Floriana’s bright start to the BOV Premier League has been one of the intriguing stories of the 2015/16 season.

With 12 games played, the Greens are level with Birkirkara and Balzan on 23 points, two adrift of joint leaders Valletta and Hibernians.

One of the most glorious clubs in Maltese football, Floriana have been through some really tough times in the last two decades, constantly flirting with bankruptcy, but the arrival of Riccardo Gaucci last year has restored stability to the club, both on and off the field.

Gaucci, son of Luciano Gaucci, the former Perugia president who was one of the most flamboyant and controversial figures in Italian football in the nineties, lives, breathes and sleeps football… and Floriana.

As Gaucci sifted through a pile of documents in his mundane office at the Floriana FC clubhouse on Friday, his thoughts had already turned to the team’s clash with champions Hibernians this Wednesday.

“Hibernians are a great club managed by a very respected president,” Gaucci observed.

“They also have a very strong squad, the best in the Premier League.

“We are an emerging club and I’m sure that the game will be an entertaining affair.

“I just hope that it will not be conditioned by unwanted factors and that no-one speaks about the match officials afterwards.

“I wish that there are no refereeing controversies after the game and this applies to both teams.”

This is the outspoken Gaucci indulging in the sort of mind games typical of Italian football officials after the Floriana chief was incensed by what he perceived as a string of debatable decisions that cost his team dearly in the 2-1 first-round defeat to the Paolites.

“In the first-round match we didn’t deserve to lose,” Gaucci added.

“In the second half, we played a great game and it’s clear that the team has maintained a steady progress since then.

“It hasn’t been easy because, when you change coach, physical trainer and 12 players, you have effectively rebuilt the squad.

I wish that there are no refereeing controversies after the (Hibs) game and this applies to both teams

“The team is doing well as the new foreigners have mingled well with the local ones.

“Our aim is to do better than last season and claim a top-four finish.”

Under the guidance of Luis Oliveira, who took over from Giovanni Tedesco in the close season, Floriana came through a difficult start to work their way up the standings.

In so doing, they have revived the enthusiasm of their long-suffering fans who believe that Floriana may finally have assembled a squad capable of ending the club’s 23-year wait for the Premier League title.

Gaucci urged caution.

“It’s a constant struggle,” he observed.

“When we took over in February 2014, our priority was to strengthen the club’s structure and organisation.

“Slowly, we are reorganising the club… we have awakened a sleeping giant.

“We have given Floriana a sense of direction and professionalism… we came here to work.

“I’m very pleased that the fans have rediscovered their enthusiasm and passion for the club but at the same time this worries me because they are aiming very high.

“We have to be realistic. If we have a chance to challenge for an honour, we will do our best but we need to keep our feet on the ground.

“The other clubs are well-equipped to fight for the major titles but they have spent a lot more than us.”

Running Floriana FC has been anything but plainsailing for Gaucci, his business partner Ciro Iacone and their fellow committee members as they’ve had to contend with a number of garnishee orders, issued by former club presidents over debts, as well as other serious financial issues.

While acknowledging that Floriana still have a long way to go to solve all their financial problems, Gaucci has good reason to be satisfied with the progress made.

“When we arrived at Floriana in February 2014, we found a club on the verge of financial collapse,” Gaucci reflected.

“If we or the other consortium hadn’t taken control of this club, we would probably be talking about a different Floriana FC today.

“We’ve managed to obtained the UEFA licence. A lot of problems have been resolved but we still have to overcome other hurdles.

“Naturally, you can’t do everything in such a short period of time.”

The long-term viability of Gaucci’s takeover of Floriana FC rests on the development of the Independence Arena area into a commercial hub with football pitches, shops, offices and a car park.

Although the process of acquiring permits from the authorities is taking longer than planned, Gaucci remains hopeful.

“It’s no secret that the ground project is vital for us to return Floriana to where they belong in footballing terms,” he noted.

“We have reached an important point. We are optimistic as we have made little but important steps. We hope to receive the all-clear in the coming months.

“This project is important not only for Floriana but also for the other clubs. They need to be given the opportunity to undertake important projects.

“Maltese football needs an injection of cash and ideas. We have a very efficient association as, believe me, the MFA is more organised than the Italian football federation.

“But we need a project, an action plan, to give our clubs more money from TV rights and sponsorships as this is the only way football can grow in Malta.

“I remember that this happened in Italy some years ago. With many clubs facing bankruptcy, the government intervened in a bold manner by launching the SKY TV project… at the time it was called Telepiù.

“In Malta, football only exists thanks to the financial input of the presidents. If we manage to ease the financial burden on clubs, things would improve significantly.

“I don’t pretend to be a professor in football, far from it, but I’m willing to share my experience to help the Maltese game.

“It’s up to the club presidents to address this issue together with the Malta FA.”

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