Entrepreneur Joseph Portelli has hit back at critics who said his desire to play for Hamrun Spartans would ridicule Maltese football.
People who want to poke fun at Maltese football would not invest €1.5m a year in a local team, he told the Times of Malta.
The construction magnate resigned as Hamrun Spartans president last week, clearing the way to play for the club, which currently top Malta’s first division. He would like to play a few minutes in one of the last games after the team has accumulated enough points to secure the title. Some football clubs have reportedly asked him to desist
In his first public comments on the controversy, Portelli told the Times of Malta that his childhood love of football was unbroken. He pointed out that he played for the national under-16 team as a teenager and would probably have played in the league had he not stopped playing for personal reasons.
“That dream never left me,” he said.
“Since I took over the team two and a half years ago, I’ve agreed with every coach that if we’ve already scored enough points to win the title, they’ll let me play a few minutes in a game,” he said.
“Not because I consider myself a star player, but to achieve my childhood dream of playing in the Premier League.”
Portelli, 42, said when he became Hamrun president he promised he would take the team to the group stage of an international league, despite many doubting him.
“We were the first team to almost make it last year. We made it to the fourth round of the Europa League and only needed one more win to reach the group stage. And I still think we’ll get there while I’m still there.”
Annual investment of 1.5 million euros
Portelli hit back at critics who said his decision to play for the club would ridicule Maltese football.
People who want to poke fun at Maltese football would not invest €1.5m a year in a local team, he said.
On Saturday, international sports advocate Carlo Rombolà wrote to the MFA urging it to accept Portelli’s wish.
Rombolà, who is an associate professor of international sports law and previously advised Hamrun Spartans, told MFA President Bjorn Vassallo not to stop Portelli’s dream.
“Football is for dreamers,” he wrote.
“The story we are telling is about a child who kicked his first footballs on the island of Gozo with his biggest and most powerful dream in mind: to play in his own team.”
“Please don’t stop this dream,” the sports attorney urges the MFA
He goes on to explain how, despite his desire to be a footballer, Portelli’s life led to another profession and he later became a “prominent and well-respected entrepreneur” and owner of “the strongest team” in Malta.
“But the dream of playing remained untouched and ready to come out when no one expected: the desire to wear the Ħamrun Spartans red and black jersey.”
Rombolà said Portelli had done nothing but “honor Maltese football” with his tireless work.
“Football is not just business. Football belongs to everyone. Please don’t stop this dream,” Rombolà said at the end of his two-page appeal.
Rombolà owns a law firm with offices in Rome and Milan and had defended Ħamrun Spartans in a case before the Court of Arbitration for Sport when the team were banned from the 2021 UEFA Champions League.
Portelli’s intentions have sparked a public outcry, with Ħamrun Spartans FC fans insisting they see nothing wrong with the move and several sports lovers arguing that he ridicules local football.
On Saturday, the Times of Malta reported that several football club delegates and Maltese Premier League chairman Joseph Muscat had dissuaded Portelli from making the move, and MFA sources said the federation is likely to refuse his registration as a player.
But the Italian lawyer and sports law expert, who has authored several books and publications, supports Portelli.
“There are two ways of looking at it,” he told the MFA president in his letter.
“On the one hand, you can imagine the whim of an eccentric and over-the-top character. On the other hand, one sees the powerful and visionary gesture of an entrepreneur who has reached the highest peaks of the national sport from the bottom up and intends to do so – by playing a few minutes of Premier League with his team’s jersey – sending the message to all the children of the world convey that football makes everything possible and if you believe in your dreams you can be anyone, the president of a football team and at the same time a player on the team.
“With him, all the children of Ħamrun and the entire nation of Malta will take to the field, becoming a role model for the world.”
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