Luciano Zauri has been given the task of leading Ħamrun Spartans’ challenge in UEFA club competitions as well as defending the team’s top status in Maltese football this season. The former Lazio player told Valhmor Camilleri that he is relishing the opportunity…
When Luciano Zauri was named as the new Ħamrun Spartans coach, his appointment was met with a bit of surprise by local football pundits and club fans as the former Lazio player has yet to make a name for himself as a coach.
In fact, since starting a career in football management in 2017, the 45-year-old has been at the helm of the U-19 teams of Bologna and Pescara, which was followed by a stint as senior head coach at Pescara who he led during the 2021-22 season.
However, the 45-year-old is approaching this challenge of leading the Malta champions with a lot of enthusiasm and is relishing the chance to take the club to the next level.
“There were a lot of things that convinced me to take this job at Ħamrun Spartans,” Zauri told the Times of Malta.
“I am 45 years old and I am kind of too old to play but not to manage a team. I have a lot of determination and ambition to succeed in a new football reality and I am also trying to learn the English language so I can communicate better.
“Our president and the club administration have a lot enthusiasm to succeed and that made it easier for me to accept this challenge. I can tell you that after speaking with the president it took me a few seconds to accept.
“For me Ħamrun Spartans are the top team here in Malta and I never had any doubt on taking this challenge. The club is very ambitious and they have a clear vision to what they want to achieve.
“Reaching the group stages of a UEFA club competition will be very difficult this year given the difficult draw we had but I want to bring the best out of this team.
“The only issue that somewhat stopped me from taking the job was leaving my family behind me. I have a wife and two children and we are very close but fortunately they come to see me every time they can.”
Asked on his first impressions on his squad of players after almost a month of pre-season training, the former Italy midfielder said that he is happy with the attitude and application shown by his squad so far.
“Being a new coach, I needed some time to get to know all the players in the squad. At the beginning I worked with the foreign players as the Maltese players joined later since they were on national team duty,” Zauri said.
“The team is made up of a bunch of great persons who are keen to work hard and learn and that is very important when you want to transmit your football ideas to the team.”
Asked to describe his football philosophy, Zauri said: “I want my team to play a good level of football. We have a crop of very talented players who are more than capable of playing with the ball.
“We lost a key player in Matthew Guillaumier so we had to make some tactical adjustments to make up for his departure.
“I’m confident that we will be able to play some great matches in the coming weeks, but more importantly to win many games as that is why I was brought here for.”
At Ħamrun Spartans, Zauri will be following in the footsteps of Branko Nisevic, the Serbian coach who led the Spartans to an historic Play Off Round berth in the UEFA Conference League before winning the Premier League title with an impressive 19-point margin over their nearest rivals.
Asked whether he feels any form of pressure, Zauri said: “First of all I have already congratulated the players for their achievements last season, and I also want to commend Branko for the excellent job done.
“But all those achievements are in the past as we will start the season with 0 points and not with an 19-point lead over our rivals. Obviously all the good teams done last season have to remain and we need to build on them.
“I know well that I came to a team who has won the championship and the expectation is that we continue to win. Pressure is always part of this job but I know that the results achieved are the fruit of the work I carry out with the players and I am ready to lead the club to another successful campaign.”
Zauri’s first official assignment will be on Tuesday when Ħamrun Spartans host Israeli side Maccabi Haifa in the Champions League first qualifying round, first leg tie at the Centenary Stadium.
The Italian is aware that his team faces a huge challenge to progress but said that they should focus on their strengths rather on their opponents’ quality.
“It’s a match that on paper looks almost impossible for us,” said Zauri of a Maccabi team who reached the group stages of the Champions League last season.
“Maccabi are a formidable team but we should focus on our strengths and ensure that we show our qualities on the pitch. We need to make sure that we give everything that we have. If Maccabi will turn out to be stronger than us than we will congratulate them, but until then I want my team to go out and show their real quality.”
The Spartans last week has been boosted by the acquisition of former Italy and Lazio goalkeeper Federico Marchetti who was signed by the club following the injury of regular goalkeeper Henry Bonello.
Zauri knows well his new goalkeeper, having played with him with the Rome club and says that the veteran player can have a great influence to the team.
“It’s unfortunate that we lost Henry Bonello to an injury,” Zauri said.
“I hope that he recovers quickly so that he can fight for the no.1 jersey as I know what a great goalkeeper he is. When Federico Marchetti left Spezia, we had an opportunity to sign him and I want to thank the club top hierarchy who made a huge effort to get the deal done.
“He is a player of great qualities, both physically and mentally, and he is a great professional. His inclusion will surely make our group of players stronger and his talent unquestionable, particularly as we have signed a goalkeeper who played in a World Cup with Italy.”
At the end of the interview, Zauri had a special message to the passionate Ħamrun Spartans fans ahead of Tuesday’s crucial Champions League match against Maccabi Haifa.
“Football without fans wouldn’t exist,” Zauri said.
“The emotions a packed stadium can give to the players is difficult to describe. I saw some videos of the Ħamrun Spartans fans and I was impressed by how passionate they are towards the team.
“I am sure that on Tuesday they will be behind us in big numbers and I am sure that they will give their 200 per cent to inspire the team to a great result against Maccabi.
“I sincerely hope that the team will be able to give them a lot of satisfactions, starting with the match on Tuesday against Maccabi Haifa.”
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