The Maltese Falcon is flying high in Hungary.
André Schembri extended his rich vein of form last weekend as his hat-trick inspired Ferencvaros to a 3-1 win away to SC Vasas in the Hungarian league.
Long touted as one of Malta’s brightest prospects, Schembri’s vibrant showings for Ferencvaros this season suggest that his unstinting efforts to make a name for himself abroad are finally reaping the desired dividends.
Nicknamed ‘The Maltese Falcon’ by the fervent Ferencvaros fans and the media, Schembri was overjoyed about his three-goal haul in Sunday’s victory.
“I’m very satisfied with my performance in the last game,” Schembri told The Times from Budapest.
“My contribution enhanced my rapport with the Ferencvaros supporters who were euphoric after our victory. There’s a bit of rivalry with Vasas because they took Ferencvaros’s place in the top flight after the club was demoted to a lower division a few years back.”
Schembri’s scoring exploits also helped to brighten the mood in and around Ferencvaros after the team had suffered back-to-back defeats.
“It was nice to get a hat-trick but I’m happier that we won the three points,” Schembri said.
“There was big pressure on us to get back to winning ways after we lost two games in a row.
“The fans here are passionate and very demanding… they expect a lot from the team.”
After an uneventful spell with Austrian club SK Kaernten, Schembri joined Ferencvaros on a short-term deal last February. He struggled to make an impact initially but, emboldened by a good pre-season, the former Marsaxlokk forward has hit the ground running this term.
“It takes time for a player to settle down in a new place but I didn’t give up,” Schembri said of his early struggles with Ferencvaros.
“I only took a week off in the summer. I trained very hard in pre-season because I was determined to make a hit with Ferencvaros. The club showed faith in my abilities by offering a new contract and that increased my motivation to repay their confidence.
“I’m very happy here. I’ve adapted quickly to the Hungarian lifestyle and having (Malta goalkeeper) Justin Haber as a team-mate is a big bonus.”
Buoyed by his excellent early-season form, Schembri is keen to boost Ferencvaros’s bid to claim a top-three finish in the league.
“My target is to keep my place in the team and help the club achieve its objectives,” Schembri said.
“Our aim at the start of the season was to qualify for a European competition and to do that, we have to be among the top three teams at the end of the season.
“It’s not an easy task because the league here is very competitive. Debrecen and Videoton are always fighting for the title because they are the strongest and richest clubs.
“Then there is a bunch of teams, MTK, Ujpest, Gyor and Ferencvaros, challenging to get into Europe.”
Ferencvaros have 13 points from eight matches, one behind joint leaders Videoton and MTK Budapest who have a game in hand.
Financial difficulties seriously hampered Ferencvaros’s progress in recent years but the club’s takeover by a company owned by Kevin McCabe, the Sheffield United chairman, in 2008 restored stability to the club who regained promotion to the Soproni Liga at the end of season 2008/09 after three years in the doldrums.
“I certainly don’t regret joining Ferencvaros,” Schembri said. “They are a prestigious club, the biggest I’ve played for in my career so far.
“I’m honoured to be playing for Ferencvaros and there are very ambitious plans aimed at making this club stronger.”
An automatic choice for Malta under Dusan Fitzel, Schembri has not featured for the national side since the friendly against Cape Verde (0-2) in September last year.
The skilful forward is paying the price for his decision to opt out of Malta’s final qualifier against Portugal in October last year as, at the time, Schembri felt that he had to step up his efforts to gain a regular place with Kaernten.
Calls for national coach John Buttigieg to recall Schembri for next week’s Euro 2012 qualifier away to Georgia have increased in light of the striker’s top-notch displays for Ferencvaros.
Asked about his long absence from the national team, Schembri replied: “It’s an honour for every player to wear the national team’s shirt and I’m no different. However, there are stages in a player’s career when you have to make certain choices.
“When I was with Eintracht Braunschweig, I missed a crucial end-of-season match to join the national team for a friendly match against Austria in Graz. I lost my place in the team after that.
“I also remember an episode last year when the Kaernten coach was not happy after I had returned from international duty. I played in the friendly against Cape Verde but didn’t get one minute in the qualifier against Sweden.
“I told the national coach that I wanted to skip the Portugal qualifier to concentrate on my club career but he didn’t agree with me. I’ve been out of the national team for one year.
“I’m open to a recall to the national team but at the same time, I can’t jeopardise my club career. People have to understand that it’s not easy for a Maltese player to make the grade abroad.
“At the moment, I’m 100 per cent focused on Ferencvaros but I’m still willing to play for my country.”
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