Coach Zammit calls on team to do their talking on pitch Published on: 20-08-2015

For the first time since Victor Sciriha took over as president in 2007, Valletta are not billed among the favourites to win the Premier League title but they are comfortable with their underdog status.
It has been a summer of change at Valletta as coach Paul Zammit, back for his second spell in charge of the team, has overseen a massive squad overhaul after the Citizens ended the 2014/15 season without a major trophy.
Valletta have recruited a host of new foreigners, namely returning Cameroonian winger Njongo Priso, Brazilian striker Jhonnattann, Italian midfielder Claudio Pani, Argentine defender Juan Cruz Gill, Brazilian wing-back Romeo Romau, and strikers Calictus Umeh, from Nigeria, and Argentine Federico Falcone. Maltese goalkeeper Henry Bonello also joined Valletta.
“After the huge disappointment of our Europa League exit, we have done a lot of work,” Sciriha said at the presentation of Valletta’s new signings for season 2015/16, held yesterday at the Vivaldi Hotel.
“This year, we didn’t rush into choosing our new foreign players. I believe that those who have joined us have brought a lot of quality to the squad.
“So, I’m convinced that Valletta will finish higher than fifth in the league as someone has suggested.
“We are the underdogs but we can surprise a few people.”
Sciriha said that, as part of their new three-year project, Valletta have completed the signing of promising youngster Jean Borg on a permanent basis. They are also monitoring other bright prospects.
“What happened before cannot be repeated,” Sciriha stressed.
“We were having to deal with a recurring problem as, after every season, we had to change our foreigners. From this year, our foreign players’ contracts are for a minimum of two years.”
The Valletta chief said the club intend to make Bonello’s loan move from Sliema a permanent one next summer and, to this end, they already have an agreement with the towering goalkeeper over a five-year contract.
On Zammit’s return, Sciriha said that Valletta leapt at the chance to bring him back after having ended his spell with Birkirkara who he led to success in the FA Trophy last season.
“We can cause a big surprise this season as I believe a lot in this squad,” Sciriha said, adding that, if needed, Valletta will not hesitate to make a few adjustments come the January transfer window.
Zammit ex-pounded on Valletta’s preparations for the new season which starts tomorrow with a match against newcomers St Andrews.
In praising his technical staff, most of whom were confirmed from last season, Zammit said that the Valletta players are also training in the morning.
“Just because we’ve introduced morning training sessions doesn’t mean that we can call ourselves professionals,” Zammit said.
“The attitude and approach are very important. The demands of the game have increased and we have to be well-prepared.”
Zammit refrained from setting his team a specific target for this season but said: “I believe in what we’re doing. Now we will start gauging ourselves in the championship.
“We have seen a lot of positive things in pre-season games.
“Valletta need to have an identity, one that the fans and media can relate with. Everyone has an opinion on who will challenge but we have to produce our response on the field of play.
“This year, I also wish to bring the team closer to the supporters.
“When I was with Valletta six years ago, the support was fervent. I know that there are many people who love Valletta FC and I want them to feel close to the team.”
Zammit said the situation in the early days of the pre-season was like stepping into “the desert”.
Suspensions and complications to secure visas for foreign players had undermined Valletta’s chances in the Europa League with Zammit insisting that the real work started after the team’s elimination at the hands of Newtown AFC, of Wales.
The City coach concurs with the general view that Hibs and Birkirkara are the main contenders for the top hononurs.
“It is clear that Birkirkara and Hibs have very strong squads,” Zammit said.
“These two clubs were strong last year, in fact they won the three major trophies between them – Hibs the league title and Birkirkara the Super Cup and FA Trophy – and this year, they have reinforced their squads even further.
“But with seven foreigners, you can’t really underestimate no-one, especially the likes of Balzan, Sliema and Floriana.”
Change of heart
Zammit’s return, the challenge of building of a new squad and the implementation of a new three-year project, look to have restored Sciriha’s enthusiasm who has backtracked on his pledge to quit his post at the end of last season.
Asked what made him change his mind, Sciriha said: “The backing I received from the club committee was enormous. Many Valletta FC supporters also urged me to stay.
“I was even approached by a young 12-year-old who urged me not to leave Valletta and that really touched me.”
On Valletta’s on-going stadium saga, Sciriha said that little has changed since the club were awarded land in Ħal-Farruġ which, it was later discovered, can’t be used to construct a football stadium.
Sciriha said they are still engaged in discussions with the authorities, especially Parlia-mentary Secretary for Sport Chris Agius, with the aim of earmarking an alternative site.
According to Sciriha, Valletta FC have thrashed out their dif-ferences with sponsors Insignia and that both parties have agreed to drop lawsuits pending at the courts.

Source - Times of Malta, Photo Credits: Domenic Aquilina