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Honorary Citizen

Victor Sciriha

Minutes after referee Paul Caruana’s final whistle confirmed Valletta as champions for the second season running after a 3-0 win over Sliema, some City fans rushed towards Victor Sciriha before lifting him shoulder-high.

Winning the league crown has a very special meaning for the passionate City fans and they wanted to share the moment with the man who has masterminded the club’s renaissance over the past five years.

Sciriha had courted controversy when, having guided Marsaxlokk to their maiden league title in 2006-07, he pursued his long-time ambition of taking over the reins of Valletta. Five years on, he has cemented his place in the hearts of the City faithful after the club made it a hat-trick of titles under his stewardship.

“Retaining the league title represents a significant feat,” Sciriha said.

“After we won the championship, the other teams were more motivated to stop us this season. It has been a difficult campaign, also because the level of the foreign players of the other teams was better compared to the previous season.

“In the end, the depth of our squad was central to our success.”

It’s no secret that Sciriha has invested heavily to mould an awesome squad, by local standards. But, what motivates him to keep pouring money into the club?

“My motivation grows when I see the passion of the supporters,” Sciriha said.

“Valletta are always luring new members and it is this enthusiasm that spurs me, as president, to keep working for this club.”

Sciriha is not from Valletta but for the supporters, he’s one of them. ‘Is-sur Vic’ has become a City stalwart and his efforts have been recognised by the Valletta Local Council who awarded him honorary citizenship.

“The supporters respect me a lot,” Sciriha reflected, his voice tinged with pride.

“They know what I’ve done for the club.

“Five years ago, before I became president, the club was in danger of closing doors because their financial situation was a disaster.

“Thanks to our work, Valletta are one of the few clubs in Malta with no debts. Not only that but we are owed money by other clubs.”

Valletta sealed the title with two games in advance but there was a time when Hibs’ challenge raised the prospect that the race could go to the wire.

Sciriha admitted to harbouring fleeting concerns about Valletta’s chances after their first-round defeat to Hibs ended a 37-match unbeaten run in the league.

“The only time I feared that we may have problems winning the title was after the early defeat to Hibs. I knew that we had a strong squad but was worried that that setback might affect us psychologically,” he recalled.

“There were occasions when our performances were not so good as one major difficulty in the last two seasons has been that our players haven’t had a proper break in summer.

“And this is going to repeat itself this year as the national team have a friendly on June 2 and our pre-season starts on June 11.”

In the first two months of the year, Valletta attracted criticism for recruiting a host of foreigners when top-flight clubs can only field four. Sciriha admitted that the experiment didn’t produce the desired results.

“It was a mistake and we’ve learnt from it,” the City supremo said.

“Suffice to say that we signed a striker who scored 47 goals in Estonia (Aleksandrs Cekulajevs) and he only started four games for us.

“Next season, we want to have five strong foreigners. Denni and Barbosa will stay.”

Off the field, Valletta have also been striving to boost their revenue streams .

“Our target is for the club to become a company. We are waiting for the MFA’s go-ahead on this,” Sciriha added.

Sciriha has stated on several occasions that he will step down as president when the club becoms a firm but he has no intention of quitting.

“Yes, I feel the time has come to relinquish my post as president,” he said.

“That doesn’t mean that I will leave Valletta. I may become the chairman of the company and major shareholder.

“The committee election will be held in June. I hope that the members vote with their mind and not with their heart.

“There are many valid people on the committee. In my eyes, the best person to succeed me as Valletta FC president is Alex Fenech (club vice-president).

“Sunny (Fenech) has new ideas and he will help the club move forward.”

Valletta’s success has come at a cost, literally, as their wage bill is by far the biggest in the top division.

“Our budget is significant,” Sciriha replied to a question about Valletta’s yearly expenditure.

“I don’t know the exact sum off hand.”

Is Valletta’s annual budget in the region of €1 million?

“It’s near that figure. But, I think that we are the only club that, when we close the books, with the income from UEFA, sponsors, supporters and gate money, we manage to break even,” he said.

With the Premier League cup locked in their bulging trophy cabinet, Valletta have now turned their attentions to their FA Trophy semi-final against Qormi on Sunday.

Sciriha is backing his team to make amends for their heartbreaking 1-0 loss to bitter rivals Floriana in the 2011 final.

“With the squad we have, we can reach this target,” Sciriha said.

“I’ve never won the double and I hope this will be the year I fulfil this dream.”

Where does Sciriha see himself and Valletta in 10 years’ time?

“We have applied for the permits to build our own ground and complex,” Sciriha said.

“Our aim is to keep working like we’ve done in the last few years.

“Our ambitions transcend the Maltese football scene… we are determined to advance in Europe. With a few touches to the squad and strong foreign players we can attain this goal.

“It’s our intention to run the club on a professional basis. This season, we had 17 full-time players but we need adequate premises to have a professional structure.

“As things stand, we have a problem in so far as the training of the national team is concerned. This season, we had nine players forming part of the national squad and their training schedule affected our programme.

“I’m pleased that the new national coach (Pietro Ghedin) has asked to meet us. We shall discuss this issue with him.

“If we are to really become professional, our players should train every day with our coach and not go with the national team on Mondays and Tuesdays.

“When an international match is approaching, I’d have no objection if our players joined the national squad for training say 15 days before the fixture.”

Source – Times of Malta