Valletta boss: Don’t give Floriana championship if league has to stop

Valletta and Floriana at loggerheads over future of Premier League title

Valletta FC President Victor Sciriha
Valletta FC President Victor Sciriha

If football cannot continue, Valletta FC want the Premier League to be nullified and spots for European competitions decided on last year’s league results. 

Valletta FC President Victor Sciriha has told MaltaToday that if the health authorities give no direction on when football matches can be played again, this year’s competition should be cancelled.  

“If it is cancelled, it is not acceptable to award the league with six more games to play for and a potential of 18 points,” he insisted. 

Valletta’s position will not go down well with eternal rivals Floriana FC, who have topped the league table since the start of the season and were on course to clinch the coveted title after a 27-year drought. 

Spots in Europe can either be decided through play-offs between the top six teams, Sciriha added, or if no football can be played the outcome determined on the basis of last year’s league results. 

Sciriha’s stand would mean that Valletta, last year’s champions, will make it again to Champions League football in lieu of Floriana, currently three points ahead of his team. 

This position appears to contradict the guidelines issued by UEFA, the European footballing body, that outcomes of tournaments that end prematurely should be determine on sporting merit in the 2019/2020 season. 

But the Valletta president is adamant that unless the tournament can continue in some way or another it should be nullified.  

“In France Paris Saint-Germain were declared champions because they have a good advantage over their next rival but over the past few seasons Valletta have had occasions where they won the championship in the last games and with just three points separating us and Floriana it is all to play for,” he insisted. 

Sciriha reiterated his club’s first preference was for the remaining six games to be played, even if in July and August. “The new season can then restart in October,” he added. 

Not an option to nullify league 

But Floriana FC secretary general Dione Borg has rubbished the suggestion to have this year’s tournament declared null, insisting that UEFA had already declared that nullifying leagues was not an option. 

UEFA guidelines suggest that if domestic competitions are prematurely terminated as a result of COVID-19 restrictions, national associations should select clubs for European club competitions “based on sporting merit in the 2019/20 domestic competitions”. 

No reference is made to the previous season but UEFA insists the procedure for selecting clubs should be based on “objective, transparent and non-discriminatory principles”.  

Borg insisted that on the basis of sporting merit alone, Floriana were in pole position to rightfully claim the championship. 

“We have been table leaders since the start of the tournament. We have the best goal difference. The league top scorer is a Floriana player. We have achieved all this on our merit and it should be reflected in any decision that is taken,” he said. 

Borg said Floriana’s first preference was for the league to continue but acknowledged this was increasingly looking like an unlikely prospect. 

“We believe we can win it on our own merit but if the tournament is terminated, with 75% of games already played, the current standings should be used to determine who is champion, who gets to be relegated and who makes it into Europe,” Borg said. 

Precedent when league did not end 

He noted that a precedent already existed when the league did not finish and the Malta Football Association still awarded the championship. 

In the 1984/85 seasons, the premier league was stopped with all clubs still having one more match to play because of a dispute between the MFA and referees. 

“Floriana was relegated in that season with only one point separating the club from the three teams that ended above us, and Rabat Ajax were declared champions, despite the massive importance of the last match,” Borg said. 

Last week, the MFA executive committee decided to stop all football competitions with the exclusion of the Premier League, FA Trophy and Gozo football. 

However, in the absence of a clear timeframe from the health authorities when football can restart, the MFA postponed the decision on how to award the tournaments and determine relegation issues. 

The MFA has until 25 May to communicate its decision to UEFA by which time it would have to determine whether the Premier League will continue and if not, how it intends to act to determine the outcome of tournaments. 

The association has until 22 July to inform UEFA of the four Maltese clubs that will take part in European football – one in the Champions League and three in the Europa League. 

Financial crisis 

But it is not just the determination of who will win the league that is weighing on the association. Football clubs have been starved of all income as the COVID-19 crisis shut down sponsor money and with top-flight clubs footing hefty wage bills, the situation is having a massive financial toll. 

Most Premier League clubs, especially those with no aspirations for glory want the league terminated to be able to release their foreign players. 

Some have already done so, depleting their squads and raising the prospect of an unfair scenario if the last remaining six matches are played. 

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc in all aspects of daily social and economic life but in the football world it has also stoked the flames of rivalry and this is a situation less easy to control, it seems.