Twenty-eight years on from his last appearance in a Sliema Wanderers shirt, John Buttigieg has returned to his roots in a different capacity after being named as the new coach of the 2015/16 FA Trophy winners.
Buttigieg, who had not worked at senior level since losing his job as Malta coach in 2011, succeeds Alfonso Greco who has taken charge of Italian Serie D club Ostiamare.
A Sliema man through and through, Keith Perry, the Wanderers president, spoke of his delight to have persuaded the highly-rated Buttigieg to become the club’s head coach.
“Our last season was full of ups and downs but we concluded it in the best way possible by winning the FA Trophy,” Perry said at Buttigieg’s unveiling yesterday.
“After the end of the 2015/16 campaign, we faced a difficult situation in choosing the right man who can take our team to the next level.
“To be honest, we haven’t spoken to other coaches because when we confirmed that Buttigieg was available, we were convinced that he was the best option for us.
“John is a man of integrity and puts a lot of emphasis on discipline. He’s also a Sliema boy, has played for our team and his late father, Robbie Buttigieg, is a club icon.
“We’re happy that he has agreed to become our coach and, even from his side, there was a feeling that he belongs to this club.”
Buttigieg said he was honoured to coach one of the leading clubs in Maltese football.
“First and foremost, I want to thank the committee for the faith they have shown in me,” the 53-year-old said.
“This is the club where I started my football career and, although there were no nurseries during my time, there was already a structure here to promote young players.
“I’m honoured to be the coach of one of the biggest clubs in Malta.
“My family is from Sliema and I played for the Wanderers a long time ago... it’s nice to be back.”
Buttigieg, who also played for Brentford and Swindon in England, and Floriana and Valletta during a distinguished career that saw him make 97 appearances for Malta, is demanding total commitment from his squad.
“The mentality I want from the players is that they give their best every single day,” Buttigieg, who has worked in youth football over the past five years, said.
Although the mood in the Sliema camp is buoyant after their penalty shoot-out win over Balzan in the FA Trophy final, their attention is now fully centred on next season.
The appointment of Buttigieg as Greco’s successor and securing the future of midfielder Mark Scerri, who has signed a new four-year contract, were the club’s top priorities in the close season.
While reiterating that Sliema’s main target to qualify for European competitions, Perry made it clear that defender Clifford Gatt Baldacchino, who scored the winning penalty in the FA Trophy final, is not leaving the club despite speculation linking him with a move to neighbours Gżira United.
Italian defender Stefano Bianciardi, Scottish wing-back Gary Muir and Marko Potezica, the Serbian midfielder, are the only three foreigners from last season who are still contracted to the Blues.
Perry confirmed Sliema’s interest in Hibs striker Jean Paul Farrugia and midfielder Johann Bezzina who both left a very positive impression during their loan spells with the Wanderers last season.
Asked to earmark which positions in the team require strengthening, Buttigieg said: “Every season, there are a lot of changes. We only started training yesterday (Thursday) and I need more time to assess the players better.
“Surely, there is no need to rush.”
Despite their financial travails in recent years, a situation further compounded by the collapse of their much-touted partnership deal with Next Champions TV, Sliema Wanderers have remained afloat under Perry’s dedicated leadership.
The Sliema president said that he is still in talks with BetinMalta to extend their sponsorship agreement for another two years.
BetinMalta have also signed a sponsorship deal with champions Valletta, a move that cast doubts about the company’s future relationship with the Blues.
Faced with a question about Next Champions TV’s alleged failure to fulfil the promises they had made to Sliema, Perry said this saga left the club with a mountain to climb.
“Unfortunately, NCTV let us down,” Perry said. “Last season was a struggle for us but this year, we have altered our policies.
“We are trying to attract local sponsors rather than go for a big project. The committee is working very hard on this.
“Despite all the difficulties we faced last season, our main objective was to win the FA Trophy. At Sliema, we can’t afford to think as losers.”
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