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UEFA deadlines forced MFA to decide league fate early

MFA president Bjorn Vassallo admitted that the local governing body could not delay further a final decision on whether its top competitions could resume as they were tied by a May 25 deadline set by UEFA.

The Times of Malta spoke with the MFA president just a day after the governing body’s Executive Committee decided to bring to an end prematurely the BOV Premier League and the FA Trophy after the health authorities failed to give enough guarantees that contact sport such as football could return next month.

The MFA’s decision inevitably drew a mixed response from the local football fraternity, with those who were in favour of resuming the season questioning why Malta couldn’t follow the example of countries such as England, Italy and Spain who have delayed a final decision on the fate of their competitions.

“A lot of persons have been questioning why the MFA didn’t further delay a final decision on our competitions but the answer is very simple, we are tied by a UEFA deadline,” Vassallo said.

“UEFA has set deadlines to all the European countries according to their club coefficient ranking with the top 16 countries given a far longer time to complete the competition.

“The countries below have shorter deadlines and with Malta ranked 47th we were obliged to give a response by May 25.

“With the authorities not being able to give any sort of guarantees we could not enter into the unknown and took the only decision that could give some kind of stability in these times.

“Every country adopted a different strategy from each other and although the numbers in Malta were contained, our authorities only started to lift some restrictions at the start of May and again on Monday.

“The MFA process to try and restart started many weeks ago when we lined up a medical protocol that was written in consultation with our medical experts, the personnel in the competitions department and the technical centre.

“It was a rigorous protocol that needs a huge financial investment but mirrored the reality of Malta which sees a third of the clubs’ employees, administrators and referees and officials who have another employer apart from their club or their association.

“When we presented the protocol, we gave the authorities two weeks’ time to approve it. But the reality is that even in other countries, where there are professional players living in a professional environment, they are also finding it tough to implement it.

“When we met the health authorities, I asked them should it be possible for football to return would we have healthcare professionals available to implement this protocol and obviously I couldn’t have a positive response at this time given the situation we have and the fact that there are 300 health care workers in quarantine.

“In the end, we had to take the best possible decision that could give some much-needed stability to our movement and provide a solution and we couldn’t decide differently.”

Now that the season has been concluded prematurely, the only verdicts that have been decided so far are Malta’s four spots in the UEFA club competitions.

European places

According to the MFA rules, Floriana, who were leading the standings until the Covid-19 stoppage, will compete in the Champions League qualifiers while Valletta and Hibernians will compete in the Europa League.

On the other hand, fourth-placed Sirens, in their first season in the top-flight, take the final spot in the Europa League as the place reserved for Cup winners will not be assigned.

In the women’s division, Birkirkara will compete in the Champions League while Luxol will take part in the UEFA Futsal Cup.

The other verdicts in the other the divisions in the MFA competitions will be decided in a Council meeting yet to be scheduled and the association president along with the three vice-presidents and treasurers have decided to abstain from voting to let the MFA members reach their decisions in the most democratic way.

Vassallo said that the governing body will present a number of scenarios to decide various situations such as championships, relegation and promotion and he made it clear that each one that will be approved by the Council members will have to be implemented across all competitions.

Now that the 2019-20 season has been terminated, it is logical that one thinks on what will happen in the next campaign which is scheduled to get under way later than usual, on October 15.

Vassallo said that although he cannot give any guarantees on whether football will restart on the pre-planned date, the association can at least try and prepare itself to this new reality so hopefully we can get back to some sort of ‘normality’.

“At the moment, we are heading into unchartered territory and we have no guarantees on what is going to happen,” the MFA chief said.

“We need to prepare well for the future. The October 16 date is still a hypothetical date like the fact that national teams are scheduled to play in September and the UEFA club competitions qualifying rounds will be held in August.

“Nobody knows what will happen when the countries lift many of their restrictions and how will be the logistical situation created by the European competitions.

“In the first three qualifying rounds of the Champions League and Europa League over 400 teams will have to play home and away and will not be easy.

“Added to that, next week the Social Dialogue Committee will discuss the contract obligations football employees have now that the season was not

extended so there will be a lot to discuss.

“Some are saying that October will be the worse month as cold temperatures will come in and the flu will start which would prompt a second wave.

“That would be a huge blow for the country as it would affect badly the economy of the country and at the same time those who lead our clubs who are businessman.

“We cannot give any guarantees, but what we can do is that we use this time to plan well and see other practices of other countries from which we can learn and come close to this situation so that hopefully we can get back to normality soon.”

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