The Malta Independent 9 December 2018, Sunday

TMID Editorial: Football team - In the last place, again

Saturday, 24 November 2018, 09:50 Last update: about 15 days ago

The Maltese national football team has once again finished last in a competition. Three draws and three defeats in the first edition of the European Nations League put Malta at the bottom of the group which included Kosovo, the eventual winners, Azerbaijan and the Faroe Islands.

It is, of course, not a surprise that Malta finished last. It's a trend that has been with us for time immemorial. But there is a difference this time. This is because this particular competition was not the qualifying stage for the World Cup or the European championships, when Malta faced top class nations and its positive results were few and far between.

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This new competition, the Nations League, was specifically targeted to give nations of similar strengths the possibility to battle it out against each other. Four levels, or divisions, were created so as to bring together nations of similar strengths and standards. Malta, as expected, was placed in the fourth tier but, even here, the national side was unable to win any of its six matches.

Some will argue that three draws from six games is not as bad a result as other competitions. But the other side of the coin is that Malta was unable to win at least one of its six outings.

The performances of the Maltese football national team have been analysed for decades. Different administrations have tried different ways, but the end result is always the same. Malta languishes in the bottom rungs of European and world football, and nothing seems to change this. Some 25 years ago, Malta had reached its peak in the FIFA rankings, climbing to 66th place on two occasions in 1994 and 1995. But since then it has plummeted to the depths of world football, going as low as 191st position in September last year. The latest ranking, that for October, put Malta in the 183rd place for just over 200 countries.

So, where do we go from here?

For the first time in many years, the Malta Football Association has picked a Maltese coach to lead the national side. No-one can doubt Ray 'Zazu' Farrugia's dedication, commitment and energy towards the national team. But there is only so much that he can do with the current crop of players at his disposition.

We have said this many times - unless Maltese footballers start plying their trade abroad, not necessarily in the top European divisions, there is little chance that Malta can achieve any progress. Maltese players who managed to attract contracts from foreign sides have all improved their status, but having only two or three players engaged by professional clubs is not enough. We need to have more and more Maltese playing abroad to be able to make a step forward.

And, while having many foreigners playing in Malta might be helping to lift the standard of our leagues, it is depriving many youngsters of the possibility to play regularly with local clubs, thereby reducing their chances of development.

Malta's next competition will be even harder, as the national side will have to face much stronger teams than it has done in the last three months. Without Malta's most representative player, Andre Schembri, who has retired from the national squad, matters will be even more difficult.


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