Winter signings key to avoid drop, says Potenza
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Winter signings key to avoid drop, says Potenza

A terrible start to the 2018/2019 BOV Premier League campaign looked set to condemn Senglea Athletic to Division One after just two seasons in the top-flight.

Senglea’s Leighton Grech (left) hits a pass despite the challenge of Gabriel Mensah of Pietà. Photo: Chris Sant FournierSenglea’s Leighton Grech (left) hits a pass despite the challenge of Gabriel Mensah of Pietà. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Before the start of the January transfer window, the Cottonera outfit had just managed to chalk up four points in 13 matches – a 1-1 draw against Pietà Hotspurs and a 2-1 win over St Andrews.

Senglea’s defeats in their first three outings, in which they even failed to find the net, had costed Bruno Russo his coaching job and as a result, the club decided to appoint another Italian at the helm of the team in Vincenzo Potenza.

The team’s difficulty in implementing their style in this league was understandable, given that they had made an overhaul to the entire squad, with most of last season’s players leaving the club.

However, the arrival of Potenza brought with it two Argentines that last year impressed with the Yellow Reds – midfielder Matias Garcia and Augusto Caseres, Senglea’s main striker.

Potenza managed to snatch a draw against the Hotspurs on his debut, but could not immediately transform Senglea’s fortunes as besides beating St Andrews, they still ended on the losing side on eight other occasions.

Come January, Senglea brought in 14 overseas players and they have really upped the level of performance and changed the complexion of the relegation battle.

Four wins out of four in 2019 have catapulted Senglea into 11th place in the 14-team championship, with 16 points.

The Cottonera side are six points clear of second-bottom Pietà while Qormi are a futher three points behind and on the base of their recent performances they surely look capable of preserving their top-flight status for another season. 

Still, Potenza is not resting on his laurels and believes that Senglea have achieved nothing so far. 

“The players are still working with the same dedication shown in the first part of the season, so the current results are down to their commitment and professionalism,” Potenza told the Times of Malta.

“Obviously, the January signings have helped us to increase our quality and I have to thank the committee, chaired by president Ruben Debono, for their hard work.”

Arriving to a struggling club, with zero points on the board and the daunting challenge of saving its status with a tight budget has not disheartened Potenza from embarking on this project.

“I did my personal research about Maltese football and also the club, and while speaking to the persons involved at Senglea Athletic, they promised me that they would do the right modifications come January after a proper technical analysis that we did together,” Potenza said.

“With the club keeping their word, they helped me to work in a healthy environment where we could improve our squad.”

Potenza underlined that the new arrivals have also helped to improve the approach to the game of the players who were already part of the squad, and this has had a huge impact on the team.

Senglea’s top scorer, Caseres, has confirmed himself as one of the most effective foreigners in our league. After scoring six goals during the 2017/2018 season, the Argentine forward has netted four times this season including the winner in last weekend’s win over Pietà.

“Augusto Caseres is a player with particular characteristics and for me, they are all important,” the Senglea coach explained.

“He has an impressive work ethic that helps him to give us a helping hand in both defensive and offensive parts, which in Italy we refer to as a universal player.”

In addition, one of the signings that has really taken this league by a storm was Japanese winger Taisei Marukawa. He produced man-of-the-match performances in both games he featured in and has added more quality to Potenza’s side.

“He is in a development process, given he is arriving from a different culture of football,” Potenza said.

“However, the group has really welcomed him with open arms and that has definitely sped his integration into the team and is now playing some really good football.”

Meanwhile, the club has also welcomed back Argentine midfielder Gonzalo Virano last week, as Potenza retains him as a complete midfielder that can provide quality both at the back and upfront.

Nonetheless, besides the importance of the foreigners in the team, Potenza also underlined the help that the Maltese players are giving to this team – in particular defender Zach Cassar, who played 15 games, and midfielder Leighton Grech, who registered 4 assists in the Premier League so far.

“Zach Cassar is an interesting prospect, and part of the Malta U-21 team ,” Potenza underlined.

“He is always ready to learn and  he is improving game after game.

“Leighton Grech has also improved and he does not get all the recognition he deserves as a player, because his offensive mindset and technical skills are qualities that is not easy to find here.”

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