Darmanin Demajo to hold clear-the-air meeting with national team players

National team players will be given the opportunity to lift the lid on the problems they believe are blighting the progress of Maltese football during a meeting with Malta FA president Norman Darmanin Demajo.

Addressing a news conference in response to the furore caused by Andrè Schembri’s scathing criticism in the wake of Malta’s 2-0 defeat to England on October 8, Darmanin Demajo signalled his intention to have a frank discussion with the national team players.

“Only I and the national team players will attend this meeting,” Darmanin Demajo pointed out.

“There will be no coaches or other staff as their presence might condition the players and I want them to feel free to express themselves.”

Schembri, who plays for Portuguese club Boavista, pulled no punches when interviewed by a local television station after the World Cup qualifier at Wembley, turning up the heat on the Malta FA by calling for a reshuffle in local football.

Schembri’s outburst prompted Robert Gatt, the Malta FA technical director, to give a detailed overview of the work carried out by the association’s technical centre to overhaul the country’s youth sector and strengthen coaching education over the past six years.

When it was put to Darmanin Demajo that, despite the MFA’s  bold efforts, the majority of the national team players ply their trade in the part-time Maltese championship, the MFA head admitted that this is the biggest handicap afflicting the national team.

“If we have a good set-up which covers all angles, then what’s happening?” Darmanin Demajo reflected.

“First and foremost, five years ago we decided that if we are going to make a step-up in quality, we needed to have more players on a full-time basis.

“Since we don’t have a professional system in Malta, we felt that we had to step up our efforts to export more players to foreign leagues. We are halfway through this project and I believe that we’re still lagging behind. I thought that, in a period of four to five years, five to six Maltese players would be playing abroad but we’re far from that target.”

The MFA president added that plan B was to see whether the local football body, together with the clubs, could devise a system that allows Maltese players to practise the game on a full-time basis without the need to leave the country.

“I have no doubt that we have talent in Malta, we are as good as anyone, but somewhere along the line, the system is failing our players,” Darmanin Demajo said.

“I had suggested that, with the money clubs are spending on wages, I believe that we can have full-time professional players.

“And I invite the clubs to tell us where the MFA can help in this.

“The MFA had introduced a professional training scheme for the national team players under the presidency of George Abela.

“The system was tweaked with the passing of time until, a few years ago, the clubs told us that the players belonged to them and we decided to abolish it.

“If our clubs tell us that the MFA should consider reviving the training scheme for national team players, we will evaluate the proposal although I must admit that I have my reservations about this system.

“However, with the budgets our Premier League clubs have, the players are being paid as full-timers and could therefore summon them for training in the morning.

“On the other hand, this would create a dilemma for the players to leave their jobs because our clubs don’t have a structure that gives you peace of mind about the future.

“We have made progress both in terms of results and performances but until we solve this problem of part-time vs full-time, the situation is unlikely to change.”

Darmanin Demajo also revealed that he has had talks with Prime Minister Joseph Muscat over the possibility of revising the laws governing the naturalisation of foreign players.

Nigerian-born striker Alfred Effiong, who has been married to a Maltese for the past six years, was granted Maltese citizenship last year.

“All the other countries use these tricks,” Darmanin Demajo said.

“These are other avenues, I call them short cuts, we are exploring to strengthen our national squad.”


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