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Ridha Dardouri eyes MFA presidency in bid to revitalise local football

Former Premier League forward Ridha Dardouri is set to present his candidacy for the presidency of the Malta Football Association in the coming weeks as he believes that there is a growing need for major changes in how the Beautiful Game in Malta is managed.

The Malta Football Association will hold its general elections during the next General Assembly on March 15 which marks the end of the first term in office of current president Bjorn Vassallo.

Dardouri is not a new face to Maltese football as the Tunisian-born businessman, who also holds Maltese citizenship, has made a name for himself in the Maltese Premier League when he donned the colours of the likes of Birkirkara, Sliema Wanderers and Lija Athletic during the 1990s.

Speaking during an interview with the Times of Malta, Dardouri said that he has been a regular visitor to domestic matches during the past seasons and said that seeing the lack in quality on the field of play has pushed him to try and take pro-active approach to try revitalise the Beautiful Game on our islands.

“Everything started in the last few years,” Dardouri said.

“I used to go and watch matches from the Premier League and the Challenge League and after 15 minutes of play you start getting bored as the level of play is quite mediocre and you end up getting fed up and leave the stadium early.

“I know that some people think otherwise but you have to make comparisons to see if our football has improved.

“During my playing career, between 1992 and 2005, I played against some of the best players in Maltese football such as Raymond Vella, John Buttigieg, Kris Laferla. Today, do we have players of such level? I don’t think so.

“You had players like Ivan Zammit, Joe Brincat who had great technique and were great leaders on the pitch and play with great maturity. Today, we don’t have any player that matches these characteristics.

“Added to that, Maltese football has been invaded by foreigners with the majority being of the same level as Maltese players.

“In my time we had players like Pavel Mraz, George Lawrence, Danilo Doncic – players who made a great difference on the pitch.

“Today, clubs bring overseas players with a salary of €3,000 or €4,000 who don’t make much of a difference. This influx of overseas players is limiting the squad places for young talented Maltese players. We have some youngsters with great potential and we have an obligation to help them fulfil their talent.”

The former Birkirkara striker said that one of the main reasons why he has decided to contest the MFA presidential elections was that he believes there is a growing need to change the mentality of how football is managed in our country.

“I have decided to contest the MFA elections not just to be the president but to change the way how we manage the game and try and create a new generation of players for the next eight and ten years,” Dardouri said.

“The feedback I received when I visited several football clubs was very positive and the message I tried to pass through is that our ‘Beautiful Game’ was in a bad state and there was a serious risk that it could die a natural death due to some existent problems and I am offering solutions to try and revitalise it.

“I have nothing personal against Bjorn Vassallo and you have to admit that the current administration has done some positive things but I think I could offer better solutions to take the game forward.”

Dardouri said that the only way forward to revitalise Maltese football is for a major reform to be implemented in key areas of the game.

“My main priority through my campaign is to share my opinion with all football stakeholders and urge them to help me start a major reform process that needs to start from the grassroots.

“Unfortunately, many clubs in Malta are only focused on their senior team and want instant success. They don’t have the patience to invest in their youngsters.

“There are many clubs who are spending a lot of money leaving the clubs in a difficult financial situation. They are depending on the financial muscle of their president, but what will happen when he decides to leave?

“That is why it is important to help clubs start operating as private companies and being given their facilities so that they can embark on commercial projects that can help the clubs become financially self-sustainable.

“I believe that the government should provide more assistance by giving those clubs who don’t have their facilities, a piece of land that they can develop for the club’s use.

“The government has to understand that sport is an industry that each year is growing and that there are many people who are earning their living from it.

“The government should create funds that clubs can apply for so that they can have their own facilities which will become the club’s property.”

Dardouri said that the Malta FA should be more pro-active in trying to help the clubs

“The Malta FA should be of more support for those clubs who are struggling financially,” Dardouri said.

“I believe that 30 per cent of the revenue of the MFA should go to the clubs. We have clubs that don’t have money to buy balls or football nets and the MFA should come in and help these clubs in such problems. The MFA should look beyond our shores and try and attract major businessmen to invest in Maltese football.”

Dardouri said that the MFA’s idea to set up Regional Hubs within the Inhobb il-Futbol Foundation was a good idea but he doubts whether it will reap the desired dividends to nurture new talent.

“I am more in favour of setting up football schools that attract the most talented youngsters in Malta and Gozo,” Dardouri said.

“The MFA should try and secure funds from FIFA and UEFA to set up such schools. Added to that, the MFA should embark on twinning agreements with renowned football academies from around the world and we adapt to their football model in our schools.

“Besides, we should give priority to more former football players to be involved in the grassroots sector. How can a person who has never played football can teach the football basics to a boy or a girl? 

“We can’t continue to use the excuse that we are a small country. Countries like Iceland and Luxembourg have made huge strides forward over the years because they embarked on a serious plan that invested in their youngsters and today we have many players who are plying their trade abroad.

“That is why it’s important to appoint a technical director that embarks on a technical plan for the next 10 to 12 years and the main objective is that we nurture our best talent with the goal of having over 50 young players who will manage to earn a contract abroad.

“The MFA should have a separate medical and sports science section that collaborates with the Technical Centre but also serves the clubs. In that way it can work directly with clubs at all levels without going through a lot of red tape with the Technical Centre.”

Dardouri said that the MFA is currently struggling from a financial point of view and one solution to put the governing body on a more sound basis is to look at new foreign markets that can provide us with financial assistance.

“It’s no secret that the financial situation of the Malta FA is quite weak at the moment,” he said.

“It’s high time we start thinking outside the box and look at new markets from where we can attain financial assistance. I have a lot of contacts in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE who will be ready to invest in Maltese football if they are presented with a serious project.”

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