Antonio Jose Cardoso Mendes wants the Valletta FC players to stay united with each other to overcome this difficult period in the season as the newly-appointed Portuguese mentor makes his Premier League debut against Balzan at the Centenary Stadium tonight (kick-off: 9pm).
Cardoso Mendes, aka Toze, was given the job of succeeding Jesmond Zerafa as Valletta FC first team coach last month, but the former Vitoria Guimaraes youth coach has yet to make his first official appearance in the Maltese Premier League.
In fact, in the last few weeks, the Valletta FC senior squad were forced to go into a mandatory quarantine after a number of COVID-19 cases broke out and only returned to training last Wednesday.
“It’s going to be a difficult test for us as Balzan are a very hard opponent,” Cardoso Mendes told The Times of Malta.
“The build-up for this match has been quite difficult for us given the circumstances we passed through, with the senior team going into mandatory quarantine and our work restricted to just online sessions.
“Balzan are a different team to the one that faced Hibernians before Christmas as they changed a lot of players and look a stronger side.
“But in reality, I don’t care on our opponents’ plan as I have little control on it. The only thing I can control is our game plan, how I want my players to move on the field and make sure that we are capable to adjust to what will happen during the game.
“The focus for this match is on our team to try and create our own identity of play.”
Cardoso Mendes said that when Valletta showed him the project they had for the future of the club, the decision to accept the job was a no-brainer.
“In football I always loved new challenges, and when Valletta spoked to me about the project, they had for the future I immediately accepted,” the former Al Wehda coach said.
“I came to Malta determined to do the best that I could and try and help the club to improve and grow even further.
“One thing that caught my eye as their goal of improving their youth sector, something that has always been close to my heart.
“I think it’s important for the club to give a lot of importance to the youngsters and try and nurture more players from our academy.”
Valletta enjoyed a lot of success in recent years, winning six league titles in the last ten years, but this season they fell back in the championship race and are currently ninth in the standings on 20 points, 14 adrift of leaders Ħamrun Spartans, albeit they have played two games less.
Asked what was his immediate target, the Valletta coach said: “Realistically, our main goal has to be to qualify for the Europa League qualifiers next season.
“Now it’s time not to think much on what happened in the past but focus on the future of the team. Our main goal should be to work hard everyday to try and reach our objectives.
“We are struggling against time as due to the COVID-19 quarantine we had little time to prepare but we shouldn’t use it as an excuse.
“I feel lucky that the club gave us all the conditions we need to do our job well and it’s time now for the players to work with a lot of commitment, togetherness and gel into one family to try and overcome all the problems that we came through.
“For me this opportunity at Valletta FC came at the right time after years coaching in the youth sector and I can only promise that I will treat this opportunity with great emotion and a lot of commitment.”
Cardoso Mendes, who started coaching at the young age of 23, said that among the persons that inspired him in his football career where his father, who was a former player, Jose Mourinho, who brought an innovative methodology when he burst into the scene in 2003, and Shakthar Donetsk coach Luis Castro with whom he made a one-month internship four years ago.
Asked to describe the football philosophy he would love to implement at Valletta FC, Cardoso Mendes responded: “I have always favoured attacking football and I like my teams to dominate possession during matches.
“My biggest task in football is to try and put all the 11 players on the pitch thinking in the same way and that is very hard.
“I give a lot of importance to positioning on the pitch as if you do it well it will help you to defend well and attack well.
“As I said I didn’t have a lot of time to work with the players on our playing philosophy and now we have a lot of hard matches coming up quickly. But the only way we can overcome this challenge is by putting in a lot of hard work and everyone is committed to the task.”
Tarxien R. vs Gżira Utd 17.00
Valletta vs Balzan FC 21.00
Lija Athletic vs Gudja Utd 14.00
Żejtun C. vs Senglea A. 18.00
Floriana vs Hibernians 14.00
Sliema W. vs Sirens 18.00
Mosta vs Birkirkara 14.00
Ħamrun S. vs Sta Lucia 18.00