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Watch: Mangia concerned by lack of preparation ahead of Nations League opener

Devis Mangia was put in charge of the national teams to try and revive the country’s fortunes on the international scene. The COVID-19 pandemic has inevitably hampered his preparations for next month’s Nations League matches and the Italian told Valhmor Camilleri that his technical project needs time before it could yield dividends… 

Devis Mangia was appointed as the new national teams’ head coach last January but his time on the training pitch with his players has been curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Video: Chris Sant Fournier

In fact, the Italian coach had a working plan in place to ensure he arrives for next month’s UEFA Nations League qualifiers against the Faroe Islands and Latvia with a settled squad after lining up friendly internationals against Gibraltar and Azerbaijan in March.

However, those plans were thrown in disarray with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic which saw competitive football in Malta suspended since March 12.

Throughout the last eight months, Mangia had just a two-week training camp with the national team players in Ta’ Qali to introduce his football philosophy to his players.

The former Italy U-21 coach said that although he doesn’t like to find any alibis, he admitted that having his working plan severely disrupted ahead of their Nations League opener in the Faroe Islands.

“The last five months have been quite frustrating,” Mangia said.

“During the time football was stopped due to COVID-19 we continued to work hard but unfortunately we couldn’t do anything on the training pitch. Our plans for March and June have both been hampered by the pandemic. I’m grateful to the clubs who gave us the opportunity to work with the players for a bit less than two weeks.

“I don’t like to hide behind any alibis, but we lost five months of work on the pitch that would have helped us so that we get to know the players better and now we have to complete the work in far shorter period.”

Mangia said that he was impressed by the positive attitude and application shown by his players during the recent training camp.

“During the recently-held stage that was a great atmosphere among the players,” the former Italy U-21 coach said.

“The players showed great application in all the work we have put in. We have presented our tactical ideas to them but obviously everyone needs time to adapt.

“However, it was a very important exercise, during which we had the opportunity to get to know better the players and for the latter to start understanding better our philosophy.”

Asked to identify what characteristics he looks for in a player for the national team, he said that he gives a lot of importance to the character of the player.

“First of all, I want to make it clear that the doors of the national team will be open for everyone,” Mangia said.

“As I said before, who will not be called in our squad in August doesn’t mean that he will not feature in October and the same applies vice-versa. We will continue to follow the progress also of all those players who will not be selected.

“Since January, we have watched many matches, not only from the Premier League but also from the first, second, third divisions and even youth leagues.

“When analysing a player, I give a lot of importance to his character. He needs to have important values that are fundamental to create a strong group.

“From a football aspect, we are looking at players who are capable of playing ‘total football’. I don’t like players who are specialized in one area only. But I was pleased with the players attitude.

“Now it’s important to be patient because to build something you need time to give the opportunity to the players to grow even through their mistakes. If one sees a young player with a good attitude committing a mistake, one has to be patient and give them all the support and help for them to learn from their errors.”

Malta defender Zach Muscat (centre) during the national teams’ training camp last month. Photo: Domenic Aquilina.

Malta will open their commitments in UEFA Nations League next month when they travel to the Faroe Islands on September 3 before hosting Latvia at the National Stadium three days later.

Both the Faroe Islands and Latvian players have continued with their domestic season throughout the summer months, while Maltese football has been at a standstill since March.

Asked whether he felt that put the national team at a disadvantage, Mangia said: “It’s normal that there will be some difficulties. Some of our players will only have played a match in UEFA club competitions before the Nations League matches but nothing more.

“Obviously, it’s a concern but we can’t use that as an alibi. We need to use these situations as an opportunity to find solutions that will help us to make up for these disadvantages, particularly our physical preparation at the start of the season. So, it’s up to us find ways to mitigate these problems.”

Mangia said that the national teams’ project needs time before it starts bearing its first dividends.

“I need time to build a group of players that will show the right attitude and can help us to take forward our project,” he said.

“Football has so many dynamics and unpredictable situations that you cannot put a timeframe to when we can reach higher objectives.

“In our first competitive outings we need to work towards gaining some kind of results, be it numerical or any other kind of results, like attitude or style of play.”

The Malta FA has made it clear that one of the key aspects of this project is to create a unique football philosophy for all national teams.

Mangia said that aspect of the project can’t have a timeline as it will continue to evolve during time given the kind of players present in the national teams’ set-up.

“On my appointment, I was asked by the president to introduce a football philosophy that will be adopted by all our national teams, from the senior down to the U-15 squad,” he said.

“That philosophy will obviously be undertaken in our football foundation as well in our coaching courses as our Technical Centre must be using the same language.

“We need to start this change in philosophy in our U-15 and U-16 categories as we believe that it is there that real change in the way we play can be made.

“Our goal is to try and take this new style of play in our senior national teams as we have players that have qualities that can adopt these changes but the main work has to be done in our youth selections.

“There is a programme of work for all the national teams that will go beyond the style of play and it’s more about principles of play.”

When Mangia was presented by the Malta FA it was announced that he was responsible of all the national teams at the local governing body.

But how he will influence the youth teams and the women’s national team.

“As regards the men’s national teams, I am pleased to announce that we reached an agreement with the clubs to work with U-15, U-16, U-17 and U-19 selections every week,” Mangia said.

“We have created a performance project, that includes also physical fitness that will be developed throughout the year. I am planning to give an opportunity to players, particularly in the U-21 and senior teams, to undergo individual programmes and help them develop.

“As regards, the women’s national team I have great relationship with Pierre Brincat and even there we are looking to have a unique football philosophy.

“But as regards the principles and the style of play we don’t want to create any problems given that the women’s team have only three matches left to play in their qualifying campaign so it will be stupid to effect any changes.

“Even though from what I saw the women’s department are doing an excellent job and it’s important they remain we on this path and we will continue to work together.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted not only all domestic competitions but has also forced the MFA to put on ice its plans to have a team playing in the Italian Lega Pro.

Mangia said that when this project will finally be implemented it will give a huge lift to the development of young talent.

“Creating a professional set-up and give the players the opportunity to play in other leagues is an excellent idea, not only in senior football but also for the youth team,” he said.

“There are small countries like the Faroe Islands who have players who play in Denmark, Norway and Sweden but also in the English championship.

“I hope that this project will help us to attract more attention and help us to send a number of young players who have the potential to continue their career abroad.”

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