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Keeper Muscat – the Hibs’ living legend

Five hundred league matches is a record which any player should be proud of in any category let alone in the Premier League.

This is the proud record which goalkeeper Mario Muscat established yesterday. Apart from a handful of matches for Vittoriosa Stars last season, Muscat has spent his entire career with Hibernians.

Hibs have always had fine goalkeepers.

They started with Harry Edwards and Emmanuel Azzopardi in the 1930s. Then came Johnnie Formosa and Lolly Rizzo before the great Freddie Mizzi and his successor John Bonello.

Muscat, at first, seemed destined to live in the shadows of his predecessors. It is hard for anyone to live up to the standards laid by the two famous shot-stoppers. Yet, Muscat not only lived up to their reputation but he also established a personality cult of his own.

Born on August 18, 1976, Muscat was brought up in Paola.

A product of the Hibs football nursery, he made his debut for the Paolites in 1993-94 and went on to win two league champion-ships when still a young teenager.

In 1992-93, Hibernians made the scoop of the season when they lured to Malta former England midfielder Brian Talbot as their manager.

Talbot’s personality and professional approach to the game transformed the team from a mid-table outfit to serious title contenders.

In 1993-94, Bonello fell out of favour with the club, thus giving reserve keeper Etienne Mercieca the chance of a lifetime to stake a claim for the no.1 jersey.

Mercieca, however, failed to grasp the opportunity and left Hibernians without a first-team goalkeeper after a dispute with the club.

With the start of the season only a few days away, Talbot decided to take his chances with Muscat and the 17-year-old lad did not let his boss down.

Hibs won the championship in 1994 and repeated the feat the next year thanks to the maturity shown by their young keeper.

Now, there was no looking back for Muscat as he made his international debut on November 15, 1996 against the United Arab Emirates in Abu Dhabi. The match ended in a 0-0 draw.

From that moment on Muscat became Malta’s regular goalkeeper.

In 1997-98, he was the inspiration behind the team which beat Valletta 2-1 in the FA Trophy final.

That evening there was great rejoicing in Paola square which went on until the early hours of the morning.

Muscat, however, had more reason to celebrate than the rest of his team-mates as he was voted Footballer of the Year in summer of 1998. Thus, he became only the second keeper to win the accolade... something which even Mizzi had failed to achieve.

In 2001-02 Muscat won another league championship medal for Hibernians.

Still in his prime, he went on to establish national records both at club and national team levels. In all, Muscat has won the championship four times and the FA Trophy five times with Hibernians.

Talking about records, Mizzi had also established benchmarks, some of which seemed destined never to be broken.

He will never be forgotten by the Hibs’ faithful but now the niche which he craved for himself as the club’s greatest-ever goalkeeper has been invaded by Muscat, who has been capped at all levels by the national team including U-16, U-18, U-21 and full internationals.

Mizzi’s long-standing goalkeeping record of 214 league appearances for Hibs has long been shattered by Muscat and so was the all-time Hibs appearances of 222 previously held by Charlie Scerri.

Having established new milestones at Hibernians, Muscat set his sights on improving his all-time appearances record for a player in the top flight of Maltese football.

This feat was yesterday rounded up to 500, making it difficult for his peers to eclipse Muscat’s impressive tally.

Muscat’s 500 in league

1993/94 − 18 games
1994/95 − 12
1995/96 − 13
1996/97 − 15
1997/98 − 23
1998/99 − 26
1999/00 − 24
2000/01 − 25
2001/02 − 26
2002/03 − 28
2003/04 − 27
2004/05 − 27
2005/06 − 24
2006/07 − 25
2007/08 − 19
2008/09 − 28
2009/10 − 25
2010/11 − 22
2011/12 − 31
2012/13 − 29
2013/14 − 31
2014/15 − 2

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