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Emotional Agius leaves Valletta FC to take over as Malta U-21 coach

Gilbert Agius

The Malta Football Association has named Gilbert Agius as the new U-21 national team coach, replacing Silvio Vella whose contract was not extended.

The decision is expected to be announced by MFA president Bjorn Vassallo during the association’s Executive Committee on Tuesday.

Agius’ decision to accept the Malta FA’s offer ends a highly-successful spell at the club for the Valletta FC talisman who during his 31-year stay at the capital side has managed to establish himself as their all-time leading scorer, collected the highest number of appearances for the club and most of all the player that has won the highest number of titles with the Lilywhites – 36.

“I was really surprised that I had to take such an important decision for my career in such a short period of time,” an emotional Agius told The Times of Malta in an exclusive interview.

“I took this decision after a lot of thought in the last few days. In the past weeks and months, the club took several decisions that forced me to think a lot about my future.

“There were some decisions taken by the club that I didn’t agree with and there were others that I wasn’t even consulted. Maybe I had a different view of how things happened at the club and my opinion would have caused more difficulty to make such decisions.

“I felt that all this was a clear sign that I should consider my position as assistant coach at Valletta FC. I did not take this decision alone. I spoke with a few people that I trust and knew would give me a sincere opinion on the matter.

“Ironically all of them came to the same conclusion that my cycle at Valletta FC has come to an end and that I should take this job as it could be a major step in my coaching career.

“So I said to myself that this could be the perfect time from which, maybe, everyone will gain from and I hope nobody is hurt and I have to accept that my time at Valletta FC is over.”

Agius said that he will always be grateful towards Valletta FC and said that representing his hometown club will always remain as his proudest moment.

“I am really grateful towards this club who is formed by a lot of players, coaches, committee members and most importantly the fans,” Agius, who during his time at the club was the first recipient of the Gieh il-Belt Award in 2009, said.

“I wasn’t a Valletta FC fan who followed the team from the stands since I started in the first team at a very young age and for the past 31 years, I rarely missed a match. Now hopefully, I will be able to start follow the team from the stands.

“To be the coach of the Malta U-21 is an honour for me, but honestly for me playing for Valletta FC was a bigger honour.”

Agius made his debut with Valletta FC in season 1990-91 as a 16-year-old in a Euro Cup match against long-time rivals Ħamrun Spartans.

“Before I made my debut in the league, I played for Valletta in the Champions Cup tie against Glasgow Rangers in Scotland and that was a huge feat for me given the calibre of our opponents,” Agius said.

“I will always be grateful towards coach George Busuttil who gave me the opportunity. At that time, Valletta FC were coming from that season when they had won the title but lost the final match against Ħamrun Spartans and there was a lot of crowd trouble. The club was suspended from the FA Trophy and the following season, our first match was ironically against Ħamrun Spartans in the Euro Cup against Ħamrun. I played well and we won 4-1 and I received a lot of good feedback and from then on I never looked back.”

Throughout his career, Agius always showed his great talent and managed to play in several positions from full back to central defender as well as a midfielder.

“Having been so versatile on the pitch shows that I did have something special,” Agius says when he looks back at his career.

“To be so versatile is an advantage as you have the chance to play more. Today, I see a lot of youngsters who want to stick to one position but doing that they are telling their coach that they have a limited talent.

“My advice to coaches is to try and give different positions to young players and it will be up to them then decide what is their best role. Personally, until this day I don’t know what was my favourite position.”

At Valletta FC, Agius won every domestic honour, including eight league titles, as well as being part of the two teams that completed an en plein of honours in 1996-97, when winning five trophies, and 2000-01, when they lifted a record six trophies. He claims that the depth of talent of those squads was the reason of so much success.

“Every league title I won was special for a different reason and all of them were of great satisfaction for me,” Agius said.

“Seasons 1996-97 and 2000-01 will always stand out for the huge achievement of the club. Those teams were built over a span of time, so all players played together for a lot of time, which no longer happens today.

“For me, the 1996-97 team was the strongest Valletta FC team that I ever played with. We had so many great players that if the coach was with one or two players missing, he could replace them with another two or three players.

“The six-trophy haul in 2000-01 was a far bigger challenge as the competition was far more difficult but again, at the time our squad was full of talented players who each one of them at one time or another made a difference.”

Agius said that he feels proud to have always donned the colours of Valletta FC for such a long time even when the club was passing through a difficult time between 2001 and 2007. He says that one of the reasons he remained at the club was for the loyalty of a few hundreds of Valletta supporters who stayed behind the team in those difficult times.

“That difficult period made me even more proud to be playing for Valletta FC,” he said.

“At the time, logic would have said that I should have joined other clubs who offered me better contracts, but I stayed at Valletta as I chose friendship over career success. At the time, the late president Charles Camilleri and Paul Spiteri approached David Xuereb, who was a close friend, to convince me to stay on and sponsored part of my contract.

“I remember telling David Xuereb that I will stay at Valletta FC for his respect and the loyalty of those few supporters who stayed behind the team and bought club souvenirs in those difficult times as with their money the committee could pay our wages.”

At 38, Agius reluctantly accepted the club’s decision to install him as assistant coach and he says that it was an experience that matured him a lot as a person and he always tried to study more his new job to improve himself and was rewarded in season 2018-19 when the club handed the reins of the team and he managed to guide the team to the Premier League title.

“That season was very important for me as it instilled in me much needed self-belief in my ability as coach,” Agius said.

“I always felt that the expectations of the people were bigger than mine. But I had great backing from the players, the club and the fans in those final three league matches and I am proud to have guided the team to the title.

“What I was more satisfied were our performances in the FA Trophy where despite having a lot of injuries, I managed to introduce some young talent that helped us go all the way to the final and that was a clear message for me that I should believe more in my abilities as coach.”

Agius says that the love of the Valletta FC supporters made a huge difference in his career.

“The Valletta FC fans played a key role in my success in my career and I am sure that if I was at a club who didn’t have the passion of our fans I would not have enjoyed so much success,” Agius said.

“Unfortunately, the time has come for me to leave the club, but I will always remain grateful to Valletta FC for everything they have done with me, particularly to decide to retire the no.7 shirt that brought me so much success. I will remain a Valletta FC supporter forever.”

Author – Valhmor Camilleri Times of Malta