Sliema Wanderers yesterday named Ray 'Zazu' Farrugia as their new coach. Farrugia's appointment had been in the offing after Edward Aquilina stepped down as Sliema coach on Thursday in the light of the team's unconvincing start to the Premier League.

Sliema acted swiftly to lure the experienced Farrugia to their fold.

Farrugia, 51, agreed to take over as Sliema coach yesterday afternoon after fruitful talks with high-ranking club officials, headed by president Robert Arrigo.

Widely acclaimed as one of the best Maltese coaches, Farrugia had been out of club management since May after ending a positive eight-month spell at the helm of Marsaxlokk last season where he worked in tandem with Oliver Spiteri, now coach of Malta's U-17 squad.

For the past year-and-a-half, Farrugia, who is best remembered for leading Malta's U-21 team to a string of creditable results during a four-year coaching stint, has devoted most of his energies towards training the youngsters enrolled at the Zazu Football School.

"Although I wasn't really planning to make an immediate return to club coaching, I must admit that I'm flattered by Sliema's approach," Farrugia told The Times.

"I'm relishing the challenge of leading one of the most important clubs in Maltese football. At the same time, I want to reiterate my commitment to the Zazu Football School. The school is very close to my heart and I derive a great deal of satisfaction from training young players."

Farrugia, who led Pietà Hotspurs to successive fifth-place finishes in seasons 2003-2004 and 2004-2005, knows he faces a tall order to restore Sliema to their former pre-eminence in the short term.

After winning three consecutive Premier League titles in the first three years of Aquilina's reign, Sliema's performance level digressed in the second half of last season which they finished as runners-up to Birkirkara.

This season, Sliema have lost three of their opening eight games and lie sixth in the Premier League table with 11 points.

"Sliema have not been at their best this year, a fact reflected by their unfavourable position in the standings," Farrugia said.

"When I accepted to help Marsa-xlokk last season, the team was in the bottom part of the standings but through hard work and good team spirit Marsaxlokk improved and eventually finished among the top three. I believe that the experience of last season has made Marsaxlokk a stronger unit.

"The same challenge awaits me at Sliema. It's a big test for the players and myself but with the right attitude and commitment, I'm confident that Sliema will improve."

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