Hibernians of Malta sealed their 12th league title with a 3-1 win over St Andrews on Sunday week. Hibernians Head Coach is Mark Miller, a native of Newcastle, England that has spent his last 24 years on the tiny island of Malta located a short ferry ride from the Italian coast of Sicily. Mark has attended a number of PSC combines and tours during the last few years and has assisted many PSC players with opportunities around Europe before taking on his role as Head Coach with Hibernians at the start of the 2016/17 campaign.
Mark has had a hugely successful playing and coaching career. He made his name playing with Doncaster Rovers and Darlington in England. He has won the Maltese Premier League 4 times and the Maltese Cup twice. He also managed the Malta u17 and u21 National teams. Having won the Premier Division in Malta, Hibernians will enter the Champions League qualifying rounds for the start of the 2017/18 season.
Hi Mark, congrats on your season! What are your thoughts on the 2016/17 campaign and what do you put your success down to?
We were the most consistent team from a very inconsistent league. The team stuck together and always bounced back from its set backs. We were a good group, always had a good attitude and approach to the games and training. We adapted to various situations with players being suspended or injured and we still managed to get results. Our game model was 1-4-3-3 but we played 1-4-4-2 (diamond midfield) it was quite flexible.
If you were comparing Maltese football to the level in the USA and England how would you compare it and what are the differences?
It’s always difficult to compare countries. It all depends on several factors but in Malta we are allowed 7 foreign players to play and as many as you want to be registered. The game has become a common ground harder to win and teams are much more even now so the league is tough. We play in the Champions League again next year and have progressed to the next round several times. In 2015 Birkirkara of our league got to the third round and played English Premier League club West Ham and actually beat them in the first leg in Malta
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gSIoLb4-tKg (West Ham vs Birkirkara in 2015)
When competing in Europe, the clubs receive large amounts of money from Uefa. So the clubs have a big motivation to do well. Every country has it different styles. In Malta it’s very tactical, teams are analyzed well and the coaches have good strategies. With the influx of more foreigners the league has improved. Culture plays a big part in any level of football but I feel the more professional you can be the more you improve.
So you’ve progressed to the champions league qualifying stage. What are your preparations now ahead of this and the new campaign starting in July?
We just played our last game and we will take time to celebrate the League win. We will have 3 weeks rest and then start on 28th May. We will just have 4 weeks to prepare for our first Champions League game on the 28th june. I will try to do a small training camp but it is difficult as we have players on international duty during the 4th and 11th of June. It all depends on the draw and where we have to travel. We don’t find out who our opponents are until the 20th june so preparation and analysis of the other team is in a short time. Usually we only get 7/8 days preparation. I will also be away in the USA with PSC in New York and Florida looking at potential prospects.
It’s important to reach the European qualifiers as well prepared as possible. We don’t intend to have players starting their pre-season late and then we can’t rely on them in Europe so we need them all to be fit. Our pre-season starts on May 28. We’ll have a few extra players with us as they return from loan spells so that makes our squad a little bit more competitive.An extended run in Europe will also bring much-needed funds to our club which is always welcome by the administration.
You’ve been to PSC events in the USA and Europe and signed, trialed and assisted a number of players. What are the benefits of coming to the events for you?
The combines are great. There is always a talent somewhere and if I can help the player progress his future, live his dream by coming to Malta and playing in Europe then so be it. The PSC events are a great chance for me to add players to my squad. My track record shows that if I see a player I like, then I usually try to make a move possible. Since I have been at Hibernians i’ve brought in three players from PSC and most recently we looked at Saalih Muhammad who we really liked and got to see him play against St Gallen, Dusseldorf and during PSC’s Showcase which i assisted with this January. It’s a great chance for a player who’s looking for a club to be seen by myself and other clubs who attend the events hoping to find talent for their teams.
For me coming to the events also means I meet new people and coaches and we can share our own experiences, making new friends and contacts.
You’ve been working with PSC for a number of years now and have known Paul since your time as a professional player in the 1980’s in England with Gillingham. Can you tell us a little about your background as a player and different experiences in England Finland and Malta and how you ended up there?
I played in England many years ago. Things have changed so much 1. facilities 2. coaching education 3. salaries. I just travelled to Aston Villa for 2 days to meet Steve Bruce who i actually played with back in the 1980’s with Gillingham. I got to see the clubs facilities and to see how they work as a team. There is always something to learn and to make new friends and contacts is so important in any role.
I played as a winger and in my last years the central midfield. I was a player coach for about 5 years which in today’s world would be difficult. I started my coaching licenses very early, at the age of 26 and by the age of 30 I had the highest qualification available at that time from the English FA.
I think I was lucky because I tasted and worked in different cultures and always having to adapt. Malta is small but I played and coached over 50 games in the Europa Leagues with the local teams, I was the National Team coach for 9 years working in the coaching education and with the youth national teams from under 17 to under 21. On my last count I had coached over 90 international games. Through this I gained a lot of experience at international level.
One of the players you assisted with their career was Gustavo Villalobos who was a success in Malta and is now progressing in the USL with Orange County SC. What do you feel the benefits are for American players coming to start their careers in Europe in countries like Malta?
The benefits vary, you can use Malta as a platform into Europe but first you need to establish yourself and do well here.The life here in malta is good but we are so close to the great european nations that the doors can open at any time. If the player is motivated and hungry he will be successful one way or another. It’s good to taste another culture adapt,challenge yourself, there is always something to learn.
Gus did fantastic for me, he is such a great lad. I try to keep in touch with him and he did really well for Pembroke and Qormi out here. He is a good example of someone who kept working hard even after a few setbacks in his career and i am delighted to see him doing well with Orange County.
We understand that you’ve just completed your UEFA pro license after 2 years hard work! Can you tell us a little about the course and some of the experiences and travels you have been on during the program?
The country worked hard to bring the license to Malta normally we would have to travel to Italy or England to get this licence but it’s so difficult to get on the course due to high demands. It took almost 2 years and I must say it was the hardest thing I have ever done. To go back to school at my age was not easy. The licence was tough and very complexed.
We travelled to Belgium watched how they work at club and international level and were fortunate to meet and interview the national coach [roberto martinez] and the technical director. They have their game model and create this into a tactical periodisation. It was all very interesting. We travelled to Italy and watched the clubs and how they prepare a weeks training for their game at the weekend.
UEFA bring 4 countries together in their Nyon headquarters to share their experiences and put us through tests. We have to prepare a presentation, in front of all countries of a team we have analysed from the Champions League. We then make a training program and how we would play against the opponent, we must then make a coaching practice to show the end product of our work.
I was fortunate to make the practice representing Malta. It was tough but the experience was great and having the whole country on my shoulders to do well was not easy. The course was broken down into 12 modules with a minimum of 35 hours each module. As well as this we had to make a 10 week tactical periodisation model and write a dissertation on a chosen topic. The exam was based over 3 days and had to do a presentation of our thesis and training model.The exam consisted of watching a game, analyzing it and then finding a way to play against that opponent. The second day was theory on many of the things we had learned over the duration of the course. As you can see, it really was tough and it took us out of our comfort zone but I guess this is how we improve.My thesis was based on leadership “The modern day manager.” Anybody interested in reading it I can post a copy.
Obviously getting into the professional game isn’t easy so what Advice do you have for aspiring players coming out to PSC events this summer and how can they stand out to you?
For me there are many things but I have 3 in particular that I like to use. ATTITUDE-RESPECT-WORK ETHIC and to add to that listen and observe, its free, it costs nothing. You must be like a “sponge” take it all in, process it, then decide what’s good for you. All coaches want to work with players who are “coachable” and it’s very important players show that during the 3 days we get to work with players at the combines.
Thanks Mark! We looking forward to hosting you again this June when we see you in New Jersey.
The venues and dates for our upcoming Pro Soccer Combines are as follows:
– New Jersey: June 9, 10 and 11
– Florida: June 13, 14 and 15
– California: June 21, 22 and 23
– Texas: June 25, 26 and 27.
Click here to register for an event.
Clubs and scouts attending our upcoming Pro Soccer Combines include:
– Jacksonville Armada (NASL)
– Harrisburg City Islanders (USL)
– Jönköpings Södra IF (Sweden, Allsvenskan)
– Hibernians FC (Maltese Premier League Champions, 2017)
– Tulsa Roughnecks FC (USA, USL Pro)
– Karlsunds IF HFK (Sweden, Division 2)
– Bodens BK (Sweden, Division 2)
– FK Jūrnieks Riga (Latvia, Division 2)
– Patrick Walker (Scouting for all five tiers in Sweden)
– Declan Roche (Scouting for League of Ireland Premier Division and League of Ireland First Division)
– Aleksandrs Cekulajevs (Scouting for all levels in Latvia, Lithuania, Czech Republic and Estonia).