Malta national teams head coach Devis Mangia was left fuming after watching his players suffering a fitness collapse during their 3-0 defeat to Northern Ireland in an international friendly played in Klagenfurt on Sunday.
After somewhat matching their opponents during the first 45 minutes, the national team suffered a serious drop in their energy levels after the interval with the Northern Ireland players going on to score two quick-fire goals that wrapped up a comfortable win.
For the majority of the national team players, Sunday’s match against the Northern Ireland was the first match in almost two months following the Health Authorities decision to introduce a Legal Notice that banned organized sport due to COVID-19.
The restrictions inevitably forced the Malta Football Association Executive Committee no other option but to bring to an early end all national competitions, thus leaving national players with no competitive football for the past two months.
Last March, Mangia had already warned the authorities that an early stoppage to elite football competitions will have a significant detrimental effect on the national team’s performances and the Italian was proved right on Sunday after the players struggled to match the far-more fit and sharp Northern Irish players for much of the match in Klagenfurt.
“I think it was clear today the difference in physical condition between the two teams,” the Italian coach said in the post-match news conference.
“This is something that I had already said in March and today we have experienced it in front of our eyes. It’s difficult not to see the struggles of our players from a fitness point of view throughout. The players showed very good attitude and application, but it was clear that the Northern Ireland players had different speed and power and we could never compete against them.
“In March, just a few days after the ban on organised sport was introduced, we had already seen something similar, but on a much smaller scale. In those World Cup qualifying matches the team already found it tough but we somewhat coped with it in the first two matches played. In the third match against Croatia the big difference came out more but, in that match,, we played against some great players who showed their class, but still it was not like what we saw today.
“I just hope that something changes.”
Asked by the Times of Malta to further delve on what kind of changes he had in mind, Mangia was quite clear in his thought.
“I think the moment has come that Maltese football is treated by the authorities like a profession and not like a hobby,” the former Italy U-21 coach said.
“A distinction has to be made between elite sport and recreational sport and the people involved in top-level sport should be treated as professionals. Players who ply their trade in the Premier League and the Challenge League should be considered as professionals, and therefore they must be put in the condition to be professional players.
“The situation we created by banning organized sport in March meant that we were the only country in Europe to have stopped competitive elite sport and this is the end product.”
Mangia said that to change this trend there has to be concerted effort from all stakeholders to come together and really try and change the system.
“This is not something that the Malta FA can do alone. Everyone has to come together and work together for a common goal,” Mangia said.
“The government, health and sports authorities need to come together to try and change things or else its useless because in these conditions we cannot compete and for me this is very frustrating.”
The Malta coach said that on Sunday he had planned to give some players not more than 60 minutes of play and then try to make some changes but that was still not enough as the players didn’t have the power needed to be more effective.
“Despite all the difficulties, there are still some positives to take as Teddy Teuma and Luke Montebello I felt that they had a very positive game,” the Italian said.
“But if you don’t that extra energy to make that step when good opportunities come it’s difficult. In the first half, particularly, we had two chances where we could have done better but it was clear that there was something missing from a physical point of view.”
Yesterday, the national resumed their training camp in Austria ahead of Friday’s second test against Kosovo and on the back of what was witnessed on Sunday, Mangia might have to change his plans of not making many changes from the first to the second friendly.
“I have to see how the players will recover,” Mangia said.
“I think some of them can recover and maybe play another 60 minutes, but we have to see how they recover. I repeat, today I still saw some things that can be very good for our next World Cup qualifying matches and we will keep on working.”