Interview with Malta women’s national team head coach Mark Gatt.
Mark Gatt is the newly appointed national coach of Malta women’s senior football team and will lead the team in the UEFA Women’s Euro 2017 qualifiers and beyond.
Gatt took charge of his country’s national team on 22 January 2015 and signed a two-year contract replacing Pierre Brincat whom he previously served as an assistant coach to.
His first task will be to lead the team in the UEFA Women’s Euro preliminary round when Malta will face Faroe Islands, Georgia and Andorra in a mini-tournament which will be staged in Malta in April.
Please give us a brief introduction about yourself both as a player and as a coach.
Mark Gatt: I started playing football at a young age like many other players. I played with the youth national teams and even featured with my local team at senior level. At 20 I had to stop playing football due to various reasons despite having lots of expectations about myself and I did not play football for the next 5 years. I restarted playing football once again after 5 years, but then stopped again. In the meantime, I started to play futsal and meanwhile I was also taking the coaching license course, which at that point it was my ambition. Then, a certain Pierre Brincat, who is also currently the Head of Women’s football in Malta, asked me to start coaching a women’s football team. At first, I rejected the offer because I thought that football was only for men, but after few weeks I decided to take this opportunity. I held a training session with this team and immediately after, I decided to take the job. From then on, I did not look backwards and today I am where I am. I started with U/14 national team, then my first experience on the international stage was with the U/16s in Serbia, where we even managed to take a point against Serbia. Afterwards, I went to manage the U/19s with whom I had another UEFA international tournament, in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The issue which kept me motivated in coaching girls was the fact that they did not get paid or anything, they did all this just for the love of the game and that helped me to teach them a lot and in the same time, I kept growing my knowledge about women’s football.
How do you feel knowing that you are the National Team coach, what are your responsibilities?
Mark Gatt: First of all I feel proud that I am managing the national team of my country, it gives me extra motivation to hold our flag high. Moreover, I think is my responsibility more than obtaining results is to help growing this football movement. The young players that we have with the senior national team are our stepping stone towards a talented generation, therefore I feel responsible to fulfil their potentials. On the other hand, my aim is to see the players happy to play because if they are happy to play then I have no doubts that they will give their utmost.
Did you find any particular differences between coaching at U/19 level and Senior level?
Mark Gatt: One of the main differences is that among the Senior Team there are players with a certain experience. But on the other hand, there are no radical differences because I will keep working on the system which I used to use with the U/19s, therefore I will try to adapt the team to my mentality, maybe a tactical difference during the preparation would be that with the Senior Team I go into more depth due to the level of the competition which is obviously higher than that of U/19 level.
Have you seen any improvements in women football in recent years? Supporters in the stands keep arguing that the coaches only use a defensive system which in their opinion does not help the girls to improve their football.
Mark Gatt: In my opinion, football has improved but of course there is lot more where we can improve. Our U/16 league is one of the scenarios which underlines our improvement. If one compares the playing style of this season with the playing style of 4/5 seasons ago, he can see the huge improvement that there have been in tactics and technique and consequently strengthening our national teams at youth level. Moreover, 3 years ago we gave birth to a project in which many schools around Malta are collaborating with. We are visiting these schools in order to promote women football and I remain surprised in every visit because the amount of girls who enjoy playing football is unthinkable, and thinking that few years back I used to think that football was only for men (laughs). Regards to the other question, I think that we have to adapt our game according to our opponent. When we encounter opponents like Iceland or Switzerland, it is inevitable that we have to use a defensive system, but on the other hand when we face a team whom we can achieve a result against or also beat them, I will use another system which can help them achieve their offensive skills as well.
A few days ago, Malta was drawn with Georgia, Andorra and Faroes Island in the Women Euro Preliminary group. What are your expectations and how will you prepare the team for these matches?
Mark Gatt: Our main expectation is to qualify from the group, especially after our success in the Women’s World Cup Preliminary group. It depends then on match day, I would rather lose against a team knowing that they are superior but we gave our utmost, than losing against a team due to a lack of preparation. My aim is to implement the right approach towards such international matches and moreover a month before we will be participating in an international tournament in Cyprus, at which we will play 4 matches in around 10/11 days which for sure will be very helpful in our preparation.
In your opinion, what makes Malta as a footballing country inferior to other European countries?
Mark Gatt: Well, first and foremost we cannot argue that there are not any girls who want to play football. I think we need to invest more on youth systems and coaching which can fulfil the talents of our girls. It’s not important the quantity of nurseries we have in Malta but the quality of the nurseries which already work in this sector. Currently, we already have nurseries which are well-organised in women football but we still need to develop other nurseries to attract more girls because then automatically our leagues will become more competitive.
What is your message to the girls who already play football or want to start playing football? And your message towards the supporters?
Mark Gatt: My message to the girls is to not be shy of showing your passion towards this game. If you do not give it a try, how can our football improve?
My message to the supporters.. (laughs), I hope that our supporters keep attending to our matches, keeping in mind though that despite we do not get positive results regularly, our girls always give their utmost for their country both in training and matches and I promise that I will try to keep developing new tactics in order to improve the level of the national team.
Sports journalist from Malta with a great passion towards women’s football. My interest towards women’s football commenced during the 2007 FIFA World Cup and from then on I started to catch up with all international tournaments that used to be broadcasted. My involvement in local women’s football started few years ago by attending all national team’s matches and sometimes used to attend some of the domestic league’s matches. I hope that my articles with WSU help our local league to build an important reputation among other nations and expose our girls in this movement.