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Watch: Maltese football needs time to grow, says national teams coach Marcolini

Malta national teams’ head coach Michele Marcolini. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

National teams’ head coach Michele Marcolini said that all stakeholders are doing everything they can to ensure the Maltese football movement reaches a higher level of performance but it’s a process that needs time.

The Italian coach discussed the situation of Maltese football just a few days before the national team plays two very difficult matches in the Euro 2024 qualifiers when they face Italy in Bari tomorrow and then host Ukraine on Tuesday.

So far, the national team has yet to win a point in Group C and the prospect of finally breaking their duck in the next seven days looks increasingly unlikely as they are not only facing two teams who are ranked among the top 20 teams in the world but more importantly they are both desperate for points to secure qualification to next year’s European Championship.

“When the draw of the Euro qualifiers was made we knew that our chances of winning points looked remote given the strength of our opposition,” the former Chievo midfielder said.

“If you look at the group, the weakest team in North Macedonia who only missed out on qualification to the World Cup after losing the final play-off to Portugal… so that tells you all about the difficulty of this group.

“But I am very happy with the performance of my players in the past few months. We won two friendly matches, one against a Luxembourg team who are growing in stature and are ranked 85th in the world and who have collected 10 points so far and are third in their group and we beat Gibraltar too.

“Obviously we cannot be happy when we lose matches as football is all about results. But I believe that this qualifying group can give us the perfect preparation for next year’s Nations League where we are targeting to win promotion.”

Facing Italy, Ukraine, and England in the space of a month surely is a daunting prospect for the national team and Marcolini says his team must be more aggressive if they are to provide the best possible challenge to these teams.

“When facing top teams like Italy, Ukraine, and England we need to be more aggressive than usual as we have much less time to think or to play the ball. We simply cannot give them space because they have already shown that they have a lot of strength and speed,” Marcolini said.

“The players we are facing are not normal players, they are special and we can’t give them a chance.”

In the past weeks, there was criticism towards the MFA’s decision to stop the domestic championships one week earlier than other European leagues but Marcolini said that the three-week stop is essential to provide a better preparation to the team when facing top opposition.

“Everyone has to accept that Malta is a small country and we need a longer camp to prepare better for our next match,” Marcolini said.

“It’s difficult to face these national teams so if we have the opportunity to have more days to take care of the finer details it’s better. That is why we train a week more. It’s not about the physical condition as the players already work very well with their clubs but we focus a lot on our tactical plan. If we had three or four days to prepare for these matches it would not be enough.”

Marcolini said every stakeholder in domestic football is doing everything it can to try and help Maltese football grow… but patience is key.

“I think that every stakeholder in Maltese football is trying to help the movement to grow and increase in its quality, starting from the Malta FA to all the clubs,” Marcolini said.

“Football is a complex animal. It’s not that I wake up one morning and decide to do better and I get better instantly. It depends on a lot of things.

“I think the most important thing is that everyone is trying to be as professional as possible. To grow the environment we need time… but for me, the most important thing is that there is the intent that we want to improve.”

This summer Maltese football has seen the arrival of two Italian coaches with a top pedigree as football players in Mauro Camoranesi, who took over the reins of Floriana FC, and Luciano Zauri, who was installed as Ħamrun Spartans coach.

Asked about the benefits of having such high-profile figures in Maltese football, Marcolini said: “It can certainly help. When you have coaches with a huge experience on the pitch with a top professional team it’s normal that they can help the club to understand the next step it should take to improve.

“We are talking about players who have played for the best teams in Italy and who are very organised, with good structure and work in an amazing environment.

“This kind of person could help to understand what the club needs to increase its level of performance.

“Having said that, we have to recognise that in Malta we have some very good Maltese coaches. The coaching education division at the Malta FA is doing a lot of good work to increase the level of the courses and that is a very good step to go forward.”

One area that always causes talk of controversy is the Malta FA’s recent policy to try and strengthen areas in its national teams where there is a clear lack of quality in certain positions by awarding passports to foreign-based players.

It has to be said that this scheme has brought great benefits with the arrival of players such as Teddy Teuma, in particular, who for the past three years has been the stand-out performer in the team.

Passports

But criticism remains, with critics arguing that it is closing the doors to fully-fledged Maltese players.

“Awarding Maltese passports to foreign-based players is an issue that you can either like or not,” Marcolini said.

“But football today is changing and every national team is trying to find as many players as possible to try and increase the level of the team.

“Italy for example found an Argentine striker Retegui… and that was something unthinkable 20 years ago. But now football is changing. If Italy is trying to find a player, why shouldn’t Malta?

“At the end of the day, the most important thing is that the player that comes wants it deeply and not as if he is doing us a favour to don the national team shirt.

“I want players like Teddy Teuma who always gives a lot to the squad and his behaviour has always been exemplary and he plays with the mindset that he wants to do something important for our national team.”

Marcolini said that the Malta national team is on the right track and he firmly believes that promotion in next year’s UEFA Nations League is well within our reach.

“When I spoke to the president before my appointment he made it clear that my main target is to win promotion in the Nations League,” Marcolini said.

“It’s a major goal but I am confident that we can attain this objective, particularly given the performance of the team against teams of our level. We went to Luxembourg and beat a team who is in the top 100 places in the world and we faced Gibraltar, who could end up in our pool, and we not only beat them but we dominated the match from start to finish.

“So we are heading in the right direction and I firmly believe that we can do something important with these players.”

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