The 2010-11 Premier League is set to attract an increase in the number of foreign players engaged by our clubs but there will be no changes to the format of the championship despite the amount of criticism from various quarters since its inception ten years ago.

This week, the Malta FA council approved a proposal by the Premier League Standing Committee to lift all restrictions on the registration of players from European Union countries and give clubs the opportunity to sign a maximum of four non-EU players.

The proposal was approved. Now, each team will be able to field as many as four overseas players at one time during a match.

Senior Valletta FC delegate Paul Spiteri told The Times that there was consensus among all Premier League clubs to increase the number of foreigners as from next season.

"The standing committee agreed to submit the proposal to increase the number of foreigners in MFA competitions," Spiteri said.

"Valletta FC were in favour of this change and I think the new rule will be beneficial for all clubs, particularly those in UEFA competitions. These teams will have an opportunity to field a stronger formation with a better chance of progressing beyond the opening round.

"Besides, we feel that having more foreigners will inevitably make our championship more interesting, also reducing the gap between the top sides and the lesser ones."

John Borg, Spiteri's counterpart at Birkirkara FC, welcomed the decision to increase foreign players.

He said the move brings local clubs on the same lines with those in other European leagues.

"The decision taken by the council will be of great benefit. The new rule says other clubs in lower divisions can also engage foreign players," Borg opined.

"Why should clubs be stopped from signing more than three foreign players if it's OK for them to do so?

"Some might argue that more overseas players could hurt clubs financially but we know that in some cases demands of top Maltese players, in terms of salaries and conditions, are more costly than those of foreigners.

"The standard of our competitions will improve, no doubt. I'm sure that there will be more teams who will be competitive next season."

September 11 start

The 2010-11 Premier League will kick off at a later date than usual with the opening programme scheduled for the weekend of September 11-12, three weeks after Birkirkara and Valletta will meet in the Super Cup on August 21.

The format of the Premier League was a hot topic in the run-in to last season's title race.

The Championship and Relegation Pool were first introduced in season 2000-2001. After the initial tests, few gave their blessing to a competition that sees point tallies reduced by half after the first two rounds. However, no change was ever effected.

Valletta were among the most vocal critics of the format last season, finishing one point behind Birkirkara despite enjoying the same win, draw and lost statistics as the Stripes.

Spiteri said his club had proposed to the Standing Committee to abolish the current format and re-introduce a three-round competition.

"We've long felt that a change is needed as the current format is not fair," Spiteri said. "However, some others in the Standing Committee deemed otherwise.

"Last season, we finished second despite having an identical performance record to Birkirkara. For most of us, that doesn't make much of a sense. Although Valletta FC's proposal was rejected, the standing committee is still in favour of a change in future.

"Now, we're discussing the idea of having 12 teams in the Premier League and adopt a similar format to that of Scotland where teams are split after the first two rounds but points are retained. This proposal is still being studied."

Borg feels that the best solution was to shift the football calendar to a different time-frame.

"If Maltese teams want to become more competitive in Europe we need to look at the possibility of playing our season in those months that suit us better," he remarked.

"In my opinion, the league should start in October and come to a close in July. That way our teams in Europe will peak at the right time.

"Some might disagree but I know there are others who are in favour. The only stumbling block seems to be that of having the lower divisions following this particular calendar.

"However, a change is vital if we want Maltese clubs to perform at higher levels in Europe."

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