Malta Football Association
‘We will work together to achieve goals’
Oct 11, 2017
Posted in:
National Team
Tom Saintfiet
Tom Saintfiet

Tom Saintfiet is the new coach of Malta.


He takes over from Italian Pietro Ghedin whose five-and-a-half year tenure – his second spell as national coach – came to an end after Malta’s final 2018 World Cup qualifier against Slovakia last Sunday.


The Malta FA is now handing the reins of the national team to the young but experienced ad highly-respected Belgian coach Saintfiet, holder of a UEFA Pro licence who has had spells as coach of many countries in Africa, including Togo, Namibia and Malawi, and Asia.


Lennard Kelder, the MFA Social Media Engagement Officer, spoke to Saintfiet…

Eversince you took up coaching at a young age, you have been studying to obtain your coaching badges. Coaching must be in your blood. What keeps you going in this part of football and what motivates you most?


First of all, I believe that being a good coach means that you have to develop constantly. I wanted to be head coach but thought that it was important to also study sports psychology, physical football training, skill development training and other key subjects because you must have a broad knowledge.


The methods of 10 years ago have changed, football is a dynamic sport and you have to develop with it by following the latest courses and learning from colleagues.


My ambition is to always get better and better. Football is my passion, my job, I want to be the best in everything I do and achieve targets.


I want to improve the team and the individual player but also the entire organisation and supporting staff, “we” must always share the aim to become better. Football must be our passion.


You’ve worked with some really top players in your coaching career...


When I was 30, I coached in the just started Qatar Star League with players like Diawara (ex-Arsenal), Belmadi (ex-Manchester City) and Amaral (ex-Fiorentina), playing against stars like Batistuta, Hierro, Guardiola, Effenberg, Caniggia and many others.


While many would be impressed by those names, I don’t look at that. In recent years, I’ve worked with many footballers who play or played for big European clubs like Real Madrid, Manchester City, Olympique Marseille, Olympiakos Pireaus, Hamburger SV, Genoa… the most famous must be Emanuel Adebayor I guess, but for me it doesn’t make any difference.


I enjoy working with any player because you don’t win games with “names”, you win games as ‘one’ team.


Looking at your CV, there is also mention of the internships with Inter, Udinese and Manchester City. When was this and could you share some of those experiences with us?


As part of the UEFA Pro Licence course, you have to do some internships. I am passionate about Italian football and chose to study coaches like Claudio Ranieri, Francesco Guidolin and Roberto Mancini.


It was very interesting but I must stress that I also learned a lot from working with local coaches in all the countries I have worked.

Going through your coaching career makes one wonder why you have changed so many jobs, both at club and international level, throughout the years. Working in certain countries is not easy but what were the reasons behind these short-term commitments?


Good question.. The truth is that, in the last few years, I’ve accepted short-term contracts on many occasions and people might get the wrong impression of my short spells.


However, it’s important that people understand that, many times, I worked in countries with a limited budget, associations that could only sign a professional foreign coach for a specific competition or tournament, but not for the following months when they had no international matches.


Not all national associations have the financial resources of European countries to make long-term plans.


As national coach, I never got sacked… on two occasions, political issues were the reason I left, and there were also two instances when I decided to move for a better opportunity.


My decision to become Malta coach is a clear choice for stability. I want to build something on the long term here.

Your football philosophy stands out… in the past, you worked in many different cultures but still managed to achieve some great results. How did you manage that?


As a coach working in a foreign country, you have to understand and adapt to the local culture.


I always lived in the country I worked on a permanent basis as I wanted to watch every possible match, work closely with local coaches and football-minded people, follow the youth development and assist in the total development of football in the country.


As I said earlier, football is my passion but also my job. Which means that I like teamwork and, with my knowledge and experience, strive to gradually improve the team and football in general.


In the past, I managed to make very positive changes in a short period of time because I always try to be well-prepared and use the right psychology and tactics to achieve that.


In Malta, I will have more time to get where we want to and that’s good… it’s a team of people who will work together to achieve goals.


I know Maltese football quite well. I’ve been following Maltese football since 2005 and in the past 18 months, I’ve watched the national team playing against Slovakia, Slovenia, England and Lithuania, apart from the away matches against Scotland and Slovakia which I watched on television.


I also watched, via internet, our U-21 and U-19 teams. I’ve also seen all the top-division teams in both Malta and Gozo this season. I even started to learn some basic Maltese… luckily I found some similarities to Arabic and French, but still, it’s a difficult language!

In your book ‘Trainer Zonder Grenzen’ (Trainer Without Borders), you stated your desire to work in Malta. What is your connection with the Maltese islands?


First of all, I have to say that I love this country, it’s beautiful and the people are very friendly.


My first Maltese football experience was in December 1983 when Malta lost 12-1 against Spain. I was 10 years old and saw that match on Dutch TV… I always had sympathy for the underdog, and I guess that is one of the attractions of Maltese football.


I believe that Malta has the potential to move forward. Look at the U-21 team who achieved 11 points in their UEFA U-21 qualifying competition.


But if you look at the other nations, for instance Faroe Islands, only 50,000 inhabitants, no professional league, but in the top 100 of the FIFA rankings, beating Greece twice in the last Euro qualifiers, and Luxemburg right now. They beat Belarus and drew with France plus developing really talented young players like Vincent Thill. So something must be possible for Malta too and the results of Iceland and Latvia (who both reached the Euro Finals) encourage ‘smaller’ countries to dream and believe it’s possible.


The only thing we need to understand is that it’s a long term project. Countries like Iceland and Faroe Islands have a long-term tradition of development and improved step-by-step… Malta is currently 191st in the FIFA rankings, the only way is up but everyone needs to understand that we need to build step by step and that takes time.


I believe that Malta has the potential at all levels (players, coaches, clubs) to improve and do similar things like the other “smaller” countries have done in recent years.


What are your goals as Malta coach? What challenges do you expect?


First of all, I believe that Pietro Ghedin has, for many years, done a very good job.


My belief is that we can improve, we need to play more with a more offensive mindset but we need to defend well too.


We can’t think only about attacking and lose every game 6-0, that’s certainly not the way to go. We need to build on a well-organised defence with creative ideas to attack and score goals. Our defensive philosophy must be based on the idea that we defend to create options to attack, not only to defend.


But this transition will have its ups and downs… when we are down, we have to stand up again, learn from our mistakes and improve.


I believe this is not only the mission of the senior national team, but also the younger age-groups, youth development, football academy and the clubs, we all work together to reach higher goals and only then we can compete with the best.


The next two years must be the base for a bright future. I believe that in four to six years’ time, Malta must be able to win games on a regular basis in their qualifying groups.


With the new UEFA Nations League starting next year, it will be possible to qualify for Euro 2024. But, again, before we are there, many steps have to be taken.


Lastly, what is your message to the Maltese football fans?


I am immensely proud to be the national coach of Malta.

It’s an honour for me, let’s all be proud of our nation and its football and support the team. Together we can achieve more!

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