Malta is hardly renowned for it’s football successes with the national side having won only four competitive matches. Ahead of Malta’s Euro 2016 qualifying match against the mighty Italy, here is a list of five Maltese players whose careers have been a bright light for Maltese football over the past three decades. Two of these are likely to start against Pirlo and co.
1. Michael Mifsud
By far Malta’s best player over the past decade, Mifsud has been Malta’s main attacking threat ever since the turn of the millennium. The list of clubs on the diminutive forward’s CV includes Kaiserslautern, Coventry City, Barnsley (where he joined Daniel Bogdanovic, another Maltese striker who also played for Blackpool), Lillestrom and, more recently, Melbourne City. That’s really quite impressive for the captain of the 155th ranked nation in the world where only a handful of players actually are full-time footballers.
With 39 goals to his name, Mifsud is comfortably Malta’s record top scorer and his most striking attribute is his lightening pace that has in the past embarrassed some of the more famed defenders of our time. Unfortunately, age has now taken its toll but his eye for goal and attacking instincts are still very much alive.
Mifsud has rejoined his boyhood club Sliema Wanderers during the close season thus effectively putting an end to his stay overseas. His career highlight was undoubtedly the two goals scored in Old Trafford as Coventry shocked Manchester United in 2007 during the Carling Cup. That day, the center backs for the Red Devils were Jonny Evans and Gerard Pique.
Nevertheless, many still feel that the “mosquito’s” career overseas could have delivered so much more had Mifsud not suffered injuries at inopportune moments and had he not agitated for a move away from Coventry during the summer of 2008. Still, his career is unrivaled in Malta and he deserves nothing but praise for the courage he showed early in his career in pursuing football as a full-time professional player, unlike his peers.
2. Andre Schembri
With Mifsud’s powers on the wane, Schembri is the obvious heir to the Sliema Wanderers striker. The 28-year-old is comfortable playing as a striker or attacking midfielder and has represented various clubs in Cyprus, Hungary, Germany, Austria and Greece with his current side being FSV Frankfurt where he is already showcasing some of his undoubted talent.
Despite not being a prolific goalscorer for the national side, Schembri scored both goals in the historic 2-1 victory against Hungary in 2006. Less than a year later, Schembri scored once more during another historic result for Malta – a 2-2 result against Turkey.
Andre Pirlo dedicated three pages to Andre Schembri’s unorthodox man-marking ventures during Italy’s last game in the Ta’ Qali National Stadium in Malta. It was a game where the Frankfurt forward was heralded as being the Man of the Match, after having also managed to win a penalty for his side. Unfortunately, Mifsud had his effort saved from the spot.
3. Gilbert Agius
The current Valletta FC coach possessed talent that most of his peers in the country could only dream of. No doubt, one of the highlights of the Valletta legend’s career was the brace he scored against Welsh champions Barry Town that allowed the Lillywhites to progress to the second round of the Champions League qualifiers in 1999 – a truly rare feat for any Maltese club. Apart from a short-lived spell in Italy with Pisa, Agius is a one-man club having stayed with his hometown club in the midst of a financial crisis a decade ago.
Agius’ club career saw him mainly feature in a forward position or in a role just behind the strikers whereby he could use his creativity and eye for the pass to good use. However, in the latter years of his international career, Agius was converted into a defensive midfielder to make the most of his passing skills and waning pace. Since Malta normally play very deep, this ensured that the rare forward ventures that Malta had started from the feet of a passing maestro. His long balls looked to make the most of Mifsud’s pace and it’s this quality in midfield that has been so sorely missed since his retirement.
4. Luke Dimech
As no-nonsense a defender as you’re ever likely to meet, Dimech’s appearance is enough to send a slight chill down attacker’s spines. In his heyday, Dimech possessed a healthy turn of pace despite his stocky figure. Strong in the air and confident in the tackle, Dimech had qualities rarely seen in a Maltese defender.
Currently on the books of Valletta, the Floriana-born defender has a relatively distinguished CV having successfully worn the shirts of Shamrock Rovers, Macclesfield Town, Mansfield Town, Chester City and AEK Larnaca.
5. Carmel Busuttil
Considered by many local pundits as the best football player to have ever worn the Maltese eight-pointed chest on his chest, Busuttil’s talents were a thing to behold. After winning the league with his boyhood club Rabat Ajax, Busuttil’s intentions were clear – he wanted to further his career overseas making him the first Maltese player to play for a top-flight club in Europe.
After spending a season with Italian side Verbania, the forward joined KRC Genk in Belgium in 1988 where he would his name in the club’s history. Busuttil was Genk’s skipped for four years and top-scorer for three seasons. Not bad when considering that Genk have recently produced such talents as Christian Benteke, Thibaut Courtois and Kevin de Bruyne.
In 1992, Malta lost 2-1 against Italy in a match which saw Malta lynchpin Kris Laferla miss a penalty and Busuttil producing the assist for Martin Gregory’s goal. Italy were pegged back that day during the final minutes but managed to hold on for the victory, despite Franco Baresi’s sending-off. Below is a short clip from that game:
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