26 JUNE 2002
By Ray Abdilla
Nothing much exciting would be happening this summer in the Maltese football transfer market as the Malta Football Association has slapped most of the premier division clubs with a ban for overdue payments to players.
Most of the big clubs are in financial disarray and with the cash tap closing it looks likely that they will opt for the economys oldest known transaction bartering.
So far there have not been any official major transfers since the end of the 2001-2002 season. The minor transfers that took place, surprisingly, involved the smaller clubs.
The only team ready to fork out money is Sliema Wanderers. After spending a fortune on new players last season, Sliema President Robert Arrigo has not given up hope and is ready to spend more cash on new players, such as Darren Debono, Jeffrey Chetcuti, Antoine Zahra, Joe Brincat and Justin Haber. Sliema Wanderers are the only premier league club whose finances have a clean bill of health.
The cash flow problem hounding the economy at large is having its toll on the football clubs as sponsors hold on to payments owed to the clubs, which in turn are late to pay their players. The situation is a vicious circle that needs tough medicine to cure.
Marsaxlokk, division one champions are also healthy in financial terms. So is the other promoted team Mosta whose committee is well organised with several businessmen helping the club.
The team of the nineties, Valletta, would definitely not go on a pre-season shopping spree. The financial situation at the club is not a healthy one. Players wages have been cut and some players will either leave or call it a day. A case in point is that of veteran defender John Buttigieg, who had to retire from the game because his contract was not renewed.
Floriana are facing similar problems but they are trying to balance their books. As a consequence the Greens might lose some of their key players. Birkirkara, although not in the red as the rest of the premier teams are also very cautious. Wages and bonuses have been revised to keep the situation under control. But last season the injury-plagued team showed great potential despite the number of new players that had to be drafted from the nursery to replace the more established players.
Champions Hibernians have always been an organised side both financially and on the field. Under the lead of President Tony Bezzina they were and are always cautious in the way they conduct matters.
Pietà are considered to be in the same league as Hibernians while Hamrun are looking to consolidate on last year's performances.
The perennial problem of dwindling crowds at premier league matches only helps to worsen the problem as gate money goes down.
The top clubs involved in the European matches are pinning their hopes on a positive result, which will enable them to progress to the subsequent round. Hibernians are hoping they can beat Irish Champions Shelbourne on two legs. That means better allowances from UEFA. The same can be said for Sliema and B'Kara.
Years of spending lucrative amounts on players are having their toll on the Maltese football scene and with the MFA determined to put its foot down to prevent clubs from going in the red the pre-season transfer market looks very dull indeed.