The Malta Independent 14 November 2018, Wednesday

Balzan here to stay! Interview with Balzan coach Oliver Spiteri

Domenic Aquilina Friday, 30 December 2016, 12:46 Last update: about 3 years ago

Until a few years ago no one would have imagined that Balzan FC would reach the heights of elite football in Malta.

Balzan went into the Christmas and New Year break as the BOV Premier League winter champions.  34 points gained from 16 matches are the stats that catapulted the modest Balzan outfit to the top of table of Maltese football.

The Malta Independent Sports Team met with Balzan head coach Oliver Spiteri to speak frankly about the rise of Balzan in Maltese football and to talk football in general. 

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Early Days

One of the youngest coaches in the Maltese Premier League, Spiteri still only 46  is regarded as one of the shrewdest tacticians in the game. 

Holder of both the UEFA "A" and "B" Licenses, Spiteri's first taste of elite coaching arrived in the 2005-06 season when in association with Ray " Zazu" Farrugia managed to take Marsaxlokk FC to third place in the BOV Premier Division and thus qualify for the then UEFA Intertoto Cup.

 In July of 2006 he took charge of the Malta Under-17 team, winning the gold medal in the FISEC Games of 2008.  In February of 2007 the then Malta national senior team coach Dusan Fitzel called upon his services to join him as assistant coach, a post he held until March 2009. 

From then on he went on to coach Mosta, Vittoriosa and eventually Balzan taking his side to the FA Trophy final last season for the first time ever in the history of the club, only to lose on penalties to Sliema Wanderers.

At the moment of writing, Spiteri is undergoing the UEFA "Pro" Licence, the highest-level managerial qualification in association football.

Balzan

The first question attributed to Oliver was if he acknowledged the fact that Balzan FC can be regarded as a "reality" in Maltese football at the moment.

"I think that in these last two and a half years or so we have been building upon this project in which we really believed in.  Obviously the main person behind all this was none other than our Club President Anton Tagliaferro.  

One important fact I would like to mention is that when in 2014 I was approached by former Balzan President George Borg and club committee member Peter Cipriott to open up negotations,  eventually signing terms with the club, the number of players which the club "owned" at that time were only 4!  The rest of the squad were all on loan. 

Today Balzan can boast of owning the entire squad - 23 players.  The only player on loan this season is Matteo Picciolo from Floriana for whom we still have the option of buying.  I do believe that after this period of time this main objective is beginning to turn into reality.  I do believe that there are still crucial things to work upon like the "mentality" aspect in the sense that we still suffer from the "inferiority complex" factor against bigger clubs.  But not to worry we are getting there!"  Spiteri answered.

 

The club's main objective

We spoke with Oliver about the club's main objective - that of winning the Premier League title for the first time ever.  With his usual relaxed manner Spiteri answered back that it is still very difficult to predict anything at this stage of the season. 

"Yes we finished this year top-of-the-table, one point ahead of our nearest challengers Hibernians who are very much on our heels.  Still 16 more matches to be played. 

Still very early to say.  We have managed to get very near to the bigger clubs.  I still feel that our meetings with these more illustrious clubs bring with them a certain amount of "weight" or shall I say pressure. 

Do not get me wrong in the sense that this does not mean that we struggle against these teams but the bigger clubs always carry with them that "air" for winning.  I believe that we have closed that gap but still not enough.

"As you know our form this season has been good.  Players who were off form have now reached their peak, and we have recovered in time injured players like Ryan Fenech, who had been out for one a half years and Paul Fenech.

 Injuries play a big part in football.  Against Hibernians we had five injured players.  I had to invent the defensive unit for this particular match. 

But we have strength in depth.  We have a very competitive squad with all members ready to pounce for their first team place.  This is the reason to our success this season.  Players have been giving more than their utmost in order to put up the message that Balzan are there to stay.  Dreams come for free."  stated Spiteri

 

The reality of Maltese football

We touched the recent unfortunate going-ons in Maltese football.  "The most important decision taken as per regards this season's Premier League was that of having all points attributed in full to all teams at the end of the first phase, and not halved as in previous seasons! 

This way we are seeing that this season has been one of the most balanced ever.  We are seeing teams from the top, and lower parts of the table snatching surprising results.  I am sure this will go on till the end of the season. 

The sad situation in attendances has been quite evident.  Fans are not coming to the Stadiums.  Corruption and bribery issues have all attributed to this and to Maltese football in general. 

It is very important that we keep our game as healthy and as clean as possible.  Football followers are important both to the clubs and to football in general. 

When we look back over the attendances which used to hit the old Empire Stadium in Gzira and now we see only around 1,200 spectators turning out to see a top fixture of two games between Hibernians v Balzan and Floriana v Valletta, well this makes you sad.  All these unfortunate facts are killing the game. 

We need to re-promote the game, give it a more "recreative" perspective.  Spectators will turn up only when this happens.  With all the speculations hovering around the game this cannot happen."

 

Most satisfying experience

Is this the most satisfying experience as a head coach ever we asked Oliver "There were many!" Spiteri answered back with a clear grin "I won promotion with Mosta, another with Vittoriosa Stars so yes I had my moments. 

Obviously with Balzan it is a different situation in the sense that I have a very competitive team that is always challenging for UEFA European Club participation. 

A very proud moment for me as head coach of this team was when we beat Hibernians 3-1 to gain our very first European participation into the UEFA Europa League - a participation which we gained in our first year in the Premier League in 2014/15. 

I also had my share of nice moments at international level with my Malta Under-17 side with whom I won the gold medal at the 2008 FISEC games in Malta.  Hearing your national anthem being played before an international match is something not easy to describe. 

Unforgettable moments with the senior national Malta team of which I made part as assistant coach to Dusan Fitzel, like the 1-1 draw against Austria in a friendly international and the unforgettable 2-2 draw against Turkey in September of 2007 in a UEFA Euro qualifiying match"

Spiteri's favourite touchline position

We both joked about Oliver's favourite "squatting" position at times during matches by the touchline.  Do you see a different perspective of the match from this squatting angle I asked.  He grinned at my question "When I get into this position it means I am more focused more than ever during the course of the match. 

I am thinking of what our next move could be and how things are shaping up during the match.  I feel engulfed with everything that is happening. 

During that moment I switch mode and focus within the players' legs running around, the ball itself and think hard what I can do to improve the situation of that particular match."

 

Spiteri's Festive Season Message

I asked Oliver to address not only football followers but sport lovers in general during this festive season and what can be done to salvage the lovely game of football in such a sad period that the game is going through in particular on our shores. 

"Primarily I would like to wish all sport lovers, in particular football followers best wishes during the festive period, not to drink and eat too much (smiling) and wish them a very prosperous, happy and healthy new year 2017. 

It is very important that club fans keep backing their respective teams during their moments of highs and lows.  It is also very important that all of us forget the rivalry and unite as one team in order to eradicate these problems which have hit the game we all love and succeed as Maltese sport has done with waterpolo, snooker, to mention a few sport disciplines. 

It will not be easy but Maltese football has survived many a problem.  All united we can do it again and salvage what is dear to us - the local game!"

 

"Bonini" Nickname

Spiteri is widely known within football circles as "Bonini" so the question about how did this nickname derive was quite evidently thrown at the young Balzan coach.  "In 1983 I was with the Birkirkara Under-14 and at that time Juventus had just signed a player by the name of Massimo Bonini from Cesena. 

The then late Birkirkara Under-14 coach Mario Borg immediately put up my resemblance with the player and from then the nickname stuck with me all the way.  Since then I have been known more as "Bonini" than as Oliver Spiteri."

 

Pressure

Spiteri is an accountant by profession.  How does he cope with the pressure of both his profession and that of being the head coach of Malta's Premier League top-of-the-table outfit? 

"It is not easy.  But I have the backing of my company AVMT Limited and in particular my boss Dr. Anton Micallef, whom I would like to publicly thank and who supports me and backs me in everything I do.  Without his constant support this would have become much more a difficult situation."

 

Balzan here to stay?

So Balzan FC are here to stay in Maltese elite football was the last question attributed to Oliver "Definitely! Balzan are here to stay" he answered back accompanied with a nice smile!

 


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