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Swieqi United make innovative change at grassroots level

One of the characteristics that describe Swieqi United is that they always think outside the box and remain committed to setting new benchmarks both for themselves and for Maltese football.

Their latest innovative idea comes in the form of Spanish coach Antonio Sevillano Lopez.

Lopez is a UEFA Pro licensed coach who will form part of the Owls’ technical staff from the 2023-24 season.

One would think that a coach of his calibre, with the curriculum and experiences that he holds, will take over the men’s or women’s first team.

But this is where Swieqi is going against the flow.

Lopez, who has 10 years of experience with Real Betis in Spain, will be supervising the age groups between U-11 and U-13.

When speaking about this appointment, club president Justin Fenech said: “We believe the best coaches should be at youth level and this is one way of how we want to continue raising the bar here in Malta.”

At Real Betis, Lopez held different roles such as coordinator of the training programmes, coach of various under age groups and team analyst for the U-19 side as well.

His coaching skills are reflected in the triumphs achieved by the young groups such as the U-16s and U-14s winning their regional leagues.

Now, Lopez has turned his eyes on Maltese football where he is hoping that his experience can help the future generation of football players to maximise their skills.

“What motivated me to join Swieqi United was primarily the personal treatment I received right from my initial interview with the club,” he told the Times of Malta.

“What truly appealed to me was the club’s ambitions and commitment towards player development. With the club already holding its own playing methodology framework, it was easy for me to understand what is needed and what the club expects of me.

“The scale of this project is particularly enticing, and I see it as an exciting opportunity to be part of something dynamic and forward-thinking.”

Lopez added that he is looking forward to exploring Maltese football and contributing his expertise to the growth of the players, the club and the overall footballing landscape.

Besides coaching in Spain, Lopez honed his skills in China as well with a spell at Wuhan Three Towns CF, achieving three consecutive promotions at first-team level.

Lopez helped the club to restructure and professionalise the academy and its ways of working, earning a reference as the best fourth academy in Chinese football by the country’s governing body.

“Having previously worked as a coach at Real Betis in Spain and Wuhan in China, I have gained valuable long-term experience in two distinct footballing cultures,” he explained.

“These experiences have deepened my understanding of the game and provided diverse perspectives on player development and coaching methodologies.

“One particular aspect that attracted me to Swieqi United is the club’s commitment to the ‘Swieqi Way’, a coaching philosophy and playing methodology developed by coaches Billy Mock and Marko Glumac, influenced by the Spanish style of play.

“Given my background, it is a philosophy I understand it and I feel I can help to develop it even further – the aim is to contribute to the players’ enjoyment of the game, facilitate their growth, and nurture their progress towards the first team.”

Grassroots

The Spanish coach added that he sees Malta in a phase of gradual development when it comes to the Beautiful Game.

“The key lies in the collective interest and commitment to evolve working methods, structures and mentalities within the footballing community,” he added.

“This ongoing process, driven by a growing passion for the sport, holds the promise of achieving significant goals over time.

The club’s objective is to increase intensity and quality of training – this will be achieved with a culture of hard work and focus.”

Young ages between 10 and 14 are often described as the most important timeframe where children can nurture their basic skills which will help them improve their technique.

Technique has become a crucial aspect in the modern game, with high-intensity matches often decided by technical players who are most confident in their skills.

“Teaching fundamental skills in football at a young age holds paramount importance for several reasons,” Lopez explained.

“Football, like sports in general, plays a vital role in the holistic development and well-being of individuals. It imports valuable skills directly related to the game and instills essential life values.

“In this sport, the early development of skills and the necessary physical attributes greatly accelerates a player’s growth within the teaching and learning process, which includes both the foundational and sport-specific skills required to meet the unique demands of football at various stages of player development.”

Swieqi’s curriculum of football is based upon recognizing that sports education follows different stages with specific objectives and content tailored to the age of the participants, ensuring comprehensive growth and learning.

That is where Lopez will add his experience as the Owls remain committed to provide the best possible teachings to their players.

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