Maltese football was rocked by the news of Tom Saintfiet’s unexpected sacking as coach of the national team.

The Belgian was relieved of his duties by the Malta Football Association following a report by BBC Sport saying he  was interested in the post of coach with the Cameroon national team.

The news of Saintfiet’s alleged interest in the Cameroon vacancy was a huge surprise to football fans and officials as the Belgian had only been given the job last October when he replaced Pietro Ghedin.

Saintfiet vehemently denied that he applied for the job and said that if his CV was at the Cameroon FA offices it arrived through an agent without his authorisation.

But the Malta FA rightly felt that Saintfiet’s position had become untenable, as in their eyes he didn’t show the loyalty and respect they expected, and decided to end the association with Saintfiet immediately. 

Saintfiet’s departure leaves the Malta FA and its senior national team at a crossroads, especially when taking into consideration that the start of the UEFA Nations League is only five months away.

The Malta FA executive committee is set to meet today to decide a way forward and install a new national coach who will take the team’s reins for the upcoming friendlies against Armenia, Georgia and Moldova between late May and early June.

After all the controversy that came about following the appointment of Saintfiet, it will be interesting to see whether the MFA will continue with its stance of employing foreign coaches or finally install a Maltese coach.

Since Saintfiet’s sacking there has been a growing call among fans who would like to see a Maltese coach in charge of the national team and the governing body would do well to learn from its recent mistakes when pointing the way forward.

Saintfiet’s lack of knowledge of Maltese football has severely hampered his first months of tenure and was reflected in the team’s abject showings.

The Belgian coach left the post with a disappointing record of three successive defeats against fellow European minnows Estonia, Luxembourg and Finland and despite his attacking mantra the team failed to find the opponents’ net once in any of the matches.

Surely a Maltese coach would not have fared worse than Saintfiet and it is high time the MFA finally listens to the public’s call and hand the team to a local coach.

It is important the MFA does not make rash decisions and it would be wise to install an interim coach for the upcoming matches before making a final decision in June.

Ray Farrugia, a coach who has ample experience in managing the national teams over the years, should be a prime candidate for the job.

Farrugia has filled the role of assistant coach under four coaches, namely Josip Ilic, Sigi Held, Pietro Ghedin and Saintfiet, and surely knows how to restore tranquility in the set-up at such a delicate time.

Branko Nisevic, the former Gżira United and Hibernians coach, could be a good backup for Farrugia and his previous experiences in the national team set-up will help him settle down nicely.

Appointing a local coach will not solve all the problems that afflicted the side over the years but it could be a positive starting point to instill more passion in the players and bring the fans closer to the team in such difficult times.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial


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