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So much about coaching footballers is not about football ⚽

Preparing for the FC Shakhtyor Soligorsk vs Hibernians FC Europa League First Qualifying Round fixture in Belarus on 11th July 2019.

The coach to player ratio for most football coaches in Malta is around 1:10. Not for me. I am a Goalkeeper Coach. Most of my time on the pitch is spent with just two guys and, on the rare occasion, two U/19 goalkeepers are also available, so I get to work with four.

Goalkeeping is undoubtedly the most specialised position in the sport, justifying the specific attention that goalkeepers receive both on and off the pitch. While the goalkeeper’s primary role is to prevent the opposing team from scoring, it is far more complex than it sounds.

It’s Monday morning. Yesterday was a good day. I enjoyed a lovely breakfast with my wife before heading off to the Ta’ Qali National Stadium to see the team gain another invaluable three points. With less than ten matches of the season to go, we are in and amongst the front-runners; however, with no less than six clubs battling for the Maltese Premier League title, all of which must get into Europe to balance out their costs for the season, nothing is guaranteed. We can win the league, we can finish in a European slot, and we can finish in mid-table.

As I step out of the shower and tie a towel around my waist, preparing for a new week of work, my phone goes off. “Coach, I’m disappointed that I didn’t make the team yesterday. What can I do to improve my chances for the next match?” Sometimes, there are real reasons – prolonged poor form; specific tweaks to style of play for a particular match that require certain traits; physical concerns/injuries. Sometimes, it’s an educated guess by the coaching staff that the team would be in a better position with one goalkeeper over the other – not that I advocate for switching goalkeepers every weekend, but you need to earn your spot on the pitch. Honest feedback is the best feedback. It’s a tough position to be in as a coach, as you are expected to have all the answers – but there are times when you don’t, and the reply to that message in such cases would be the clichéd, “I understand your frustration. Keep your head up, stay focused, work hard, and you’ll earn your spot back” – as if they haven’t heard that enough before!

The thing about goalkeeping is that there’s just one position on the pitch, which means that 50% of your workforce may not be happy. I work with two great professionals in their mid-twenties (as do they!) on a daily basis. Both are highly competent – the technical and physical differences are minimal. We knew this when signing them in summer. Both deserve to play regularly at this level, but only one can actually do so at any given time. They can be leading a top Premier Division club from the back and throwing their body like crazy into a crowd of six-foot-four strikers and centre backs from a set-piece one day, and they can be throwing their toys out of the pram the next. We’re all on good terms, which is the only way we can succeed in such a competitive setup. Our jokes are hardly mature… they’re actually borderline bullying… but that’s synonymous with professional football across the globe. In all of this, come Sunday evening, one of my goalkeepers is struggling to get sleep as a thousand questions are passing through his head, while the other is eagerly awaiting to receive my feedback on his performance together with the video of the match – the best saves from which will shortly make it to social media.

Monday was an off day, except that, based on the above, it clearly wasn’t. We’re back on the pitch on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. These are the most crucial days between matches, with morning gym sessions, pre-training foot-tennis competitions and a few minutes of match performance evaluation prior to making our way onto our glamorous pitch. This is when the lads go through the motions, throw themselves around, get sweaty and muddy, block shots with every body part, concede soft goals, get little knocks (you’d be surprised to know that they’re very rarely 100% pain-free during a match, but that’s the magic of match-day adrenaline!), moan about silly things, produce spectacular moments which make them regret that training isn’t being filmed, and lots more. My primary job is to coach them throughout these sessions, with our sights set on the following weekend. This is when I earn my money, or otherwise. If my two goalkeepers are at their peak during the upcoming match, I’ve done my job. Today, I have enough experience to not need to draw up sessions in advance – but I always know the outcomes that I’m after while walking onto the pitch. I have no problem with adapting to the team’s requirements during sessions, because my outcomes are never tied to the technical element; because, at senior level, so much about coaching goalkeepers is not about goalkeeping.

It’s always fun to celebrate a goal scored. However, few people realise that not conceding a goal is worth more than scoring one. Photo credits: Joe Borg

Goalkeeping training at this level, when observed from the outside, is deceptive. A quality session can be heard far more than it can be seen. This is why the over-dramatised drills you see on social media nowadays are a whole lot of nothing and, unless you can actually hear the sessions, don’t do much to enhance your coaching education. My boys themselves are exposed to situations that give them the impression that they’re undergoing a goalkeeping session, but they’re not. They’re in a practical psychology class which is more science and art than sport. A 25-year old professional goalkeeper already knows the technical stuff.

  • High-quantity exercises mimicking ‘handling’ drills are not really about handling (‘M’ shape or ‘W’ shape anyone?), but about maintaining concentration and consistency. How long before the first ball drops? Is the goalkeeper taking up a lazy shape prior to dealing with a shot? You need to want to catch a ball in order to do so. No matter how you place your hands, if your focus coupled with a strong desire to catch the ball aren’t there, you won’t succeed.
  • ‘Diving’ sessions in which I hit the top corner more often than not are neither about diving, nor are they about me showing off. It’s all about the experience of conceding a goal. How do my goalkeepers deal with failure? How formidable are they? Do they persevere, even at the worst of times?
  • Dealing with high balls tossed into the area is not about receiving a high ball, but about decision-making, anticipation and leadership.
  • Any exercise in which I create a high success ratio doesn’t have much to do with the technical element, but is aimed at building confidence. Those in which the goalkeepers are worked for relatively long periods at high intensity are testing them under fatigue.

Small adjustments to exercise success ratios within sessions are the make or break for a goalkeeper. Many of them are said to be crazy, and if they find any genuine satisfaction in being goalkeepers, then I agree (which is why I spent my last season before calling it a day on my playing career as a midfielder in the Maltese Third Division!). Many of them are fragile, which is expected when considering the pressures they are constantly exposed to. Your responsibility as a coach is far wider than ensuring that their catching and kicking techniques aren’t off. This is their lives, their primary, and sometimes only, source of income. Finding the right balance between teaching, coaching and managing is crucial.

Every interaction with your goalkeepers requires lots of thought. Giving the right input and recognising the right triggers are key to maintaining high performance. Choose your words and tone wisely.

Goalkeeping is often condensed into the technical, tactical, mental and physical elements. A whole lot of goalkeeping at senior level is in the mind, and I can’t stress this point enough. The physical element is important as it ensures that the body has the capability to achieve what the mind wants to. The technical element is undeniably important, but a lot of it is developed at the younger ages, so less focus is required at senior level. The tactical element is critical and is further developed by a goalkeeper’s experience, which can be gained both through match practice as well as match-realistic training, together with the analytical work – much of which takes place off the pitch. A substantial amount of the tactical element also takes place in the mind and is closely related to decision-making and positioning in varying circumstances.

It may sound obvious by now, but you put yourself in a better position to achieve positive results if your sessions are structured around developing and strengthening attributes such as concentration, attitude, adaptability, work rate, decision-making, leadership and communication, being formidable, and other areas that develop mental strength and mind-set, than by reminding them things that they already know. Your job is to maximise potential, not to dictate or enforce anything. Give them the freedom to explore different styles, experience different situations, and push them that little bit further outside their comfort zones. This is about them, not you. Get their minds right, support them to maintain their physical peaks, and remind them that they are kings – which they are, and that’s why they earn so much more than you!

This is the life of a Goalkeeper Coach. I do not coach goalkeepers. I coach humans. If I can make a better man, I have made a better goalkeeper, and I’ve done my job.

Bartolo Bros Predictions: What to Expect from Euro 2016

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Another major international tournament is upon us, with Euro 2016 kicking off next Friday for a month of delightful football to-be in France.

This year boasts the 15th edition of the UEFA European Championship, and no less than twenty-four nations will be on show, with six groups of four teams each initiating the event. Spain are on a roll, having won the last two iterations of the competition… But who will be crowned Champions come the 10th July 2016 at Saint-Denis?

Here are the Top 8 teams in Europe according to the Bartolo Bros:

Euro 2016: Sam’s Predictions

Euro 2016: Quarter-final Eliminations

Croatia finished second in their qualifying group, and face a tough start to Euro 2016 having been drawn in the same group as Spain, Czech Republic and Turkey. Despite this, I believe that they will make it out of their group in second place, and I also have them down to eliminate a really strong Belgium side on the 27th June 2016 in the Round of 16! Unfortunately, their wonderful midfield composed of Luka Modrić, Ivan Rakitić and Mateo Kovačić, besides other stars, will not be enough to match Germany in the Quarters. Continue reading

ZACH MUSCAT: My first overseas adventure!

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of interviewing Maltese National Team player Zach Muscat.

Zach Muscat

Zach Muscat playing for SS Akragas
(Image source: Giuseppe Alletto)

Malta’s brightest defensive talent took time off his busy schedule to answer a few questions that we posed to him regarding his first experience overseas in professional football. Zach signed for SS Akragas, who play in the LegaPro Girone C, at the beginning of the 2016 calendar year, and has been a peripheral figure for his team over the last five months, helping them to end the season in a respectable 12th place despite a five-point deduction.

With Zach in the side, SS Akragas climbed from the penultimate position in the league to mid-table security, registering seven clean-sheets in the process, in which the Maltese defender played every minute. During his few months in Italy, Zach was listed in both the LegaPro Girone C ‘top 11’ players of the week, as well as Tutto LegaPro’s ‘top 11’ of the week. He has also recently been named as one of the top 11 hot prospects off contract in LegaPro.

Born in 1993, the young star formed part of the Malta Football Academy at every competitive level – captaining the U/21 side in the process – and has already featured for the Senior National Team on numerous occasions. I had the pleasure of playing alongside Zach for many years – and he always had that something special about him. His infectious determination, hard work and discipline have clearly paid off, and his ability to get through every moment in life with that large grin across his face is just admirable.

Take a look at Zach’s exclusive interview with Bartolo Bros!

Interview Questions:

  • Zach! Thank you for accepting my invitation so shortly after returning to Malta. Your first experience in a foreign league. How have the past five months treated you?
  • You signed for SS Akragas a few weeks after a move to Pisa broke down. Was that on your mind at all in the past few months?
  • Your season finished on Saturday, with a 1-1 draw against league leaders Benevento. What can you tell me about that match, and how would you compare it to your debut?
  • SS Akragas finished in 12th position out of 18 teams in its first season in the division. What were the club’s initial objectives when you joined, and have they been met?
  • Nicola Legrottaglie resigned from his role as manager just two weeks after you signed for the club, and was replaced by Pino Rigoli. Did this have any effect on you at all, and how is your relationship with the new boss?
  • Who, from your teammates, have you ‘clicked’ with the most?
  • How has the experience of playing in Italy developed you, both as a person and as a footballer? How much have you missed home, and did the move overseas provide a culture shock, or did you find it easy to settle in?
  • Can you give us a bit of a heads up on the overall experience of playing for a foreign professional club? What would the week leading up to a match look like in terms of meeting teammates, training, match analysis of the previous game, preparation for the next game, diet, and so on?
  • You have previously made your intentions clear in terms of wanting to play overseas for years to come.  What does your future hold?
  • What are your personal objectives, and what would be your ultimate achievement in football?
  • What was the best advice you were ever given?
  • Do you have a saying or motto that you live by?
  • If you had to give one word of advice to young kids who dream of becoming professional footballers, what would it be?
  • Finally… I just have to ask… Messi or Ronaldo?


Thank you for your time Zach, and good luck for a great (and well-deserved) future!

What makes a great football club?

How do you separate a big club from a small club? A giant from a minnow? Is it the financial resources? Sponsorship deals? Historic achievements and legacy? Stadium capacity or global following? League position and performance on the pitch?

Here are the 5 factors I believe separate the greatest football clubs from the rest:

1. Total Generated Revenue

It doesn’t matter how profitable a club is, what affects it’s size is the amount of income the club is able to generate. This is the best measure of supporter perception we can take. The greater the club’s value in a supporter’s eyes, the more time and money they are willing to invest. This investment goes into purchase of merchandise, match-day tickets, higher television viewing and it also affects sponsor decisions.

Deloitte Football Money League 2014-2015
(Image source: www.deloitte.com)

Supporter perception therefore directly affects commercial, broadcasting and match-day revenue, the three largest sources of a football club’s income. Generated revenues are a clear indication of what fans think of their club, and there is no such thing as a club without fans.

2. Performance in the UEFA Champions League

Calm down, I know this is a European competition and this excludes some decently sized clubs, but the fact remains that the biggest clubs in the world are European. And the UEFA Champions League trophy is the ultimate achievement a European club can obtain. A good run in the Champion’s League can also put a club back on people’s radars. Despite convincingly winning the Serie A title, 17 points clear of nearest rivals Roma, it was Juventus’ journey to the UEFA Champions League final which put the club’s name on everyone’s lips.

3. History and Legacy

Take clubs like SL Benfica, AC Milan and Ajax which haven’t ranked among the very best in Europe for a few years. They have amassed a massive dynasty over the years and while their performances of late may have suffered, many would still consider them greater clubs that this year’s finalists, Atletico Madrid.

4. Consistent Success

Consistency is key. Some clubs come into the limelight for a few years, are unable to sustain their success and quickly fall back into the abyss. To be considered great, you have to perform and win titles, year after year. A few years without any major titles can see a club’s status slowly sink lower and lower. Take Liverpool who haven’t won any major titles since their 2004-2005 UEFA Champion`s League and 2005-2006 FA Cup (except for a 2011-2012 League Cup, with a penalty shoot-out against Cardiff deciding the final). Leicester have just won the English Premier League, only time will tell whether they’ll consistently grow towards greatness or simply fall off everyone’s radars within a couple of years.

5. Passion

Passion on the pitch, passion on the stands. The emotion the club and players can instill, the stories they create and the joy they give. It becomes not just about the club, but about a cause. These are the reasons that football is one of the greatest sports on the planet. Would you be ready to die for your club? Some fans would, and it is that level of dedication and commitment which propel a club to greatness.

What do you think? Do you agree with our list? Tell us what you think really makes a club great in the comments section below…

A Generation of Spanish Football dominance

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Over the last ten years, football has been Spanish.

Whether it’s the National Team excelling in international tournaments, the performances of La Liga sides in European competitions, or the quality of players and managers that are being attracted to its league, Spain is victorious.

Here are the reasons why Spanish football, with its tiki-taka system, has been so dominant over the past decade:

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Who is the best Juventus player ever?

By Anthony Bartolo

Juventus… the greatest club in the history of Italian football and one of the top clubs in the world.

The Bianconeri have won numerous prestigious national as well as international titles. The club is also known as the place where dozens, even hundreds of great footballers were born. Amongst all the Juve players, the following are my favourites – in no particular order except for the number 1 spot…. Pinturicchio Alex!

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Individualism… or the Lack of it!

By Andrea Vella

I am no Mourinho or Guardiola; but after undergoing the Level 1 and Level 2 Coach Education courses, together with the Licence Holders Course, organised by Premier Skills, I look back at my first three years as a football educator and realise how false my sessions used to be! Premier Skills have also opened my eyes to the problems I see with coaching in Malta today.

Andrea Vella

Andrea in his role as Academy Director of Swieqi United F.C. Image source: Jeffrick Cachia

I see many ‘know­-it-­alls’ and ex-­footballers who talk, talk and talk, believing they can coach purely because of their position or playing reputation, but who quite frankly, can’t! I see a lot of coaches who focus on their personal success and results when they should be focusing on developing players – it’s all about how many games they’ve won! I also see a lot of coaches who coach as a hobby or as a side job to earn some pocket money, without realising how delicate their role is.

“What most of the coaches have in common is that they don’t understand that coaching isn’t easy!” Andrea Vella

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