The Malta Independent 3 June 2020, Wednesday

Life without football – and sport!

Domenic Aquilina Sunday, 22 March 2020, 08:12 Last update: about 3 months ago
Photo: Domenic Aquilina
Photo: Domenic Aquilina

The extraordinary circumstances by the outbreak of COVID-19, officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation prompted the major part of football/sporting organisations not only in Europe but globally to put the brakes and suspend major football leagues and big sporting events with immediate effect.

Among the victims was the Euro 2020 finals championship which, for the first time ever, was to be held in June in 12 different European cities.

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The Malta Football Association acted responsibly and suspended football and futsal matches from all competitions as from Friday, March 13, 2020 first for 10 days and now extended indefinitely.

The Malta FA officials are in regular contact with the health authorities in order to safeguard that public health remains the foremost priority in the current circumstances.

A mention as well goes to the Malta Football Players Association which also intervened in securing that safety remains the first priority for all its members and more.

With no top-level football around the corner, TMI contacted a member/s from each of the BOV Premier League clubs in order to have their views over the recent sad events taking place all around the world - and how are they filling up their time during the game's coronavirus shutdown.

Floriana FC are the current leaders of the BOV Premier League with 41 points from 20 matches played before the season came to a shutdown.

The "Greens" Italian head coach Enzo Potenza insisted that we should leave all this in the hands of the scientific experts.

"Football and sport have to be left upon the discretion of the more knowledgeable scientific experts in order to get back to normality.  For this to happen they will have to assure that this will be in the best possible health conditions for everyone. 

"Personally I think that if the authorities decide for the resumption, a good idea would be that of playing three matches per week (ex:  Sunday - Thursday - Sunday) behind closed doors with only 18 squad players available and direct TV transmission.  We at Floriana have trained last Friday and we will train again tomorrow (17 March).   Meanwhile we await further instructions from the authorities over the resumption.

"Not having my family with me, I always spend my free time in search of coaching updates, new tactics to introduce in future.  Our work in coaching involves a lot of thought. This is my professional philosophy and responsibility towards the group I am involved with, in this case, Floriana.  My mind works constantly 24/7."

As the league broke up, Valletta were three points behind the leaders.

TMI spoke to the Valletta duo of Steve Borg and Bojan Kaljevic.

Borg stressed that health awareness should come before anything else.

"Seems weird but true to find yourself all of a sudden not training anymore with your team and your team mates.  At this point, Valletta immediately responded to the pleas from the health authorities and halted all close contact training sessions. 

"We all have our training plan schedules to do now at our own homes. I would have loved to see the season closing off just like all the others.  You worry about your loved ones and hope this will be all over.  In these circumstances all you think about is that our health remains the main priority and nothing else matters at this moment.

"In my time at home I spend quality time with my family, in particular with my young kids and I can tell you it is really very tiring at the end of the day!"

Team mate Bojan Kaljevic also spoke about these sad times "Very difficult period for all of us.  At the moment I am by myself with my eldest son as my wife is in Serbia with our younger one.  We at Valletta have been handed an individual training programme so I keep myself busy with this.  

"For the rest, I spend time at home in quarantine and filling time with some fun together with my son playing social games, watching movies, etc.  My appeal to all is to be responsible and stay at home as long as this needs to be"

Hibernians are four points adrift of the leaders.  Captain Andrei Agius also spoke his views about all this. "It is a very delicate situation, from one side everyone wants to keep on playing and training in the usual routine and from the other side we must see that our health is the most important thing to safeguard in these difficult moments. 

"Taking extra risks is not an option.  I am enjoying some free time for myself, still training on an individual basis at my club's facilities, hoping that this will all go away as quickly as possible so this season will come to a closure."

Surprise side Sirens are in fourth place to date.  Their latest Brazilian recruit Ricardinho reiterated that the heads of all organisations and federations globally acted in a very responsible manner and took the right decisions.

He said: "The right decisions were taken by all the heads of the various football and sport organisations, associations/federations.  We are living in a difficult moment.  Health comes first and above all.  No one is immune to this virus that shook the world. 

"The Maltese health authorities are doing an incredible job in my view.  With everyone's help and cooperation we will beat this virus and get back to our normal lives.

"As to myself, I am filling my free time doing individual training at home to keep in shape as we really do not know when local football will recommence.  Of course I keep in touch with my dear family and friends via video calls. 

"I enjoy playing PlayStation, reading books and learning the Maltese language!  Above all taking care and prevention against COVID-19."

After a faulty start, Birkirkara have climbed up to fifth position, mainly thanks to the excellent form of young Matthew Guillaumier. 

Unlike others, a family relative was contracted with the virus and he himself is self-quarantined.  Matthew aired his concerns about his loved ones.

"At the moment I am in quarantine myself as a family member contracted the virus. It is difficult at the moment because I have to stay indoors for 2 weeks and it is hard to train and keep fit for whenever the season will resume. At the moment I am not thinking too much about the resumption. 

"Sorting out this problem is the most important thing to do first and see that my loved ones are in good health. I am keeping positive and using this time to recharge for whenever we will restart.

"Again, it is not easy as I am constantly worrying about loved ones who may also end up catching the virus. Hopefully the whole country and world will work together and get past these difficult times."

Sixth placed in the table are Gzira United.  Young talent Nicholas Muscat had this to say: "To be honest, at this crucial moment the safest thing to do is to avoid contact right?  So it is obvious that being a contact sport, football has got to stop for the moment.  No one really knows exactly the risks this virus carries. 

"My opinion is that if staying safe at home, avoid contact as much as possible until this is over.  In the meantime I do workouts by myself with the help of staff at the club to keep fit until further notice.  This way we will be ready to bounce back once all this is over."

Balzan captain Paul Fenech stressed the fact that shutting off all sport and football was the right decision to take.

"Yes, I do agree about the closure of football and sport in general - one hundred per cent!  It is not fair for the players on the pitch in particular. 

"In my free time I am doing my best to keep active in the best possible manner.  Up till now, thank God, we can still have a good run.  Eating healthy comes a priority. 

"For the rest watching films.  It is not easy to keep up the momentum and motivation.  Hope this sad time is over at the earliest."

Mosta climbed to a creditable 8th place before the championship broke off.  Brazilian defender Rafael Morisco has been in fine form for his side this season.

"It is a very complicated situation, we read and see a lot about COVID-19 both on the internet and TV.  It is scary.  But everyone seems to be taking precautions and being careful. 

"Group training was cancelled by the club so I train in private at home and hope that we find solutions to this pandemic.  We have to live all this day by day."

Hamrun Spartans' Clayton Failla agrees that this virus is very dangerous. "We all now know that COVID-19 is very dangerous.  As a player here I would like to thank my club Hamrun Spartans, the Malta Professional Footballers Association and the Malta FA for immediately putting up their concerns about the safety of us footballers and suspend the season. 

"We all know that we have many foreigners playing in Malta and this complicates matters so no contact whatsoever is the best solution.  Enjoying time with my wife and two children.  Playing with my kids and fill up much time as can be.  As the saying goes - better safe than sorry!"

Mark Scerri, captain of Sliema Wanderers, was also of the opinion that closure was the best way to deal with the virus.

"The closure of football and sport in general makes total sense in my view.  Here we are safeguarding not only the athletes' health but also their loved ones.  Personally I am filling my time away from the game with an individual training programme provided by our club's sports therapist.  They have been very professional and have put our health before anything else.  We need to stay fit and be ready whenever football resumes."

Gudja United, despite battling against relegation, surprised quite a few of the big teams this year. Defender Jurgen Farrugia has been in impeccable form for the Gudja outfit in recent matches.

"Personally I agree with the recent decision to suspend the season and even team training.  Clearly it was the best decision to take in order to safeguard everyone involved both directly and indirectly.  Since no training is taking place, it is of the utmost important that we players stay as fit as possible. 

"Therefore everyone is taking the initiative to do his own personal training either at home or going for a run.  From my end, apart from working out at home and running I am also trying to fill my free time by watching a movie series, reading a good book and surfing the web."

Santa Lucia have also surprised this season but are still in the relegation zone.  Goalkeeper Timmy Aquilina reiterated that he would love to get back into action at the earliest.

"As a footballer I am disappointed that football has been shut down due to such circumstances.  

"Therefore we footballers and everyone associated with sports-related activities have the responsibility to keep both ourselves and those around us out of any risks.  We also feel the duty to keep our loved ones out of the way from any infection.  I believe that this was the best outcome in order to prevent any further harm. 

"This virus should be taken seriously and must not be overlooked.  Thank God the current situation is being taken seriously and we are in safe hands.  I am keeping myself fit and ready for training to be resumed.  I am following a home programme given to us by our physical trainer Nigel Mc Carty, waiting for further guidance and precautions that need to be taken. 

"We must be ready for all circumstances and be ready for anything, especially when, and if, they find a cure for the virus.   It is still too early to predict when football will bounce back.  Till then we have to take precautions so that this virus does not spread any further."

Senglea Athletic currently lies a place above bottom and battling against relegation. Experienced goalkeeper Matthew Farrugia also agrees that the right decisions were taken.

"The Malta FA together with the Malta Football Players Association did the right thing shutting down all matches and eventually training. It would have been too risky going on.  Of course I miss not going to training and meeting my team mates.  Football is my life.

"I am trying my utmost at home to keep fit.  Meanwhile we only have one option - to pray and hope for the best."

Bottom club Tarxien Rainbows have only 4 points for their showings and this means that they have already been relegated to next season's first division. 

Brandon Muscat spoke about all this.

"I think that the decision to stop football right now was the correct decision, due to football being a contact sport.  Of course we have to safeguard also our families.  Since no training is allowed by the club I take the initiative to train alone with running and body weight training in order to keep fit when the season recommences.  Let us all hope the world gets rid of this virus and that we can re-start our normal routine again with our team mates and family relatives."

Finally TMI spoke with the Malta FA's performance and fitness coach Luca Pagani - a synonymous name within the Malta FA in recent years.   We asked Pagani how an athlete is hit with a sudden stop to his normal competitive football and training routine such as is the case at the moment.

The Italian physical performance/fitness guru emphasised the fact that professional players should be aware of keeping a good body composition in order to avoid weight gain.

"The spread of this virus, which has been declared a pandemic by WHO, has forced the majority of football organisations in Europe to suspend football with clubs halting their usual training schedules.  Public health is the absolute priority at the moment and it is crucial that the advice given by the health authorities are respected at all levels. 

"In this period of uncertainty and at this stage of the season, it is very challenging for every coaching staff to handle the management of their football players.  It is difficult to design an individual training programme to be executed at home without knowing how long the training activity will be suspended! 

"For this reason, being flexible and creative is necessary to minimise the impact on the fitness performance! 

"Another very important pillar that cannot be neglected during this period is nutrition!  Every nutritional plan should take into account the reduced activity all the players are undergoing in order to keep a good body composition and avoid weight gain." concluded Pagani.

So what are the big guns doing about all this?

UEFA put up a teleconference with all major European football stakeholders involving representatives of UEFA's 55 member associations, the European Club Association and the European Leagues in order to discuss how to move forward and what has to be done in the wake of the COVID-19 events.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino has urged all of football worldwide to put the popularity of the game at the service of public health in the confrontation with Coronavirus.  As he put it himself: "Use power of game to help society fight coronavirus"

"In partnership with the World Health Organisation, we are launching awareness initiatives designed to provide practical steps and recommendations to tackle the spread of Covid-19.  I highly recommend you to also, at your level, use the power of football to send out and spread these key messages."  stated Infantino, referring to the WHO guidelines and recommendations governing personal hygiene and social distancing etc.

Back on the domestic front, the big question is - will the 2019-20 season come to a closure?  Who will be crowned champions?  Who will qualify for Europe?  Who will be relegated?  All questions still very much to be answered when the action resumes.  Seems COVID-19 should know all these answers!

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