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Coach Busuttil earns his spurs

Carmel Busuttil

Carmel Busuttil

For a long time earlier this season, Pietà Hotspurs were bottom of the league and seemingly fighting a lost cause to extend their stay among the big boys.

Fast forward a few months. Reinvigorated by the arrival of Carmel Busuttil as coach and the return to form of their key players, the Hotspurs not only clambered off the basement of the table but are likely to secure their top-flight status with something to spare.

Last Sunday, Pietà's youthful side showed nerves of steel as they bounced back from a goal down to turn the tables on St George's, winning by the odd goal in three.

With only three league games left before the end of the Relegation Pool campaign, Pietà need only one other win to crown their remarkable comeback.

Premier League survival for Pietà would also represent the first noteworthy achievement of Busuttil's fledgling coaching career.

Universally acclaimed as one of Malta's best players ever, Busuttil knew he was taking on a massive job in November when he agreed to assume the reins of a Pietà team who had gathered only two points from eight league matches.

It took Busuttil and his young charges a while to get their act together but since the turn of the year, the Hotspurs have confounded their critics with a series of brisk displays and positive results, culminating in Sunday's success over St George's.

"Thanks to our win over St George's, we have made an important step towards retaining our Premier League status," the 43-year-old Busuttil told The Times.

"Obviously, we must keep our feet on the ground because mathematically, we're not safe yet. The most positive aspect of our victory over St George's is that we can now control our destiny rather than having to depend on other teams to reach our objective of staying up."

Busuttil is rightly being credited with Pietà's revival but the former Malta captain is happy to praise the contribution of the players, assistant coach and committee.

"The situation looked very bleak when I took over as coach of Pietà," Busuttil said.

"With only two points in the bank, the confidence of the players, especially the younger ones, was very low.

"Gradually, our work in training began to bear fruit but for this, I have to thank the club's committee. They have backed me all the way, especially when I made the decision to exclude a number of senior players from the squad.

"Clive Mizzi also helped me a lot. As coach of the U-19s, he was instrumental in getting the young players to integrate with their older team-mates in the senior squad.

"The team has also benefited greatly from the improved form of its senior elements, the likes of Svetlan Kondev and Martin Deanov who, for the opening four months of the season, had looked like a shadow of their usual selves.

"Rumen Galabov has also proved to be a useful addition to the team but all the players in the squad have worked hard to lift their performances."

Like most of his up-and-coming players, Busuttil is still cutting his teeth in coaching.

After hanging up his boots in 2001, Busuttil, who had a short spell as player-coach of Sliema Wanderers in the late nineties, served as assistant to national coach Horst Heese for one year but the Malta FA's plan to eventually hand the reins of the team to Busuttil didn't materialise.

After a short stint with Division Three club Sta Lucija last season, Busuttil focused all his energies on training youngsters at the Buzu Soccer School before his employer, Pietà president Edward Schembri, asked him to take charge of the then ailing Blues.

"As a coach, I wanted to begin from the bottom of the ladder," Busuttil said. "I started off by training young players and gained more experience through my role as assistant to national coach Horst Heese.

"My work with Sta Lucija was part of my learning curve. It was definitely a useful experience, especially considering that a few months later, I took over a team that was struggling badly in the Premier League.

"I also learned a lot about coaching from the likes of Heese and Mark Miller."

The Hotspurs are currently second in the four-team Relegation Pool on 15 points, just one behind Floriana.

Faced with a question whether the classification is indicative of the strength of the teams in the bottom segment, Busuttil replied: "Our performance graph has been rising steadily over the past few months.

"It's not as if Pietà have come good in the Relegation Pool because we had other positive results, like the 2-2 draw against Sliema and the narrow win over Hibs.

"Our results in the last three months go some way towards proving that we're a better team than St George's and Marsa."

Good attitude

With several promising youngsters in their ranks, it seems safe to suggest that Pietà could establish themselves as a Premier League force if they keep hold of their exciting prospects.

"Much depends on the attitude of the players," Busuttil commented. "If they continue to progress at this rate, they can lead Pietà to greater heights. Our players still have a long road ahead of them to reach their full potential.

"Moreover, they should not be satisfied with just helping the team survive in the Premier League... they should aim for higher objectives."

Is Busuttil setting himself loftier targets?

"My foremost priority is to help Pietà finish this season on a positive note," Busuttil reflected. "With regards to my future beyond the end of this season, I can't say much because I don't know what's going to happen. I'm employed with Mr Schembri and if he wants me to continue as Pietà coach, I will do it."

What about Busuttil's long-term ambitions?

"My ambitions as coach will be dictated by the standing and financial resources of the club I'm coaching at that particular time," Busuttil said.

"At present, Pietà are not in a position to raise their targets because of their financial limitations.

"Personally, I'm always motivated to reach the top of my profession. As a coach, I wish to challenge for the top honours in Maltese football but I'm a realist. As I said, my personal goals will be in tune with the strength of the squad at my disposal."

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