The Malta Independent 23 October 2018, Tuesday

Ray 'Zazu' Farrugia upbeat ahead of World Cup qualifying match against Scotland

Domenic Aquilina Monday, 22 August 2016, 14:11 Last update: about 3 years ago

With the Malta v Scotland 2018 FIFA World Cup Group F qualifier less than three weeks away, I met Malta's assistant coach Ray "Zazu" Farrugia to talk about this crucial match for the Malta national team and about football in general in Malta.

The "Zazu" nickname is a household one in local football.  Still regarded as one of the best football mentors on the island, Farrugia actually holds the role of assistant coach of the Malta national football team, working closely with coach Pietro Ghedin.

As a youngster, Farrugia graced the football pitch of the old Empire Stadium with the wonder team of Floriana made up of legendary players like Anton Camilleri, John Holland, Louis Arpa, the brothers Frankie and Powie Micallef, Edwin Farrugia, George Ciantar, Willie Vassallo and the Xuereb brothers George and Ray to mention just a few.

 "That Floriana team remains the best I have seen after so many years" stated a very excited Farrugia.  He made his debut with Floriana at only 16 years of age under coach Lolly Borg.  He spent four years with Floriana winning two league titles, one FA Trophy, three Testaferrata Cups, three Independence Cups and two Sons of Malta Cups.

At just 21 years of age, he took off to Australia, signing for Paramatta Melita Eagles in the then State League (Australia's top football division) later on reinstated as the National "A" Football League of Australia.

There he graced Aussie football stadiums until 1990 scoring a total of 123 goals from 318 matches, winning four State Leagues and three Grand Finals - a feat which landed him the best sporting accolade for his contribution to sport in Aussie land. 

Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke bestowed the Maltese sportsman with the "Best Maltese Achiever" award in 1989.  That honour had earlier been achieved by Jeff Fenech, a word boxing champion in four categories, John Aquilina, an Australian MP and Darren Gauci, a famous jockey in Melbourne.  

"I still remember vividly that touching moment.  I was being bestowed as a Maltese who has given a very valid contribution to Australian sport.  I have always spoken out about how proud I always feel to be Maltese.  And yet here I was being recognized by a country away from our shores and not on my own.   Yet the most touching moment in my career," stated Farrugia. 

With Maltese football enthusiasts yearning for a good Malta result against the Scots come next September 4, I asked Ray what were his views about this upcoming important match. He said: "I honestly believe that Malta can beat Scotland - but on one condition! - we can do this only if we play collectively.  Yes I very much believe in the ability of our footballers.  If they start believing in their capabilities, shredding off any inferiority complex, then we can play to par with anyone." 

I also asked Ray about what can be done to bring back Maltese football to a much higher level.   His answer was quite brisk: "Definitely Maltese football clubs have to become professional in all aspects.  In order to see a bright future Maltese football has to start from the basics - grassroots.  Kids are normally spoilt by their parents at a very young age and this is not good.  At this stage young kids have to taste the real values of sacrifices and dedication.  That is the way to success. 

"On another note I can say that in my view Maltese coaching has improved in recent years.  Here I would like to mention the noteworthy work being done by Stephen Grima, Director of Coaching Education within the Malta Football Association.  This guy is doing an excellent job in getting Maltese coaching to a very high level."

What about your childhood memoirs I asked Ray.  The passion that Farrugia holds for the game of football shone again in his eyes "I used to play football on the Granaries or at the playground just above the grand harbour or in the Kapuccini Square.  They (referring to former Floriana seniors' coaches Lolly Borg and Lolly Debattista) spotted me there.  These guys used to spot youngsters around these spots playing street football.  Those were the days!"  recalled Ray.

His successful period at the helm of the Malta Under-21 from 1998 to 2002 and again from 2010 to 2014 is still very much imprinted in Farrugia's mind.  "Those 50 matches at the helm of my Malta Under-21 will remain a period to cherish," recalls "Zazu"

Why the nickname "Zazu"? 

"My grandfather used to own a garage where today the lift at the Upper Barrakka Gardens takes you down to Lascaris Wharf and this was called ZAZU Garage.  Somehow this stuck with me all throughout," he said.

Ray, who founded his own Zazu Football School in 2005, left Malta as a rising football star, returned 12 years later as a hero to become one of the most respected coaches on the island.

 

Who is Ray "Zazu" Farrugia?

 

As a footballer:

  • 1973 - 1977 - Floriana FC - Malta
  • 1978 - 1990 - Paramatta Eagles - National A Football League Australia
  • 1990 - 1993 - Naxxar Lions - Malta
  • 1993 - 1998 - Naxxar Lions (Player Coach) - Malta

 

As a football coach:

 

  • 1998 - 2002 - Malta Under-21 National Team Head Coach
  • 2003 - 2005 - Pieta' Hotspurs Head Coach
  • 2005 - The Zazu Football School was founded (still running to date)
  • 2007 - Marsaxlokk Head Coach/Technical Director
  • 2008 - Sliema Wanderers Head Coach
  • 2008 - 2010 - Break from football
  • 2010 - 2014 - Malta Under-21 National Team Head Coach

Photos: Domenic Aquilina

 


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