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Former Valletta midfielder Santiago Malano eager for new challenge

The summer transfer window is always the right time for teams to fix their shortcomings in their respective rosters, whether to make amends for a disappointing campaign or strengthen themselves to challenge for silverware.

In parallel, it is also a race against time for free agent players to look out for new challenges and settle with a club, at least for the upcoming season.

Unlike previous years, the transfer market has been dealt a heavy blow due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has obviously limited clubs’ expenditures. This reflects in the decline of transfers in last summer’s and this winter transfer market, where most of the deals consisted of loans or the acquisition of free agents.

Maltese football is not immune to this change even though most of the transfer deals occurring domestically usually includes loaned players or free transfers.

As Maltese teams start to prepare for the 2021-22 Premier League season, there has already been several new signings while other players are still in search of a new contract, including Santiago Malano who has parted ways with Valletta after five seasons.

“The Valletta experience was amazing for me as I was given a warm welcome from day one and always been treated well, and I am glad that my family could enjoy this experience with me as well,” Malano told the Times of Malta.

“I arrived here at age 31 and it was the first time that I won something when I lifted the Premier League trophy with Valletta, which I won twice with them.

“The support of the fans is amazing and it was always special for me to celebrate with them.”

After 21 goals and 15 assists in 136 games at Valletta, the versatile Malano is ready to embark on a new adventure, possibly in Malta.

“I feel I can still give more to clubs, even to the best ones on the island, due to my experience in Maltese league and my tactical versatility as well,” the Argentine player said.

“At the same time, I am not closing doors to any opportunity because I understand the club’s needs and requirements, so I am willing to consider everything and take it from there – it is normal for player in such situation.”

Malano pointed out that despite his age, he played over 90% of Valletta’s games last season – in fact, the Argentine featured in 24 of the 25 matches they played, including 15 shifts and nine straight matches between January and February.

“Since the league was concluded early, I continued to train everyday and right now we are in a better situation given that we can also use gyms and football pitches, as previously I was more focused on running,” Malano said.

“Sometimes, I am joined by former Valletta team-mates Mario Fontanella or Juan Cruz Gill as we go to run or cycle, or even play Padel which is a fun sport as it keeps active while enjoying it and it is a good replacement for going to run outside.”

Speaking of Fontanella and Cruz Gill, Malano highlighted that the experience that players like them can give to teams is important as they will help the rest of dressing room to adapt to the Premier League demands.

“At Valletta, we achieved a lot during my time because we had a good mix of experienced players who could help us technically and tactically, and also with the professional behaviour,” the former City player said.

“In fact, I think the lack of experienced players due to injuries and COVID-19 was a detrimental for us last season.

“Experienced players are also important for young players who join the first team because they can learn while integrating with the senior players.”

Malano headed to Valletta in 2016, supposedly as a striker from Chile’s Rangers Talca but once joined the Citizens, he found himself occupying the midfielder role due to injury to Roderick Briffa.

The Argentine player heaped praise on Gilbert Agius, who while in the coaching staff of Valletta, helped him a lot in his transition from striker to midfielder.

“After my five years in Malta, I can easily say that I can play as a midfielder and as a striker, and there were moments where I ended up as central defender but that is not my main characteristic for sure,” Malano highlighted.

Maltese football growth

In Malta, Malano occupied various roles at the heart of the midfield as he played as a right midfielder in a four-man central department, as a number 8 and as number 10 as well.

He feels that nowadays he is more suited as a holding midfielder or attacking midfielder, given he has a knack for goals as well.

The Argentine player, who has two U-20 caps with his country, pointed our that the domestic game has improved in the last five years and one of the factors is that small clubs are bringing in some good foreigners and at the same time signing some of the best local talents, making the championship more competitive.

Adding to this, Malano expressed his thoughts on the possible increase of foreigners in a Matchday’s squad list which he deems as crucial to help teams improve as well.

“On the other side, there are still situations which can be handled better if Malta wants to level up its quality,” the 34-year-old said.

“For example, I feel that football in Malta could continue this season because it reflected negatively in the national team’s performances while it does not help the players to grow as well.

“At club level, I think there is the need for more league games as this would enable the players to have more playing time in their legs while facing the best teams on more occasions which would help them develop and make the league more entertaining.

“The Maltese clubs in Europe have been doing well lately and I think that means that they are now believing more in them and it’s time that they are helped to reach their goals in this level as well.”

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