One of the most in-form teams in this lopsided Premier League campaign is Birkirkara who are at the back of five positive results, a morale-boost streak that has propelled them into eighth place in the standings with 17 points.
The Stripes are still not in the region they aspire to be in the championship table but following four defeats in their opening six games, as well as two enforced mandatory quarantine periods due to COVID-19 which left the team with a game in hand, the recent streak was more than welcomed by the Birkirkara hierarchy.
Birkirkara are bracing themselves for a tough test tomorrow when they face title challengers Gżira United at the Hibs Stadium (kick-off: 2pm).
Andre Paus’ men come into the match in high spirits and goalkeeper Alessandro Guar-none is upbeat about his team’s chances of extending their positive streak.
“It was not an easy start for us, in particular because we had to stop twice due to quarantine,” Guarnone told the Times of Malta.
“This forced us to play to five games in 12 days, including our most recent against Hibernians which was very important for us.
“At the same time though, the team has re-energised itself, remained competitive and is hungry for more points and that augurs well for the remainder of the season.”
A product of Italian giants Milan, Guarnone has defended Birkirkara’s goal in the last eight games, including in the five-game unbeaten streak as he has cemented his role as number one custodian at the Stripes.
“I feel very good at Birkirkara and I am glad that when I got offered the chance to come here, I accepted because this experience is helping me a lot,” Guarnone said.
“Once arrived at Birkirkara, I found an ambitious group of players and I was very lucky to re-unite with Claudio Bonanni,who like me was part of the youth sector at Milan.
“The league had already started but the club guided me through everything in order to find my place in this team and I am grateful to be given such opportunity.”
Prior to joining Birkirkara, Guarnone was at Serie C side Matera and Switzerland’s Chiasso, two different experiences which the Italian deemed as formative and that helped him to take on this Maltese challenge with a different mentality.
“The transition from youth football to senior football is always a difficult step to do because the physical and technical requirements are very high,” the Italian goalkeeper explained.
“I had a Serie C experience at Matera before the club went bankrupt and returned to Milan from loan.
“Last season, I had a rollercoaster spell at Chiasso which coincided with the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic but I still managed to play a lot of games which helped me to progress in my development.
“Birkirkara seemed the right option for me because I was heading to a club that is ambitious and wants to win, and this environment will help me remain on my toes.”
Guarnone also put light on the level of quality that he found in Maltese football, describing it as interesting in particular because there is a good mix between Maltese talent and foreign talent which will help the domestic movement to grow.
“From my point of view, I found a very good level of football which means I am playing in a competitive environment,” the former Milan explained.
“At my club, I am having the chance to be coached by Sean Cini who has recently hung up his boots and therefore his way of thinking is similar to mine which is very helpful for my growth.
“It’s just a pity that we are playing without fans – I was told that the Maltese fans are passionate and I am looking forward to playing in front of the local supporters.”
Guarnone also explained that he sees a good level of goalkeeping in the Maltese top-flight, and while he is yet to face some of the best ones including Malta’s number one Henry Bonello, he heaped praise on the technical abilities of the goalkeepers he faced so far.
“I feel that the Maltese championship can be a stepping stone for players like me because you get exposure, playing time and you get to absorb the environment at senior level like I am doing at Birkirkara,” Guarnone expressed himself about the Maltese movement.
Guarnone, 21, came through the ranks of Italian side Milan where he used to train alongside the Rossoneri‘s custodian Gianluigi Donnarumma.
“I had the privilege to train with a great goalkeeper like Gianluigi Donnarumma, who I think is one of the best five goalkeepers in the world right now,” he explained.
“Training at Milanello and going through such a learning process at a young age has been crucial in my development as a person and as a player.”
At Milan, Guarnone shared the field with a lot of players who are doing a name for themselves in the Serie A including Davide Calabria and Mattia Gabbia of Milan, Manuel Locatelli of Sassuolo and Patrick Cutrone who is at Fiorentina.
Moreover, he was also under coach Gennaro Gattuso, now at the helm of Napoli, who he heaped praise on for his ability in creating a group cohesion and the positive energy that he brings in the dressing room.
Meanwhile, Guarnone emphasized on the difficulty of breakthrough into a first team, in particular in Italy, where the pressure is high.
“What we lack in Italy is maybe the fact that after the U-19’s category, there is immediately the seniors and maybe that does not help the youngsters to develop and make it into the highest levels,” he pointed out.
“The U-23 side created by Juventus is a very good idea because although young players can make it into the first team, it is impossible that everyone makes this transition so the U-23 category would be a welcoming idea for a lot of youth players.”
Finally, as a Milan product, Guarnone hopes that the Rossoneri can carry on with their current form even though it is early to give predictions about where Stefano Pioli’s team can finish this season.
“It is early to say where Milan can finish their season, but what is certain is that this group looks very united and talented, and I feel that there is a huge room for improvement for this young side and this is a good sign for the future of the club,” Guarnone underlined.
Photo c/o Joe Borg.