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Ray Vella 'Il-Mundu' - A legend in his own lifetime

Every generation has its own star players. This generation has Carmel Busuttil and Ray Vella.

Vella was born in Marsa on January 11, 1959. He started his career with Marsa in 1975, making his debut in the top division against Valletta on November 9, 1975.

Marsa lost 3-1 but the 16-year-old midfielder's elegant and intelligent football left a lasting impression on those who were at the Stadium that day.

Twanny Rocco, who at the time was coaching Marsa, introduced Vella to the game.

A shrewd judge of football talent, Rocco spent many years coaching youngsters at the Sliema nursery and now he is passing on his invaluable experience to the Hibs' youngsters at Corradino.

Vella soon caught the eye of the senior clubs but Marsa were loath to part with their talented youngster.

They resisted the pressure put on them by the big clubs and held on to their bag of gold for nine seasons.

In August 1985, however, they finally yielded to the pressure and he was transferred to neighbours Hamrun Spartans for a record transfer fee.

At Hamrun, Vella was an instant hit. His transfer coincided with the biggest era in the club's history. In 1985-86 he won his first honour with Hamrun.

The Euro Cup victory was the first of 14 major honours for the Spartans in seven glorious seasons, which included three championships and three FA Trophy medals.

Quiet and serious, on and off the field, Vella was an inspiration to a generation of would-be footballers. He won admiration for his impeccable skills, fair play and humble down-to-earth character.

A truly gifted midfielder, he played the role of a schemer-in-chief for Hamrun Spartans and Malta to perfection.

There was no sweeter sight at Ta' Qali than seeing 'il-Mundu' dwelling with the ball before letting go that telling pass which many times spelt a goal for the Spartans.

On May 23, 1984 he played his first game for Malta, against Sweden. It was the start of a long and successful career with the national team.

He was capped 67 times, his last match for Malta being against Belgium in February 1994. It was a historic occasion. In a magnificent effort the whole team rose to the occasion, winning 1-0 to give Vella a testimonial to remember.

In 1992-93, he was transferred to St Andrew's FC. By now Vella was coming to the end of a long and glorious career. However, his skills were still there.

Moving down to the libero position he seemed to have found a new lease of life.

When, however, St Andrew's amalgamated with Birkirkara Luxol in 1995-96 he retired after playing the first four games of the season.

It was a big loss for Maltese football and it is safe to say that there has not been a better footballer in the game since then.

Winner of the prestigious Footballer of the Year award twice (1987 and 1991), Vella has become a legend in his own lifetime.

karm_bald@hotmail.com

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