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Ailing Fitzel steps down, Buttigieg takes charge of national team

Busuttil named Malta assistant, Dutchman Hermans to lead futsal side

Dusan Fitzel (left) shakes hand with new Malta coach John Buttigieg as Carmel Busuttil looks on. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli.

Dusan Fitzel (left) shakes hand with new Malta coach John Buttigieg as Carmel Busuttil looks on. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli.

John Buttigieg will take over from Dusan Fitzel as coach of the national team after serious health problems forced the latter to step down with immediate effect.

The announcement was made by Joe Mifsud, the Malta FA president, during a news conference at the association's headquarters in Ta' Qali yesterday evening.

Buttigieg, who brought the curtains down on his two-and-a-half year reign as Birkirkara coach at the end of last season, will have Carmel Busuttil as his right-hand man but the appointments of the two former Malta internationals was overshadowed by the news that Fitzel requires urgent surgery.

After Dr Mifsud had spelt out the reasons behind Fitzel's abrupt decision to quit his post as Malta coach, the Czech told a hushed room that doctors had found a kidney tumour during a routine medical check-up he underwent recently.

"I've spent four beautiful years in Malta and my relationship with the MFA has always been open and good," Fitzel said.

"I went through this experience (operation) seven years ago and since then I've been having medical check-ups on a regular basis.

"After the latest test, doctors found that I have a tumour in my kidney. They advised me to have it removed as quickly as possible because they don't know yet whether it's benign or malignant.

"This is why I had to rush things after I returned Malta from my holidays. I will fly back to Prague on August 6 as the operation is scheduled for August 13.

"If all goes well, I should be able to come back to Malta three weeks after the operation."

Although Fitzel has relinquished his duties as national coach, he intends to stay on as MFA technical director until his contract expires at the end of December.

"It's difficult for me to end my commitments as national team coach in this manner," Fitzel, who picked Malta's 2-2 home draw against Turkey in a Euro 2008 qualifier as the highest point of his tenure as Malta coach, added.

"I wish John Buttigieg and Carmel Busuttil success in their new jobs. I'm also willing to give them my support until the end of my contract with the MFA."

Buttigieg had long been touted as the leading candidate to succeed Fitzel but the plan was for the former Malta defender to take control of the team in January.

"I've been talking with the MFA for a number of months," Buttigieg said.

"Last Friday, Carmel and I were asked by the MFA president if we were prepared to step in immediately.

"We heeded his call because at this moment in time, Fitzel's health is the top priority.

"Needless to say that I'm honoured to become national coach. All I can promise at this stage is that I will do my job to the best of my abilities."

Busuttil had another year remaining on his contract with the company that ran the Buzu Soccer School but his employer, Pietà Hotspurs president Edward Schembri, has given the former Genk player the all-clear to start his job with the MFA immediately.

Busuttil paid tribute to Fitzel. "He's a great coach and I've learnt a lot from him," Busuttil, who collected 110 caps for Malta during an illustrious playing career, said.

"Fitzel is also a great friend to us and we will surely miss him."

Buttigieg and Busuttil have agreed a five-year contract with the Malta FA and will officially assume the reins of the national team on August 1.

Their first match in charge will be the friendly against Georgia on August 12.

Dr Mifsud also let it be known yesterday that Buttigieg and Busuttil have committed themselves to undertake the Professional Licence coaching course in Italy over the next few years.

Earlier, the MFA president explained that discussions with Buttigieg and Busuttil began soon after Fitzel indicated his intention to seek pastures new in his home country after the expiry of his contract.

"With Malta playing a friendly against Georgia on August 12 followed by the home qualifier against Sweden in September, we had to act quickly," Dr Mifsud said.

"After Fitzel informed me that he had to undergo urgent surgery, I immediately summoned Buttigieg and Busuttil for a meeting and they accepted to take over as coaches of the national team on August 1," Dr Mifsud said.

Since Pippo Psaila ended his reign as Malta coach in 1993, the MFA engaged a succession of foreign coaches to guide the national team.

Invited to expound on the MFA's choice of Buttigieg as the new national coach, Dr Mifsud said: "Having discussed the matter with Fitzel, we came to the conclusion that the appointment of Buttigieg as national coach and Busuttil as his assistant would be good for the national team.

"Fitzel knows them well. He regularly invites them to give lectures in coaching courses and they've also taken part in our coaching exchange programme.

"With regards to our decision to sign five-year contracts with the new coaches, this shows that we have faith in them."

Fitzel added weight to Dr Mifsud's comments.

"In my role as technical director, I communicate regularly with the club coaches," Fitzel said. "I know Buttigieg and Busuttil well and hopefully we will spend another three to four months working together here.

"I believe they are good enough to lead the national team. They can build on my work here.

"Buttigieg did a very good job at Birkirkara. His team had shape and character, they were organised."

Dr Mifsud also introduced Vic Hermans as the new coach of Malta's futsal team. Hermans, a top futsal player in his prime who until last month was coach of the Dutch five-a-side team, replaces Michael Striz whose contract with the MFA finished in mid-June.

The appointments of Buttigieg, Busuttil and Hermans received the unanimous approval of the MFA's Executive Committee members prior to their unveiling yesterday.

Dr Mifsud also said yesterday that Malta will play a friendly against Angola in the lead-up to their final World Cup qualifier against Portugal on October 14. The warm-up match will be played in Portugal.

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