

Re­cently Mif­sud clawed his way back to the Val­letta first eleven af­ter a series of matches which saw the ex­plo­sive striker in fine phys­i­cal form “I feel very fit in­deed. Phys­i­cally I am very good, as al­ways I take up train­ing with my usual pro­fes­sional ap­proach. I also find time to train by my­self, but train­ing with my club Val­letta has helped me a lot. It keeps me ac­tive and alive. I do be­lieve that de­spite my age I still have loads to give to lo­cal foot­ball in gen­eral. I still have the tenac­ity and the drive to keep me mov­ing for­ward”

Proof of this ar­rived in Septem­ber 2015 when Michael came off the bench to claim his 40th goal for his coun­try in a UEFA Euro­pean Qual­i­fier against Azer­bai­jan at the Na­tional Sta­dium in Malta’s 2-2 draw.

Asked what were his best mo­ments of his il­lus­tri­ous ca­reer he grinned “There were quite a few. When you work hard, and do big sac­ri­fices, in turn you see re­sults com­ing your way. Well those are the re­wards which you reap. I have no re­grets in what I did – maybe I could have done even bet­ter, but if I had to start all over again I would do ev­ery­thing the way I did!” smiled Mif­sud over his cof­fee af­ter one his train­ing ses­sions with Malta this week.

“I still have one a half more years to go with Val­letta. My ob­jec­tive is that of keep on do­ing well, giv­ing my all al­ways and at all times and then see what comes next. The nice things about foot­ball is that you can­not pre­dict what can hap­pen even to­mor­row. I do not even think about re­tire­ment at all be­cause I feel fit and I feel good and that is the most im­por­tant thing in life. All I think about is how I can help my team mates and Val­letta to do well and maybe win more hon­ours. I want to go on as much as pos­si­ble do­ing what I love do­ing most – play­ing foot­ball at the high­est level!”

Mif­sud also spoke in gen­eral about what he thinks would get Mal­tese foot­ball mov­ing for­ward to bet­ter re­sults and plac­ings. “Ev­ery­one knows that fa­cil­i­ties are lack­ing in Malta. Take Val­letta, cham­pi­ons of Malta. We still do not have our own ground where we can train. On the other hand I do be­lieve that grass­roots is the base to a solid struc­ture in get­ting Mal­tese foot­ball in gen­eral mov­ing for­ward. I can con­firm that we have tal­ent in Malta and the mes­sage I want to give to as­pir­ing young­sters willing to make the grade to top level foot­ball is that where there is a will there is a way. Noth­ing is im­pos­si­ble. Just keep on striv­ing and be­lieve in your abil­i­ties and you will get there”

Malta’s il­lus­tri­ous foot­baller con­fessed what his feel­ings will be if he trudges on the pitch of the Na­tional Sta­dium on Fri­day against Slove­nia and reg­is­ter his 122nd pres­ence for his coun­try.

“It means so much. A big sat­is­fac­tion to have reached this mile­stone per­son­ally. A per­sonal re­ward for all the hard work and big sac­ri­fices I have been through dur­ing all these years. Life of a foot­baller is not easy. God willing Fri­day it will be a day to re­mem­ber”com­mented Mif­sud clearly still brim­ming with over ex­cite­ment just like when he claimed his first ap­pear­ance for Malta against Al­ba­nia on Fe­bru­ary 10, 2000.

And a goal for Malta too?! We ex­claimed! - “Why not? That would be the ic­ing on the cake!” con­cluded Mif­sud with a nice grin.

March, 2010 - Michael Mif­sud cel­e­brates scor­ing for Malta in the 2-1 home loss to Fin­land. Pho­tos: Domenic Aquilina

Mif­sud sig­nals his 40th goal for his coun­try af­ter scor­ing against Azer­bai­jan in Septem­ber of 2015.

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