One of the biggest accomplishments that a player can achieve throughout his career is the acknowledgment and respect from the clubs he has represented and the teams he has played against, in particular the rival ones.
If there is one player in Malta who can recall such experience, that is Andrew Cohen.
A Hibernians legend who has also managed to become an influential figure at his new club Gżira United in a short spell of time.
Throughout his career, Cohen won every domestic honour with Hibernians before moving to Gżira where despite he failed to win any silverware, he still managed to steer the club to some successful results among Malta’s elite teams.
Four-time Maltese champion and four-time winner of the MFA Best Player Award is a testament of the talent that Cohen possessed.
Moreover, his 694 games between domestic and international competitions are a reflection of the commitment and passion he had for the Beautiful Game.
Yesterday, Cohen stepped on his old home ground – the Hibernians Stadium, now renamed as Tony Bezzina Stadium in memory of the man Cohen considers as his football father – to reunite with his former team mates in a charity match that was also a celebration of the former Hibernians captain’s illustrious career.
“First of all, I am grateful to Gżira United team manager Marlon Galea and president Sharlon Pace who together with Jesmond Abela and Ranier Bezzina, team manager and president of Hibernians respectively, masterminded this farewell match for me,” Cohen told the Times of Malta.
“When I see the appreciation that the Hibernians fans, the Gżira United supporters and the rest of the Maltese football followers have towards me, I feel that I have reached one of the objectives of my career.
“At the same time, it was an amazing opportunity to catch up with my former team-mates with whom I have shared the ups and downs while recalling back the experiences that we have been through together.
“My only regret is that my former president at Hibernians, Tony Bezzina, could not be present at this memorable occasion for me.”
For Cohen, Bezzina was a father figure who helped him as the former Hibernians player came through the ranks of the club and made a name for himself in the top-flight while donning the Paolites’ colours.
“In my life, I had my own father who taught me how to live and become a better person as I grew up,” Cohen underlined.
“On the other hand, Tony Bezzina was my football father who saw me break into the senior team and has always been there for me with his wisdom and suggestions.
“Despite being the president of a club, Bezzina always knew how to relate with people because he was so humble that he would help anyone, on and off the field, and that is something that I have always admired in him.”
Before he and Hibernians parted ways in 2017, Cohen had spoken to Bezzina to pick his brain about him leaving the club with whom he had played for almost two decades.
“President Bezzina had told me that while I was always welcome to stay at the club, he did confess to me that if I felt that I could continue to play at this level, I should look for a new opportunity,” Cohen said.
“It felt like a blessing from him to seek pastures new. I felt appreciated by him at the same time, because he told me that even if I leave, the door is always open for me at Hibernians whether as a player or as a coach.”
Undoubtedly, not only the support of the late Bezzina and the Maltese general public pushed Cohen in his career, but also the backing that he found from his family played a crucial role in the longevity and successful career that he had as a player.
“I cannot thank enough my parents, my wife and my children whose support keeps me motivated in my career,” Cohen pointed out.
“On the other hand, Tony Bezzina was my football father who saw me break into the senior team and has always been there for me with his wisdom and suggestions”
At Hibernians, Cohen lifted the Maltese title on four occasions and while every time it’s special, the former Paolites player indicated the 2014-15 title as the most special.
“During the 2014-15 season, we had an incredible team at Hibernians and the talent that we boasted would propel us to change our mindset from ‘if we are going to win’ to ‘by how many goals are we going to win’,” Cohen admitted.
“The statistics speak for themselves because in that season we had scored 97 goals with the league’s top scorers being Tarabai and Jorginho with 25 goals each.
“Moreover, I was named as the MFA Best Player of the Year award following that season.”
Throughout his years at Hibernians, Cohen played with a lot of high-profile players.
While he names Branko Nisevic as one of the best defenders he ever faced, Cohen mentioned some of the most talented players he shared the field with.
Former Malta goalkeeper Mario Muscat, Clayton Failla and Roderick Briffa who are now at Mosta, current Hibernians captain Bjorn Kristensen and former team-mates Silvio Vella, Ndubisi Chukunyere and Terence Scerri were all on Cohen’s list.
Justin Haber, Cohen’s current team-mate at Gżira was also included alongside the aforementioned players.
When Cohen parted ways with Hibernians after 518 matches and countless trophies, one would have expected him to find it difficult to settle in a new club but finding team-mates that he already knew such as Haber contributed to him settling more quickly.
“If someone would have told me that at Gżira I would play and advance in European competitions, and being named Malta’s best player, I would have not believed it,” Cohen underlined.
“Nonetheless, the tremendous support that I found from coach Darren Abdilla and president Sharlon Pace helped me feel important at Gżira.”
In his first season at the Maroons, Cohen helped he club to qualify to European football for the first time in 44 years in their first season since being promoted to the top-flight.
“For me, that European qualification was my biggest achievement at Gżira,” Cohen said.
“However, I cannot forget the memorable night in Croatia when we eliminated Hajduk Split from the Europa League qualifiers.
“To be honest, I was not that really optimistic heading into the second leg but president Pace kept injecting positive vibes into us and that motivated me a lot.
“I remember that when we were one goal down at half-time, I had told Justin Haber that we had to try and decrease the tempo of the game in order to limit the damage. What happened next though, was the unthinkable, and I will cherish that qualification forever.”
Cohen’s delightful performances in the domestic completion earned him 67 caps at international level, something that the former Malta player will cherish forever.
“Being part of the national team should be every player’s dream because the moment you hear your country’s anthem being played, you have goosebumps all over your body,” Cohen said.
“If someone would have told me that at Gżira I would play and advance in European competitions, and being named Malta’s best player, I would have not believed it”
He made his national team debut in 2004 during a friendly match against the Faroe Islands, under the guidance of Horst Heese
At individual level, Cohen was named a record four times MFA Best Player of the Year, including twice at the age of 35 and 38. Moreover, he also finished as a runner-up on three occasions.
“I have to admit that I am a very competitive person and if I want to pursue something, I want to do it in the right manner,” Cohen admitted.
“Therefore, whenever I played football I always gave my utmost to win and when I felt that I could not offer the same level of performances like before, I decided to hang up my boots for good.
“Although I do miss not being able to give my input and help my team-mates on the field, I am really lucky to have the opportunity to be part of a technical staff that allows me to be myself, have a say and that accepts my ideas.”
Given the opportunity that Cohen had to play under several coaches, he has made sure to try and pick the best elements from each one of them during his coaching career.
Cohen, who has just completed his UEFA ‘A’ License coaching course, explained that while it is important to learn from all the coaches he has been with it, ultimately it is important to have your own style.
“I would choose Branko Nisevic’s tactical intelligence, Darren Abdilla’s way of managing a team, the aggressiveness on the touchline of Mark Miller and the composure of Robert Gatt in his decision-making in my ideal profile of a coach,” Cohen said.
“Nonetheless, the most important thing is to remain loyal to my style and I hope that I will have as much success career as a coach as I had as a player.”
Cohen thanked Eligio Vella, his PUMA sponsor, who supplied him with all his football needs throughout his career.