Former England football manager Sven-Goran Eriksson has said he is optimistic Malta can emulate Iceland’s recent success and qualify for the World Cup one day.
“If I were Malta’s new manager [Tom Saintfiet], I would go to Iceland and check out what they’re doing,” Eriksson said. “It’s a small, small country with a population of under 300,000 which made it to the quarter finals of the European Championships last year and have now qualified for the World Cup. It’s incredible, and the whole world is asking what they’re doing. If Iceland can do it, then why not Malta?”
Eriksson, who managed England between 2001 and 2006, is currently in Malta to attend a housewarming party of FanLeague– a Maltese company which has developed an app for people to predict Premier League and Championship football games. Eriksson is an unpaid ambassador for FanLeague and plays the prediction game himself every week, and he agreed to an interview with LovinMalta ahead of the party.
Tom Saintfiet was appointed Malta’s manager yesterday
His advice to Maltese authorities to improve the quality of local football and get the country to the World Cup one day is crystal clear.
“Everything starts with the youths and indeed Iceland had invested in their youth system and ended up producing a very good team,” he said. “If you want to become a big country or club, then you have to invest in footballers when they are 7, 8 and 9 years old and train them. If you don’t have good grassroots football academies then you’ll never become a good footballing club or nation. If Malta does this, then of course it could qualify for the World Cup.”
He also said it is important for Maltese players to leave Malta to play with professional clubs when they are around 17 years old if they intend to make its as professional players.
“However, if you want to be signed by a professional club then you must be good enough and to good enough, you must start training at a really young age. If a country doesn’t have good academies then it will be practically impossible for any talented players to come through.”
Iceland have qualified for the 2018 World Cup in Russia
During the interview, the vastly-experienced Eriksson also gave his take on the current state of the Serie A and the Premier League…
“During the 90s, the Italian league was the best in the world but I believe the Premier League has overtaken them now,” he said. “Spain and Germany have a few good teams, but what makes the Premier League such an interesting team is that a team like Burnley can beat a team like Chelsea.”
However, he warned that the Premier League’s lack of a winter back is causing its players to tire out towards the end of the season – with the consequence that they would enter international summer competitions feeling exhausted.
When asked who will win next year’s World Cup, he instantly mentioned Germany, although he said China – where he most recently managed – will be right up there with the biggest names in international football within the next 15 years.
Eriksson, 69, left the door open to a future return to football management, but only if the project on offer is an interesting one.
“I know my passport says I have a certain age but the problem is that I don’t feel it.” he said.