Sliema name Azzopardi as coach after Farrugia's exit

Sliema name Azzopardi as coach after Farrugia's exit

Ex-Sliema coach Ray Farrugia (right) with club president Robert Arrigo in a pre-season function.

Ex-Sliema coach Ray Farrugia (right) with club president Robert Arrigo in a pre-season function.

Sliema Wanderers have named Stephen Azzopardi as their new coach after Ray Farrugia left the club "by mutual agreement" on Monday night.

A lengthy inquest into the team's abject display during the 1-0 league defeat to Pietà Hotspurs on Sunday led to the parting of ways between Farrugia and the Wanderers.

Farrugia's position had been under scrutiny since Sliema suffered a 3-2 reverse to modest Mqabba earlier in the season.

A second defeat to less-quoted opposition appears to have made Farrugia's position untenable as the former Malta U-21 mentor and Ronald Vella, his assistant, stepped down after talks with club officials.

Sliema acted swiftly yesterday in holding discussions with Azzopardi who has agreed in principle to take charge of the team.

From the moment news of Farrugia's exit from Sliema filtered through, Azzopardi, who had been out of work since he ended his long association with Birkirkara last March, was regarded as the prime candidate to succeed him.

Robert Arrigo, the Sliema Wanderers president, confirmed Farrugia's departure.

"We're bitterly disappointed with the performance of the players in Sunday's 1-0 defeat to Pietà," Arrigo said. "This was not our first big upset of the season because a few months ago, we also went down to Mqabba.

"After Sunday's result, I asked club officials Tony Meli and John Bugeja to make a thorough assessment of the situation.

"The team's performances were discussed during separate meetings with the coaches and players.

"Based on the feedback from these discussions, the club administration and Farrugia agreed to go their separate ways."

On the imminent appointment of Azzopardi, Arrigo said that he has all but sorted out terms with the former Birkirkara coach.

For his part, Azzopardi confirmed that he has accepted Sliema's offer.

"After it was confirmed that Sliema had parted with their former coach, I had a meeting with club officials and we reached an agreement," Azzopardi told The Times.

"Since leaving Birkirkara earlier this year, I've always insisted that I wanted to wait for the right offer from the right club to return to coaching.

"In the early stages of my career, I spent eight years as youth coach with the Malta FA, I had a positive spell with Balzan Youths and then I was at Birkirkara for several years.

"My ambition has always been to join a club who, like Birkirkara, have aspirations to challenge for the top honours... Sliema fit the bill.

"When their officials called to see if I was interested, I considered their offer seriously.

"This is not the ideal time to take over a team because the season has already started but the circumstances are similar to when I signed as Birkirkara coach in December of six years ago."

Azzopardi, who is expected to ink an 18-month deal, is unfazed by the prospect of leading a team that harbours high expectations of challenging for the top honours in Maltese football.

"The president told me in no uncertain terms that he expects Sliema to mount a lasting challenge for the Premier League title this season, so I know exactly the size of the task awaiting me," Azzopardi said.

Due to other commitments, Azzo-pardi cannot start work as Sliema coach before Friday.

In the interim, the team will be under the temporary charge of Charles Agius, Sliema's U-18 coach who was invited to attend a meeting yesterday during which Azzopardi was to address the Sliema players.

Azzopardi's first game will be on Sunday afternoon against Msida.

Farrugia, who had assumed the reins of the team in late October last year after succeeding Edward Aqui-lina, had also made his debut as Sliema coach in a league match against Msida. The result was 1-1.

Under his guidance, Sliema finished second in the league last year and reached the final of the FA Trophy where they lost to Hibs on penalties.

Sliema are second in the Premier League on 16 points, one behind Floriana, who have a game in hand.

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