By Domenic Aquilina
Ray 'Zazu' Farrugia raised eyebrows when he left his post as Malta Under-21 coach to take charge of Premier League side Pietà Hotspurs FC last summer. However, his Pietà team have surprised many observers since by winning a place in the division's Championship Pool, guaranteeing a top-six finish. uefa.com caught up with Farrugia to reflect on a successful campaign and to find out more about a coaching philosophy shaped by a 12-year stay as player and coach in Australia.
uefa.com: How much of a culture shock was it moving from the Under-21s to Pietà?
Ray Farrugia: There is a great difference between coaching at international level and club level. Competing against top national sides is one thing, and playing in the Maltese Premier League another. At the moment, Maltese football is at a low - the pace is slow and the talking that goes on annoys me. Our football will only improve if there is dedication and discipline, and there is not enough of these ingredients in the local game. There is vast room for improvement.
uefa.com: How happy have you been with your first season as Pietà coach?
Farrugia: The Hotspurs have always been a modest team, but despite our limited resources compared to other Premier League clubs, we have had a brilliant season. If we can strengthen the squad with three quality players, we can qualify for European football in the not-too-distant future. Our target this season was to reach the top-six championship pool and we achieved that.
uefa.com: What are your memories of European football as a player?
Farrugia: I played for Floriana [FC] in the European [Champion Clubs'] Cup against Panathinaikos [FC] in 1977/78. We drew 1-1 at home then lost 4-0 in Greece. That was the highlight of my career in Europe. Then, at 21 years of age, I sought a new challenge in Australian football.
uefa.com: Apart from continuing the work you have started at Pietà, what are your remaining ambitions in coaching?
Farrugia: My last ambition at this stage of my career is to coach the Malta national team. But it would have to be as part of a strong coaching set-up, in what I call 'the team behind the team'. The national team has to be totally professional and disciplined if they are to improve. My philosophy is all about dedication and discipline.
uefa.com: How high is the standard of coaching on the island?
Farrugia: I believe coaching should begin at an early stage, involving qualified coaches and where possible coaches with a taste of top-level football. At the moment grassroots football is at a low and the kids are not being taught the right way. Football should be taught by qualified coaches at schools, with coaches being paid to do the job on a full-time basis. That is how you will get grassroots football up and running on the island. Also, coaches at that level should be like father figures, preparing the kids for their futures in life as well as in football.
uefa.com: How would you go about improving football at a senior level?
Farrugia: Maltese football will only improve if full professionalism is introduced at club level. Also, our players have to learn from top-quality foreign players - at the moment most of the foreigners at our clubs are not that good. I saw Australian football flourish in my 12 years there because the local lads learned from top foreigners, mainly from South America. Now Australia has 140 professional footballers scattered across the globe. Only a similar experience will improve the game in Malta.
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