The 2022-23 BOV Premier League kicked off amid the euphoria of the excellent showings of Maltese clubs in the UEFA Conference League this summer. Malta national teams’ head coach Devis Mangia spoke with Valhmor Camilleri on the challenges ahead and said that tough decisions need to be taken if Maltese football is to continue to grow…
Devis Mangia has been working as Malta national teams’ head coach and technical director for more than three years now and during this time there has been a notable improvement in the results achieved both by the senior selection at international level.
Clubs are also slowly starting to make huge strides forward in UEFA club competitions. This summer Ħamrun Spartans became the first Maltese team to reach the Play Off Round while Hibernians and Gżira United progressed to the third qualifying round of the same competition – a first for the game in Malta.
Mangia said that he was pleased to see such achievements from these three Maltese clubs. He has no doubt that it’s another sign of the improvement the ‘Beautiful Game’ is going through here and is a major boost ahead of the crucial UEFA Nations League clash against Estonia this month.
“I’m obviously very happy with the positive results achieved by the Maltese clubs this summer,” Mangia said.
“As national coach I was delighted to see so many players from my squad being involved in such high-level matches as it has surely put them in a far better physical condition heading into this month’s crucial UEFA Nations League clash against Estonia.
“To be honest, against Estonia in June we were not inferior to our opponents but the bad result was due to some two or three mistakes committed in the final part of the game. But for sure, with 12 players in my squad having played 10 top-level matches already this season, we will be in a much better physical condition and that is important, particularly as Estonia will be at the peak of their season.
“One key element for these positive results was that Maltese teams have shown vast improvement from a tactical point of view. Obviously, every coach has his playing philosophy but they managed to adopt a very good tactical plan that has given something more to their team, so I have to compliment the club’s technical staff for that.
“Added to that, these positive results have been also important to boost the confidence and the self-belief of the players involved. Now, these players can take the field with a different mindset as they can think that if they put everything on the pitch they can achieve something against better opposition and that is very important.”
“If you look at the average age of Maltese players playing in the Premier League, it’s clear that it is a bit high and we need to do something for the future of our young players”
Despite such positive showings, Mangia said that there was still a lot of work to be done to help Maltese football continue to grow in the near future. He said that it was time that some tough decisions need to be taken by both the MFA and the clubs so that we guarantee a bright future to Maltese football.
“I have been here in Malta for more than three years now, so I have a clear idea of the situation here,” the former Italy U-21 coach said.
“I believe that this is the moment that we take difficult decisions that will benefit the future of Maltese football. Everyone know that this is a long term process but it’s time that we take some action.”
Asked what were the difficult decisions to be taken Mangia did not mince his words.
“If you ask me from a technical point of view if I’m in favour of having 14 teams in the Premier League, my answer is no. My technical opinion is that there should be ten teams in the Premier League as for me quality is more important than quantity.
“If you look at the average age of Maltese players playing in the Premier League, it’s clear that it is a bit high and we need to do something for the future of our young players.
“Take the national team, we have some specific positions on the pitch where we clearly have a lack of solutions, and it’s time to intervene as at the end of the day the national team mirrors the football situation of a specific country.”
Mangia said one clear area is to try and increase the pool of national team players.
“The situation clearly shows us that we have to increase the pool of players available for the national team,” Mangia said.
“In this pool we have to increase the knowledge and experience to play at international level and for me there are three ways. First one is to award citizenship, secondly, to improve the level of our players and give them the chance to go and play abroad and thirdly to give the young players the opportunity to play at the best level in the country or have the chance to play away from our shores. And we need to work in all these directions.”
Mangia said that it is hard for him to understand criticism that the technical centre is increasing its expenses.
“Sometimes I hear people lamenting the increasing costs in the technical centre. But how can we give these young players the possibility to play at international level if not by giving them the chance to play more games against other national teams.
“According a FIFA report, regarding the number of international matches played by our youth national teams we were at the bottom of the list of countries below 100th placing in the FIFA ranking. So what we did? We started to increase the number of matches for U-15, U-17, U-18, and U-19 selections and help them gain experience.
“Now from three matches in a year they are playing 12 games and obviously with that comes the increase in expenses. However, in the medium term, giving these opportunity to these players, who are part of our clubs, it will help them to increase their knowledge and become better players.
“We also started a plan to increase the performance at youth level and to this aim we started a project, providing a six-week programme to players on strength and conditioning, we have also created a nutritional area and a psychological performance area, so we are taking a number of steps.
“Obviously there is going to be an increase in expenses, but if we spend something today and all stakeholders continue to work well together, we will gain something for sure. If we want to reach a higher level, we cannot invest the same amount of money of countries who are above us, we need to spend more.
“At the end of the day, our priority is to improve Maltese football in general.”
Last June, Mangia’s future as national teams’ head coach came under the spotlight after he was approached to take over as coach of Croatian club Rijeka.
The Italian opted to stay in his job, however, he made it clear that while he is fully committed to his job he said that to prolong his stay beyond his current contract he needs to see a real commitment by all stakeholders that they really want to improve the state of Maltese football.
“I have always been fully focused on my job,” Mangia said.
“If I have a contract till the day after tomorrow I have the mindset that I am in my job for the next ten years. At the moment, the situation is normal for me and to be honest, we didn’t start any talks to speak on my future.
“I want to make it clear that my commitment towards the Malta FA is 100 per cent till the last day of my contract. What will happen in the future I don’t know but it’s clear for me that I will only be ready to extend my contract if I see the willingness of all stakeholders to do all they can to take football here to another level.
“I am not the kind of coach that stays here and waits for the end of the month to receive his salary. I want to see that there is the real possibility that everyone comes together and works seriously to help Maltese football take another level.”