Toying with football for personal glory

Portelli’s antics suggest that for him football is just a toy, which he plays with as he pleases.  It also suggests that Portelli is using the club as a vehicle for personal glory

Construction magnate Joseph Portelli is notorious for playing with the rules to get what he wants.

Instead of disregarding the rules in the cowboy fashion of the 1990s when magnates like Charles Polidano would often start building without permits, Portelli tends to play with the rules of the planning game.

On at least two occasions he has resorted to the tactic of salami slicing his planning applications to circumvent the need for holistic studies.

An application in Qala for 179 new flats was split in six different applications thus avoiding the 30,000sq.m threshold that triggers the Environment Impact Assessment. Another project in Sannat was split in four separate applications.

Portelli’s gall is also evident in his choice of architect - many of his applications are now being fronted by the chairperson of the Building and Construction Agency, which regulates the construction sector.

Portelli was relatively unknown till a decade ago. His first major project was the Sagħtriia development in Gozo, approved in 2009 and the first project in Malta was the Forum Hotel redevelopment in Swieqi, approved in 2012.

The man has shown remarkable drive and entrepreneurial spirit, and his empire has grown to include Malta’ s tallest building - Mercury Towers in Paceville - and other projects sprawling all over the island. From the Park Lane development in Balzan to the Jerma project in Marsaskala, Portelli’s reach has been far and wide.

His audacity was on full show in an interview he gave Times of Malta when he admitted speaking to politicians about his projects.

In the face of increased scrutiny of his projects by the media and opposition in local communities, Portelli has reinvented himself as a community leader in his own right.

He has not only sponsored Premier League football club Hamrun Spartans but also became its president. The position endears him to a segment of the sporting public who may be tempted to compare him to Silvio Berlusconi.

Berlusconi also started his ascent as a construction mogul who gradually expanded his interests in the media, football and ultimately politics.  Pivotal to the Berlusconi image as a ‘can do’ entrepreneur was his successful stint as AC Milan president in which he transformed the struggling club into a dream team that attracted the best talent.

Portelli who openly admits making donations to both political parties may lack the communication skills to pursue a political career but football, along with money, strengthens his ability to condition the political class.

Not even the vain and charismatic Berlusconi had the temerity of doing what Portelli is trying to do now; that of actually registering himself as a player after resigning from club president.

And while Portelli’s drive and energy may have contributed to Hamrun’s successful run, his arrogant streak of stopping at nothing to get what he wants was also on full display.

Portelli’s latest stunt, that of resigning from club president to fulfil what he described as a childhood dream of actually playing in the Premier League match.

The move had nothing to do with Portelli’s football prowess but everything to do with his vainglory.

Portelli already made a name for himself last year by converting a penalty 11 minutes from time to help Nadur Youngsters (whose President is Portelli’s son) to a 1-1 draw against Kerċem Ajax. Portelli had also previously served as president of the club, leading the club to several honours in Gozitan football.

But while Portelli’s football exploits may be seen as harmless fun and a way for Portelli to join in the celebratory fun if Hamrun wins the league, it does come with a casualty.

The biggest loser will be the beautiful game itself. Football will be ridiculed by a man who wants to fulfil a childhood dream at all costs, even if he does not have the talent to do so.

It stands to reason that a big club like Hamrun should be registering professional footballers who honour the game through their skills and dedication to training. Portelli possesses neither of these.

Portelli’s antics suggest that for him football is just a toy, which he plays with as he pleases.  It also suggests that Portelli is using the club as a vehicle for personal glory.

But that comes as no surprise for someone who likes to play with the rules to get what he wants.