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Increase in financial incentives for clubs to field Maltese players

MFA president Bjorn Vassallo (centre) addresses club representatives and the media. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

The 2023-24 BOV Premier League is less than one month away from its opening day of the season and this year’s campaign is set to feature some notable changes in what is being described to be a transitional campaign.

In fact, this year’s championship will start implementing changes ahead of the 2024-25 campaign that will be the first to be organised by the Malta Premier League (MPL) and a major novelty is the increase in financial incentives for those clubs that opt to make use of Maltese talent during this season’s competition.

The 2023-24 Premier League will again be contested by 14 teams, with the top team crowned as champions and will represent Malta in the Champions League while the second-placed and the third-placed club will feature in the UEFA Conference League qualifier.

The other slot in the UEFA Conference League will be awarded to the FA Trophy winner or the fourth-placed team in the Premier League should the team winning the Cup competition has already booked a place in Europe via the championship.

All teams will play a total of 26 matches in a two-round round robin format, with a Christmas Break scheduled between December 18 and January 5.

A total of 182 matches will be played across 25 weekends and one midweek matchday across three stadiums, namely the National Stadium, the Tony Bezzina Stadium and the Centenary Stadium, with the opening day pencilled for September 15.

One major novelty for this year’s championship is that the number of teams relegated will go up from two to four with two teams from the Challenge League promoted, as Malta’s top-flight will feature 12 clubs as from next season.

MPL chairman Joseph Muscat said that the Malta Premier League are going through a learning curve where the participating clubs, who in their nature have a very competitive nature to always try to be better than others, are trying to find the best solutions that befit not only themselves but Maltese football in general.

“I think the members of the Malta Premier League club have shown a lot of maturity in approving changes that not necessarily will favour their own team,” Muscat said.

“Among the changes being announced, the fact of having a consesus between clubs of having four teams relegated is quite remarkable but it shows great maturity from the members of the MPL as well as great commitment to effect a complete reform of the Premier League.

“Our main goal is that Malta’s major league championship becomes more attractive for the fans, and to achieve that we have to ensure that the level of competition continues to grow.”

Muscat said that having more fans at the stadium will inevitably help the growth of the Premier League.

“If we can attract people to the stadium, it will generate more income for the clubs which will make them for financial sustainable and will be able to attract better players which will make the championship even more competitive,” the MPL chairman said.

“We firmly believe that in the near future there is the potential of having one or two clubs who will qualify to the group stages of a UEFA club competition. This will generate a substantial amount of funds not only for the successful clubs but also for Maltese football in general.

“But to arrive to that point there are many changes that need to be implemented and everyone should be brave enough to accept change.”

UEFA co-efficient

On his part, Malta FA president Bjorn Vassallo said that the huge investment made by the clubs in recent years has seen a remarkable improvement in their performances in UEFA club competitions.

“During the last few years, clubs have invested heavily on a technical level and that is being reflected by the excellent results our teams are achieving in Europe,” the MFA chief said.

“This is being reflected in an improvement on the UEFA rankings and clubs coefficients. To achieve these results, it’s clear that we need a good structure and build a league championship that is financially stable and provides great competition to make it even more attractive. That is why discussions with the clubs is ongoing and we have manage to arrive to a number of changes in the format.

“The Malta FA is very pleased to see clubs achieving great results in Europe as at the end of the day its the Maltese players who are benefitting and being aided to maximise their talents.”

One significant change for the upcoming season is the increase in the number of overseas players in the Maltese Premier League.

“From this season, each Premier League club will be allowed to have eight non-home grown players on the pitch at any one time, compared to the previous limit of seven players. Premier League clubs can now register 14 non-home grown players and an additional two more, subject to the fact that these two are loaned-out, as opposed to the previous limit of 12 and one loaned-out player,” Vassallo said.

“While each Premier League club may include up to 11 non-homegrown players on the team sheet, up from the previous limit of nine, the number of foreign players on the team sheet cannot exceed the number of homegrown players. This adjustment aims to provide teams with greater flexibility and tactical options but also of safeguarding the locally trained players.”

On his part, Muscat announced that the Malta Premier League and the Malta Football Association has agreed to boost the Home Grown Incentive Fund, which is aimed at encouraging clubs to develop and include Maltese talent in their squad.

“To encourage the development and inclusion of homegrown talent, a dedicated incentive fund of €300,000 has been established,” he said.

“This fund will be distributed based on the utilisation of homegrown players during matches. Clubs will receive an allocation if they field a homegrown goalkeeper born in 2000 or later, or a player born in 2003 or later, within the agreed parameters.”

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