Spiteri savours sweet title success Published on: 29-04-2014

In the 34 years he has been on the Valletta FC committee, Paul Spiteri has seen it and done it all.
The arrival of Victor Sciriha as president in 2007 heralded a new golden era for Valletta, who have since won four Premier League titles and one FA Trophy, but things have not always been rosy at one of the most successful clubs in Maltese football.
A club pillar since legendary president Joseph Salinos, affectionately known as ‘ic-Chief’, persuaded him to join the committee in the early eighties, Spiteri has remained loyal to Valletta in the good and bad times.
Like any high-ranking official of an organisation or a company, Spiteri has had to contend with criticism when the going got tough, especially when Valletta were afflicted by serious financial problems after the glorious years under the helm of former president Joe Caruana Curran, but he has also lived through many special moments in the club’s history.
His roll of honour is probably unrivalled in Maltese football as Valletta have won 11 championships and seven FA Trophy titles since Spiteri took up a role on the club’s committee.
Valletta’s title-clinching 2-0 win over rivals Birkirkara last Saturday evoked memories of their feat in season 1997-98 when the Citizens had also overhauled a two-point deficit to pip the Stripes to the crown after a 2-1 win.
“This has definitely been one of the sweetest title triumphs in the 34-odd years I have been on the Valletta committee,” Spiteri told Times of Malta.
“The championship was won on the final day of the season. It made for an exciting and dramatic finale.
“From an organisational point-of-view, it’s always better to seal the title before the final game because that gives you time to plan for the celebrations but winning it on the very last day makes it ultra special.
“There was also this widespread perception that Birkirkara were the hot favourites to retain the league crown but I always said that we had a more-experienced squad and most of our players are capable of producing something to change the course of a match.
“Thankfully, our players have shown their true worth in the most important game of the season as their performance on Saturday was the best of the campaign.
“The addition of new foreigners plus the appointment of Andre Paus as head coach in January have made a big difference.
“These changes made our team stronger and this was evident during Saturday’s game.”
Spiteri, who holds the post of vice-president in the Valletta committee, has never entertained thoughts of quitting Valletta even when the club were on the verge of financial collapse.
“I got my injection of pride and motivation from Joseph Salinos ‘ic-Chief’,” Spiteri, who is also a member of the Malta FA Executive Committee, said.
“Salinos was not only the president of Valletta, he was the father of the team. He was a bachelor and he treated the players like his sons.
“When he approached me to stand for the committee, he told me several times that we should never abandon the club... I always remember those words.
“I love the club... I love all the things that are associated with Valletta.”
The joyous scenes that greeted Valletta’s pulsating win on Saturday and the ensuing celebrations at the stadium and in the capital can only have intensified Spiteri’s motivation to keep serving the club.
“There was a sea of people in Valletta to celebrate out title success,” Spiteri enthused.
“In fact, the massive crowd that thronged Republic Street on Saturday night exceeded the amount of fans that attended the match.
“This is not surprising really because everyone knows that the people of Valletta are passionate about their football team and carnival.
“It was a feast of spontaneous joy. Football is like religion for us.”
Double aim
Valletta are now aiming to complete a league and cup double as they meet Sliema Wanderers in the U*Bet FA Trophy final on Thursday.
“A double has been missing from our annals since season 2000-01,” Spiteri said.
“If you had asked me about our chances before Saturday, I would have said that we probably had a better chance of winning the Trophy than the league because we were two points behind Birkirkara.
“I have the utmost respect for Sliema Wanderers but Birkirkara have a stronger team.
“We are now regarded as favourites to win the Trophy but we are not there yet... a final is always a tough game.
“Am I optimistic? If our players repeat Saturday’s performance, if they play with the same enthusiasm and tactical discipline, we would certainly have a big chance of winning the FA Trophy final.”
Since taking over the presidency of Valletta, Sciriha has spent a fortune on players and coaches in pursuit of success.
Domestically, Valletta have restored their status as a dominant force, winning four league titles in seven years, but Sciriha has repeatedly declared that his ultimate objective is to see the team progress to the latter qualifying rounds of the Champions League.
A move towards professionalism and an improved technical set-up would bolster their European prospects but equally important for Valletta is to retain the nucleus of Maltese and foreign players who won the league title.
“Progress in Europe is important for our club,” Spiteri said.
“I think that our league success this season could be the launchpad for an improved showing in the Champions League.
“A lot would depend on the draw as we could come up against some strong clubs who have a rich European pedigree.
“But the strength of our squad fills me with courage.
“It’s imperative that we keep the majority of the players, especially the foreigners, as that can be a decisive factor.
“Hamza Barry and Abdelkarim Nafti have another year left on their contract and we are also hoping to keep coach Paus, goalkeeper Nukri Revishvili, Alan Da Silva Souza and Irakli Maisuradze who made a positive impact since joining the club in January.
“The same goes for Denni whose contract runs out at the end of the season.”

Source - Times of Malta