The Malta Independent 29 January 2023, Sunday
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Sunday, 22 January 2023, 09:33 Last update: about 6 days ago

Louis Gatt

Let's face it, we are rubbish at football.

As a national team I mean. I'm not referring to our Premier League sides packed with sundry talented foreigners. When we try to put out a Malta international side we see that we really are not very good at all. So why is this?

Obviously the main reason is size; yes there really are times when size does matter. In both geographic and population terms we are minute. Argentina recently won the football World Cup - and so they should, they've got over 47 million people to select from. We have just over 400,000... it's no contest. But hang about, Wales is also a small country: 8,000 square miles or just under 21,000 square kilometres and a population of just over three million and - even though they didn't exactly set the World Cup on fire, at least they made it to the finals, for the first time since 1958. And while I'm not suggesting we should be up there batting with the big boys, our overall showing in any big footie tournament is nothing short of disgraceful. Even in the qualifying rounds we always finish a sad bottom of our group, either with very few points or, more often than not, none at all.

We are a nation of football fanatics, so why are we so useless at actually playing the game?    Corruption: for many years the game of association football in these islands has been tainted, some might even say... obliterated, by corrupt practices. Way back in 1966 Floriana, one of the biggest clubs in Malta, signed England international Ted Phillips. But it is recorded that, although approaching his mid-30s, this proven goalscorer flopped in Malta. The reasons are debateable, but it is undeniable that Phillips himself gave as the reason that he never got much of the ball. He is reported as saying that: "Most of my teammates wanted to lose the game - and I was often in a minority of one in wanting to win it." The implication being that the majority of Floriana players had been bribed.

Many people can also remember another infamous corruption scandal when Spain needed to beat Malta by 12 or 13 goals (I forget which) in order to qualify for the European Nations Cup... and of course they did just that.

Another reason why we fall down as a national team is that it is still extremely difficult to attract top coaches to come here and work with our most talented players. Our football authority simply does not have the cash to tempt the likes of Pep Guardiola or even Jose Mourinho to knock us into shape.

I seem to recall an attempt some years back to make our footballers full-time professionals. This would be essential in order to initiate a professional training regime and to instil a pro mentality into our players. Back in 1971 I well remember Malta was drawn to play against mighty England at the Gzira stadium. From all accounts they put up a pretty brave show, but the UK media rather rubbished our very amateurish players by suggesting that England were playing against a team of Spanish waiters - somewhat hurtful, but almost true.

So what can be done to improve our national team's chances on the football pitch? Buggered if I know; maybe a two-tiered international football set-up could be the answer. We would only play teams like Andorra, Liechtenstein and Luxemburg, maybe then we'd actually win a couple of games.

 


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