Wood Appointed National Manager

The Gibraltar FA (GFA) announced today the appointment of Jeff Wood as permanent National Head Coach, with immediate effect.

Wood, who takes the role of permanent national manager after Allen Bula was relieved of his duties back in March, worked with former interim manager David Wilson in the games against Croatia and Germany last month and spent last season at Premier Division side Lions.

The Islington born 61 year old, who has previously managed English side Brighton, as well as Sliema Wanderers of Malta, has been connected with Gibraltar for a while, dating back to 2004 when he was working up the coast running Charlton Athletic’s European Soccer School.

Wood’s role within Gibraltarian football extends further than just managing the national side, with the GFA in a statement saying that “Jeff also becomes the Gibraltar FA’s Coach Educator responsible for the education and development of coaches in Gibraltar and delivering courses in accordance with the UEFA Coaching Convention.”

Wilson, who in his two competitive games oversaw a positive change in the way the national team approached matches against superior opponents, with the equaliser against Scotland from Lee Casciaro being the first fruit of his labours, will remain with Wood as his assistant.

The full GFA statement can be read here

GFA part ways with national manager Allen Bula

National manager Allen Bula has been fired from his position by the Gibraltar FA, less than a month before the upcoming qualifier with Scotland.

Bula, who has worked with the national team since 2010, was relieved of his duties in a statement released by the GFA this morning.
The GFA statement reads: “After a thorough and careful investigation, into internal matters, the Gibraltar FA has come to the decision that an immediate change was appropriate. It is not a decision that has been reached lightly or hastily.”

“The Gibraltar FA is committed to safeguarding football on the Rock and ensuring that the National Team remains the pinnacle of Gibraltarian football. Consequently the search for a new Gibraltar National Team Manager will begin immediately.”

There is no news yet as to who will succeed Bula, or if a new manager will be in place before the qualifier at Hampden Park on March 29. The big decision for the GFA will be whether they stay local with their new appointment, or look abroad for a potential coach, which may irk those who believe the role of the national manager should only go to a local.

Since joining UEFA in 2012, Bula oversaw nine official Gibraltar matches, earning a win against Malta and draws vs Slovakia and Estonia, all in friendly matches. Gibraltar’s four qualifiers have seen the team lose all four games, conceding 21 goals in the process,

2014 – A year in review

As we leave 2014 behind – an exciting year for sure – it would only be right to look at what is coming up in the next 12 months.

The first international involvement for Gib sees the futsal team travel to Bulgaria to face the hosts, Greece and Denmark in Futsal Euro qualifiers. Two years since Gibraltar’s first involvement in any UEFA competition, it is hoped that the futsal team will carry on the progress that the small-sided game has achieved on the Rock, both domestically and internationally.

March will see Gibraltar play their fifth Senior qualifying match, away at Scotland. The match at Hampden Park will be the hosts first since renovations were implemented at the ground ahead of the Commonwealth Games, and Gibraltar will be hoping to continue the progress that has seen them only allow four goals past the World Champions. For sure, a repeat of the 7-0 loss vs Ireland, which made for hard viewing at times, should not be repeated now the team, both players and staff, are no longer naive to the monumental task ahead of them in the form of five professional teams with years of international experience.

As spring turns to summer, the domestic league reaches its climax. With Lincoln two points ahead of nearest rivals College Europa, you’d fancy the Red Imps to once again retain their title, despite the gap between them and the other top teams in the league finally getting closer. The UEFA money, criticised by some as it has led to noticeably less locals playing in the league, has at least turned the league into more of a real contest instead of a Sunday stroll for Lincoln.

The Rock Cup could potentially decide who takes Gibraltar’s Europa League spot for next season too, providing Lincoln don’t win that of course. After last year’s farce with both College and Manchester 62 thinking they had qualified, the rules should be set in stone now, and no last minute alterations are expected.

The Second Division will also wrap up, with four teams currently believing they can finish in a top two spot, and have their chance to get a slice of the top division pie. Top of the pile are Gibraltar United, back for this season with a ‘Bilbao’ approach to their team, but with fellow ‘newbies’ Gibraltar Scorpions, Angels FC and Europa Point hot on their heels, the second tier is by no means decides. Who knows, if the GFA decide to expand the Premier to 10 teams, we might see a couple of these teams in the Premier next year.

June sees the World Champions come to Faro for the return qualifier. With it being the first “home” match since October, hopefully friendlies are arranged where possible before the match. This leads onto the issue of FIFA membership. Sepp Blatter may have said no to the GFA joining the world football body, but another trip to CAS might change that. However, provisional membership at a minimum is needed before June if Gib want to be in the World Cup qualifying draw, and not be exiled from competitive football from November 2015 until after Russia 2018.

July sees two teams take on the Champions League and Europa League qualifiers. With Gibraltar hot on the heels of San Marino in the coefficients, a good result or two could ensure two Europa League spots are up for grabs in the 2016/17 season.

As for the second half of the year, there’s little different to the last six months. The under 17’s and under 19’s once again go to battle in qualifiers,with the U19’s being put in the same group as France and the Netherlands. A new season starts once again, the final Senior qualifiers are played out, and with Allen Bula’s contract expiring after those qualifiers, it remains to be seen whether the GFA choose to renew his deal.

On a side note, there are rumours of Gibraltar sending a team to the Island Games in Jersey in the summer. Most likely it will be a women’s team, who need the game time, but it is something to keep an eye out for.

Regardless of what happens, 2015 promises to be another busy year for the football scene in Gibraltar.

Gibraltar invited to Malta for futsal tournament

Gibraltar are one of the teams invited to Malta for their fourth ‘International Futsal Tournament’, held at the Corradino Sports Pavilion in Paola, Malta.

Gibraltar, Malta and Serbia will contest the three day competition as preparation for the upcoming 2016 UEFA Futsal EURO qualifiers.

The chance to face Serbia, a top 20 FIFA Futsal nation will be a big test for Gibraltar, who are looking to at least match the three points they picked up in Nice back in 2013 when they travel to Bulgaria to face the hosts, Greece and Denmark.

Malta have played Gibraltar twice before, and both nations hold a victory over each other in those friendlies.

The fixtures (all kick off 18:30 Maltese time)
Serbia – Gibraltar 30/11/14
Malta – Gibraltar 1/12/14

Bruno Akrapovic appointed new College Europa manager

College Europa have appointed former Bosnian international midfielder Bruno Akrapovic as their new manager.

Akrapovic, who spent almost all of his career in the top two German divisions, is a surprise replacement for Jose Requena, who signed off his time at the Dolphins with the 9-0 demolition of Britannia. He earned 18 caps for the Bosnian national team, and the midfielder managed to score once in those matches

Further to this, a report on 5point4 suggests that Thomas Kastler, a German who set up his own football academy in Tenerife a few years ago, and who himself is a former German Third Division footballer, will take up the role of Sporting Director.

Akrapovic and Kastler look set to bring in  their own staff, and with further upheaval on the cards at College, it remains to be see how this will impact on their challenge for domestic honours.

More games the way forward for Europe’s smallest nations

As another international week gets underway and England expectedly beat San Marino 5-0, the calls for pre-qualification came again from all the usual suspects.

For the bigger nations, matches against Pot Six nations are almost seen as an inconvenience; an exercise in not picking up injuries.

However, the idea that by pushing the smallest teams to one side and letting them play each other in order to ‘earn’ the right to face everyone else will aide their progress is at best naive.

Does anyone seriously think that by having the likes of San Marino, Andorra and Gibraltar play a couple of pre-qualifiers, then be condemned to two years in the international wilderness if they don’t win, they will actually become better nations?

For those who lose,  their national game would become stagnant, and come the next pre-qualifying campaign two years they would repeat a vicious cycle that would end up with international football becoming an afterthought in those nations.

Instead, the men’s game should look towards both the women’s and futsal game, and look to increase competitive action for those who need it the most.

In the summer months, when the players of Gibraltar, Faroe Islands and Malta etc. would be at home watching whatever game the World Cup has thrown up that day, or the latest meaningless trip by a European club side to the Far East, why don’t they get together and have their own mini-tournaments?

At youth and women’s level, UEFA calls them development tournaments, and the fact is these nations are still developing, learning from each meaningful match they play.

Get some of these nations together, allow one of them the novelty of hosting a multi-nation tournament, and give them the experience and game time they need. Little incentive for the winner is needed when players of the smallest nations actually have pride in wearing their nations colours, regardless of the score.

In an ideal world, a few non-UEFA members could also be invited, giving them a taste of playing against bigger opponents than they are used to in the wilderness of ‘non-FIFA’ football.

The upcoming UEFA Nations League looks to address this somewhat, but more can be done by both UEFA and the respective nations FA’s to get teams playing more often.

The only way national teams develop is by playing meaningful games as often as possible; by restricting some to as little as two games every qualifying campaign, the gap between them and the rest of UEFA would only become bigger.

Republic of Ireland vs Gibraltar (Preview)

Allen Bula has no fresh injury concerns ahead of tomorrow’s away match against the Republic of Ireland.

It looks like Bula has a full compliment of players at his disposal, as no news on injuries has been reported by either the GFA or local press. Hopefully this is the case come tomorrow.

Kyle Casciaro is likely to start up top, while it remains to be seen if Bula sticks with the 4-1-4-1 or switches to something different for an away match in front of potentially 50,000 people.

As for Ireland, Martin O’Neill has had a few injury issues. With Seamus Coleman, Shay Given and James McCarthy all withdrawing from injury last week, his injury woes have been added to with the news Richard Keogh is unavailable tomorrow.

However, such is the strength of the Irish national player pool that they have been able to replace said players adequately, and will still be the stronger of the two teams tomorrow.

LA Galaxy striker Robbie Keane is expected to start, and will be looking to add to an already impressive international goalscoring record. Premier League involvement will come from the likes of Aiden McGeady, John O’Shea and Darron Gibson, to name but a few plying their trade in England’s top division.