A mediocre training environment, inadequate coaching staff and a lack of foresight are just some of the barriers keeping local footballers from reaching the next level.
For former Malta captain André Schembri, who has enjoyed a long and successful career playing abroad, the issue is also one of players not having the right facilities, training and guidance to prepare them for what comes next.
“Unfortunately, in Malta, we tend to decentralise instead of centralise our best resources,” Schembri told Lovin Malta.
“Look at what Qatar did in the last decade. They created a sports academy with the ultimate aim of developing well-educated sports champions. In 2019, they ended up winning the AFC Asian Cup. And that’s what we need!” he said.
The problem begins with youth development and the number of resources dedicated to training young athletes not just on the pitch, but also off it – from conditioning to psychology. And that starts by bringing in the right people for the job.
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“How many good youth football coaches do we have who coached in high-performance environments or who had experience playing abroad? How many strength and conditioning coaches do we have who are accredited by national governing bodies, not solely university graduates?” Schembri said.
“How many nutritionists do we have who understand the energy availability requirements of football? How many sports psychologists do we have who focus on football players’ migration? Few, if none in my humble opinion.”
The lack of resources dedicated to youth football is in part a consequence of the heightened attention clubs give to top-tier teams, leaving scraps for those who come behind.
Amongst the 16 BOV Premier League clubs in Malta, only two have youth programmes across all age groups competing in Youth League Section A, the top tier, which are Birkirkara and Valletta.
Seven clubs either have no teams in Section A or fail to produce any team at all at the youth leagues.
“Unfortunately, the majority of the Premier League clubs are too focused on the short-term and spend too much money on the first team and very little on the clubs’ youth development system,” Schembri continued.
“Therefore, our local players end up training in subpar environments where their full potential will never be fulfilled due to the lack of focus on the long-term health of the game.”
For Schembri, the solution lies in creating a multidisciplinary, centralised environment where resources are pooled together by experts and focused on training athletes to have a sustainable career abroad.
“We need to create an academy within the Malta Football Association structures (because it’s the only place with the appropriate resources) with the ultimate aim of helping players moving abroad. We cannot expect our clubs with minimal resources to do that,” he said.
It is also apparent that clubs that do invest in youth development, a number of which are in the Challenge League, merely turn into feeder clubs for bigger clubs to exploit.
“There are too many youth nurseries in Malta and there is the need for a much more coordinated approach to maximise our resources. We need to create an environment where our players are well trained and prepared by experts to have a sustainable career abroad. These experts are not self-proclaimed, but rather possess the necessary credentials,” Schembri said.
After successful stints playing for clubs across Europe and Asia, and featuring on Malta’s national team, even as captain, Schembri now finds himself as the Head Coach of U-15 Apollon Limassol Football Club in Cyprus.
When asked what made him stand out from the crowd, it simply came down to discipline and principles.
“I was lucky to have a 24-hour coach supporting me and that was my father. He always helped me to try and develop to my full potential from a very young age,” he said.
“Apart from that, I was brought up in a family with principles and values and they also created an environment for me that guided me in developing resilience which is so important if you want to have a sustainable career abroad.”
As it stands, Malta has a number of local players playing in foreign leagues, the majority of which are women. While some do make it on their own, much has to change if the island wants to produce a stream of talented and skilled footballers capable of competing in the big leagues.
“Unfortunately, Malta doesn’t allow you to fulfill your potential to date,” Schembri ended.
Most recently, the MFA launched a new four-year strategy aimed at changing the culture of football in Malta. As part of its strategy, the MFA has committed to building a strong foundation that aims to take players out of the comfort zone and play competitively abroad.
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