We are in it together - Gilbert Agius Published on: 21-10-2014
Valletta are in the throes of an early-season crisis. Their grip on the Premier League crown has taken a further blow after the champions went down 2-0 to rivals Birkirkara on Sunday, their fourth defeat in eight games.
A shock 2-1 upset to Pietà Hotspurs before the international break had set the alarm bells ringing at Valletta, prompting the club committee to recruit Ivan Zammit as technical director.
Zammit was brought in to help coach Gilbert Agius but the team’s dispirited and disjointed performance on Sunday highlighted the scale of the task the two former club stalwarts face to turn Valletta’s fortunes around,
provided their fledgling partnership survives the test of time.
Agius, the former captain and fans’ darling who took charge last summer after Dutchman Andre Paus left to join Anorthosis in Cyprus, revealed that Zammit had done a lot of tactical work with the team ahead of Sunday’s game but their joint efforts failed to produce the desired dividends.
“It is an open secret that Ivan Zammit focused on tactics throughout the week,” Agius said. “I believe that Sunday’s match was not a spectacular affair as scoring chances were few but the first goal changed the complexion of
the game for the two teams.
“Whereas Birkirkara were galvanised after taking the lead, our reaction never materialised. There were 25 minutes left when they scored their second but we didn’t react.”
Valletta switched to a three-man defence for Sunday’s game but the tactical change backfired as they were outwitted by Birkirkara who looked more at ease in a 3-5-2 formation.
“It was an intensive week,” Agius responded when quizzed about the team’s tactical preparations.
“We took the decision to alter the team’s approach together.
“The idea was to have more cover at the back and crowd the midfield because Birkirkara are very strong in that area. “Our aim was to cause them problems by attacking from deep positions, especially from midfield, but it didn’t work.
“In defence, I thought we did quite well apart from the mistake that led to their second goal.”
Sunday’s defeat has inevitably ratcheted up the pressure on Agius and, to a lesser extent, Zammit, but the Valletta coach is not shying away from his responsibilities.
“I have always shouldered my responsibilities,” Agius said. “As coach, I take responsibility for the performances of the team but we’re in it together, players, coaches, committee and supporters
“Surely, Valletta don’t deserve to be in this position.” With Valletta languishing in the bottom half of the standings and facing an uphill struggle to revive their title defence bid, everyone expects them to make a strong reaction but
Agius is not taking anything for granted.
“Let’s face it, we’ve been saying that we need to make a reaction since our first league game (a 1-0 defeat to Mosta),” Agius said. “After our victories against Sliema Wanderers and Qormi, I thought we were improving.
“Then we lost against Pietá Hotspurs. I genuinely felt that, with the added input of Ivan Zammit, we could aspire for an improved display against Birkirkara.
“That said, we must also bear in mind that we played against a very strong team who are led by an excellent coach (Paul Zammit).
“Their players worked harder during the game and they have been rewarded.” While Birkirkara, who were also coming from an unexpected 3-1 defeat to Tarxien, have trimmed the gap on unbeaten leaders Hibernians to four points, Valletta are now 12 points off the top.
With the points being halved at the end of the second round, the Whites can still drag themselves back into the title race if they embark on a winning run but Agius is only thinking about restoring confidence and tranquillity.
“At this stage, we must try hard to improve our form and position in the table and restore tranquillity,” Agius said.
“We have lost four out of eight games. The players have been working hard but it’s the results that count.
“There were some games that we didn’t deserve to lose but unfortunately, the situation is what it is.”
Taking charge of a team that had just completed a league and cup double was never going to be easy for any coach, let alone Agius who, despite his unrivalled success as a player, is still cutting his coaching teeth.
Agius may lack experience at senior level but he spoke with the maturity of a veteran coach when asked about his position. “This is my first experience as head coach so I don’t have a track record,” Agius said.
“A coach with a good track record is probably given more time and support if his team is going through a bad spell. “Valletta won the double last season. We have a group of players who are regarded as the cream of Maltese football.
“They are experienced and have a track record, so it’s easy for critics to point fingers at what they perceive as the weakest link. “Having said that, I know how I’m working. I’m not serene but I will keep doing my best. “What people think of me as a coach is something that I can’t control. The only thing I can control is the work of the technical staff and believe me, we are giving everything to the cause.”
Source - Timesof malta.com
Source - Timesof malta.com