It took only a few moments for Devis Mangia to realise the importance of Mark Piscopo inside the Malta men’s senior national team.
Piscopo, known better as ‘Il-Lullu’, was not a coach or a player. He was simply the kit manager. But for the players and the rest of the staff, he represented something much bigger than what his job description entailed.
He was their brother, someone they could rely on especially during difficult times.
“When I met ‘Lullu’, I said that he is the pillar of this team,” Mangia told a news conference on Saturday.
“Everyone will leave as the team continues to change, but he will remain a lynchpin in this dressing room.
This is a difficult time for everyone and I want to give my condolences, on behalf of the entire clan, to his family in particular to his wife and son.”
Malta’s third game in this edition of the Nations League is a very crucial one as Mangia’s side need to win if they want to keep their promotion hopes alive.
However, it is understandable that right now the team is going through a difficult period following the loss of someone who was very dear to them.
“It is not easy to lift the morale of the team and if was already hard after the Estonia game, now it is even harder,” Mangia explained.
“Unfortunately, here we are speaking about losing someone special while football is just a game.
It is a difficult moment to process, but obviously we want to keep this group open and while keeping ‘Lullu’ in our minds, we will always try to honour him.”
Piscopo was a popular figure in the football circles with his bubbly personality and hard-working attitude and will be fondly remembered by everyone associated with Maltese football.
Prior to his role as kit manager with the senior national team which he became in charge of in 2010, Piscopo also served as kit manager with Floriana FC.
“We are completely devastated to hear that Mark has passed away. Mark was more than a colleague, he was a close friend with whom we all shared many special moments. I personally will cherish those memories of him throughout my life,” Malta FA president Bjorn Vassallo said in an official statement.
“It is impossible to put into words the sorrow that this moment brings with it. The sympathy shown by all those involved in the football family gives a sense of the extent of the affection we all had towards Lullu. Lullu is gone but his memory will never die.”
For the players, he was a reference point especially when things were not going their way.
“Joyfulness and bravery are the words that come into mind when I think about him,” Zach Muscat explained.
“Today the Malta national team is in a different place than in the past given that we are working in a different way and obtaining more positive results.
“But it was not like that until a few years ago and there were situations that only the players themselves know what it was like to endure them. It was there when ‘Lullu’ protected us and cheered us in his bubbly manner.”
For San Marino, facing Malta is another opportunity to try and halt their negative run at international level.
The San Marino clan feels that they have been showing improvement in recent games and that if they execute their game plan in a perfect manner, they can even find a way for a positive result against Mangia’s side.
Coach Fabrizio Costantini pointed out that his team was playing in the way he wanted until their penalty decision was changed following an on-field VAR review.
“Following that decision, I think we lost a bit our concentration and the Maltese were good enough to seize the moment and pick up the victory,” he said in the press conference.
“Malta are improving under their coach Devis Mangia but I believe that we are on the right track as well and our recent displays have reflected the change in our mentality.”
San Marino are at the back of a gutsy display against 63rd-ranked Iceland, losing only 1-0. They have lost their opening two games in this year’s Nations League against Estonia and Malta 2-0.
Forward Nicola Nanni hopes that his team stays focused for the entire 90 minutes because only in that way they can manage to chalk up their first point in League D2.
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