The Maltese season kicks off on Saturday with a tangible air of familiarity shadowing the title race. Having successfully broken Valletta FC’s stranglehold in 2008/09, Hibernians FC’s English coach Mark Miller then crossed the great divide at the end of last term by joining the capital club.
Miller’s association with Hibernians had begun in 1996 and culminated in a Maltese Cup two years later and a much sought-after Premier League title in 2009. The 49-year-old’s eventual dismissal came before their ninth FA Trophy triumph last term, which should make him particularly determined to taste success this time around. Valletta great Gilbert Agius, who made 435 appearances over two decades, will assist Miller after bringing down the curtain on a glittering playing career.
Miller’s new side sent out an ominous message when they dispatched Andorran champions FC Lusitans in the UEFA Champions League first qualifying roundÂ 9-1 on aggregate, the biggest winning margin recorded by a Maltese team in European competition. Despite then succumbing to FK Partizan, positives emerged from the campaign, including the form of forward Michael Mifsud, who found the net six times.
Far from resting on their laurels, the 21-time champions have reinforced their ranks, adding four Brazilians to a South American collective, including 21-year-old defender Ricardo da Rocha and midfielder Joao Gabriel da Silva, while experienced forward William Barbosa has committed for a further year.
Meanwhile, 2011/12 runners-up Hibernians moved quickly to replace Miller by installing Michael Woods as coach. They also made a promising start to the season, featuring in a thrilling 4-4 home draw with FK Sarajevo in the UEFA Europa League first qualifying roundÂ â€“ the 5-2 defeat they suffered in Bosnia and Herzegovina could be put down to experience.
Three-time champions Birkirkara FC will also provide stern opposition. Under the principle that continuity breeds success, dependable defender Nikola Vukanac has been rewarded with the captain’s armband, while Brazilian striker Jhonnattann, who scored a hat-trick for Valletta during UEFA Champions League qualifying, bolsters their attack.
Article by UEFA
Photo by Domenic Aquilina