Young players’ development has been at the heart of Sta Lucia FC’s project in the last two years. The Premier League club are on the verge of announcing a major commercialisation project that will see them invest heavily on the development and education of young talented players. President Robert Micallef spoke to Valhmor Camilleri on the club’s vision and plans for the future…
Sta Lucia FC have been one of the positive revelations of the 2020-21 season.
Despite operating on a modest budget and fielding a string a talented young players, Sta Lucia FC, under the guidance of Oliver Spiteri, have managed to defy the odds to challenge for a top placing for the majority of the season in this year’s championship.
Although in the end, Sta Lucia FC finished the campaign in eighth place, however, the general feeling is that this club have finally showed that they truly deserve to be in the top flight in Malta football thanks to a sound administrative structure created by club president Robert Micallef in his first year in charge.
Micallef told The Sunday Times of Malta that putting the club’s structure in order was his first priority when he took over the reins of the club last June.
“When I was appointed as the club president, my priority was to put the club on a solid administrative foundation and there were a number of issues that needed immediate attention,” Micallef told The Sunday Times of Malta.
“I felt that we needed to make a difference on how we operated. We are a Premier League team and need to operate according to such standards that are required from a top-flight club.
“The challenge we set ourselves was to take the club from one that struggled to attain a domestic licence to one that qualified to attain a licence for UEFA club competitions. This was done not because we felt that we had the potential to qualify for European football but given the high administrative standards required to attain such document it would ensure that we reached the stability we were looking for.”
Micallef said that the appointment of a full-time club administrator certainly helped in no small way to put their house in order.
He added that building a competitive squad was not easy, particularly as the club didn’t have a single player on its books at the start of the season.
“Having a committee formed by people who were at the club for a long time posed a huge challenge in terms of trying to change the way we operated,” Micallef said.
“Our first goal was to confirm the technical staff and strengthening the squad. We started in June when we didn’t have one single player registered with us and there were a number of players who wanted to leave and even wrote to FIFA to acquire their release.
“But we still managed to assemble a competitive team and enjoyed a very positive season. Personally, I felt that had we not dropped some points in matches were luck didn’t smile at us our final position could have been higher than eighth place.
“Now we look forward to next season where we are set to face new challenges but we are entering the new campaign with a settled squad and have no past issues that we need to address so we can focus all our energy on the season ahead.”
The Sta Lucia FC president agreed that the financial stability provided to the players by the club’s administration surely had a reassuring effect on the players. However, he said that the family atmosphere coach Oliver Spiteri and the members of the technical staff managed to create this season was their winning trump card.
“Stability is important in every sector of life. If you have a company that doesn’t pay it’s wages you cannot pretend that workers will work for you,” he said.
“As a club we set a budget which we never exceeded and that is why everything we promised to the players we were capable of delivering it.
“The players were always paid in time and that inevitably helped to create a very good atmosphere in the club.
“Our committee is formed by people who are from Santa Luċija, the coach is from Santa Luċija and therefore we have a bigger motivation as we love the town we represent.
“As a club, young players’ development is one of our cornerstones. When they increased the number of overseas players I was not in favour. This is
because when you have talented players you have to develop them when they are young. Unfortunately, in previous years this was not done in Maltese football and now we have suddenly realised how important it is to invest in grassroots.
“As a club we gave the chance to many young players who had the hunger to succeed and we are determined to continue with that policy, be it Maltese or foreign player.
“We have a good nucleus of young players that played for several years together in the youth national teams and we believe that they have the potential continue to improve and lead the club to better results.”
In the coming days, Sta Lucia FC are set to announce a very ambitious club project that will transform their current training grounds into a centre of excellence that focuses on players’ development and education.
“When the opportunity to be involved at Sta Lucia FC came about I felt that the time was right to use my project to help both the club and our community,” Micallef said.
“Sta Lucia FC own an area of 17,000 square metres, that includes our ground and we sought to create a project that will reap dividends not only for the club but also on a national basis.
Player and coaching development
“The project is based on education, sport and entrepreneurship with its focus being player and coaching development.
“The goal is to have an 11-year-old who has a football talent and help him develop his skill in a professional manner. This is because we believe that these youngsters, irrespective of their nationality, we can help them become established players.
“I firmly believe in this project as I know that there is a lot of talent in young age groups who have never been given the opportunity to develop their skills not only in sports but also from an educational aspect.
“This is will be a landmark permit for the community of Santa Luċija but also at national level as if we can nurture a number of players, these can go on to play for our national team and overseas clubs.”
Micallef said that the philosophy they will be following is one that is used by a foreign club who is focused on players development.
“All licences have already been paid and we have studied thoroughly what needs to be done in the football part of the project,” Micallef said.
“We are using the football philosophy of a foreign club who in the last few years have developed a lot of talented players, including this year. But more details will be divulged in the coming weeks.”
Turning his sights on next season, Micallef admitted that the Premier League will be a far tougher challenge given that it will be composed of 12 teams and could be played over three rounds, with the return of the Championship Pool and the Relegation Pool, if the MFA’s proposal wins the approval of the Council.
“Finishing eighth in the league was a good start but it’s important that we keep our feet rooted firmly to the ground and our goal is to continue to strengthen our administrative foundations.
“Our plan is to turn the club’s administration into private company, as mirrored by the MFA’s plans for top-flight clubs, and we want to do that next season.
“Our commercialisation project has already been approved by the Commercialisation for Sports Commission and have given us permission to submit the Outline Development permit to the Planning Authority.
“As regards our team, we have already a good nucleus of players and we have already started to work on strengthening the squad. Our coach Oliver Spiteri is also confirmed for next season and we have also retained Victor Filho, Andre Rodrigues and Alan Da Silva Souza as our foreign players.
“Some foreign players have left the club as their dream is to pursue their career abroad but I can assure our fans that we will bringing in a number of new players, both Maltese and foreigners, to ensure we have a very competitive team next season.”