It's all about team spirit Published on: 28-04-2014

Team spirit, a strong work ethic and tactical discipline are the hallmarks of Valletta’s title success this season.

Praised for his role in turning Valletta’s fortunes, Dutch coach Andre Paus was quick to shun personal glory, instead shifting his focus to “this group of unique players” after seeing his team dismiss the challenge of outgoing champions Birkirkara 2-0 to win the title on Saturday.
“It’s all about team spirit and attitude,” Paus said.
“We have progressed as a team in the last six weeks. I am very pleased at how we performed in this game. That first goal brought Birkirkara out of their comfort zone and instead of retreating, we kept the pressure on them.
“In the first half, we could have scored more goals and after the break, we went through 15 anxious minutes before Briffa resolved the issue.”
Shaun Bajada took just two minutes to effectively decide the outcome of Saturday’s title clash after scoring a stunning free-kick which bent away from the diving Justin Haber.
“I have a gift and I pray to God every night to use it to the maximum,” an emotional Bajada told Times of Malta after his goal helped Valletta win their 22nd championship.
A peripheral figure at the beginning of the season under Mark Miller, Bajada has blossomed under Paus in the final league games.
During his spell with Birkirkara, Bajada was generally deployed as an attacking midfielder but Miller and Paus have mostly utilised him as left-back.
“It’s true, at Birkirkara I’ve played as an advanced midfielder behind the strikers and this has enabled me to be more in the thick of things but I’m prepared to play wherever the team needs me,” he said.
“I am prepared to change my style of play for the good of the team.”
Midfielder Roderick Briffa, whose stoppage-time strike took the result beyond their arch-rivals’ reach, has a similar story to that of Bajada in that both had spells with the Stripes.
Born and bred in Birkirkara, Briffa made the switch to Valletta during the 2009 January transfer window via Sliema Wanderers.
Likewise, he is not new to scoring title-clinching goals. In April 2011, he struck the all-important goal against Marsaxlokk that delivered the 20th title without defeat for Valletta.
“I was expecting to start from the bench,” Briffa, who replaced Denni 15 minutes from time, said.
“Paus has introduced his own rules. A player who serves a one-match ban starts the next game on the bench if the team had performed well.
“I will continue to give my all to be useful to the team and, when I was called to come in, I did my job.”
Veteran defender Luke Dimech has finally won his first championship medal with Valletta.  His return to the City last season was met with opposition from a section of fans but the stocky defender has won over the supporters with some braveheart displays this season.
“Paus has made a huge impact on the team but team spirit was key to this success,” Dimech said.
“We had no option but to win our final game. We are still unbeaten in 2014 and we are hoping to extend this positive run beyond the FA trophy final (against Sliema) on Thursday.”
Future plans
Victor Sciriha admitted that this title success was the most difficult of his reign as Valletta president.
“It was definitely the most difficult league to win not only because it was decided in the very last match but also because we came from behind,” Sciriha said.
“After a slow start to the Championship Pool, we gradually picked up pace and kept chasing Birkirkara. When they slipped against Hibernians, I was confident that we could take the chance to win the league.”
Sciriha revealed that Valletta will discuss their plans for next season after Thursday’s FA trophy final against Sliema Wanderers.
“A delegation from our sponsors Insignia are currently in Malta to attend Valletta’s final matches,” he said.
“It’s an open secret that Valletta’s long-term plans are aided by the financial support of our foreign investors who are giving their backing to the club.
“Valletta coach Paus has a high remuneration package which we cannot afford without help from our sponsors.
“Likewise, (Nukri) Revishvili, (Irakli) Maisuradze and Alan (da Silva Souza) are all sponsored by Insignia. I am confident that, after witnessing the way the Citizens celebrate, we will convince them to stay on.”
On the other side of the coin, Birkirkara coach Paul Zammit was very disappointed.
“It was one of those games when everything went wrong for us,” he said. “It happened against Valletta in the second round (Valletta won 2-1 in February). We’ve tried everything and at one point we were attacking with four strikers but nothing worked well for us today.”
Zammit refused to be drawn into arguments that the 1-0 defeat against Hibernians in the first round of the Championship Pool had dented their title chances.
“I am not looking back at what happened before this match but if I had to single out one game where we should have killed Valletta’s hopes, I would mention our previous encounter (0-0).
“We were the better side that day and despite the commitment shown by my players, we could not score.”
Birkirkara skipper Gareth Sciberras added: “We tried to play our game. We knew we had two results in our favour but it was not our day.
“Bajada’s early goal cancelled our advantage and we had a mountain to climb after that.”
Midfielder Paul Fenech argued that Birkirkara were let down by poor finishing.
“That early goal did alter our original plans as we took the field with an attack-minded gameplan,” Fenech said.
“I don’t agree that Valletta were the better side as we were confident on the ball all the time but we lacked firepower in the final third.
“We believed that we could overturn the deficit after the break, like we did last year against Hibs (in the decider), but it was not to be.”

Source - Times of Malta