Ramon Falzon after Perth's Top Four Cup win over Inglewood. Photo by Football West/FotoEnzo
Silla symbolic of Falzon’s philosophy
Sep 18, 2019
Football West News
Perth SC will fly the flag for Western Australia this weekend when they face Heidelberg United in Melbourne in the NPL Finals Series. Success on the national stage is the next target for the Azzurri after they repeated the feat of 12 months ago in winning the NPL WA title and Top Four Cup. Tommy Doleman speaks with Perth SC head coach Ramon Falzon.
Three years ago Ramon Falzon gave Alex Silla a first-team debut at Perth Soccer Club after taking on the role of head coach from Gareth Naven, who departed eight games into the 2016 NPL WA season to coach the youth team at Melbourne Victory.
Silla, now 21, has been with the Azzurri since he was 14 and his journey is symbolic of a coaching philosophy garnered by Falzon and the club.
Last Saturday, Perth completed a third NPL WA league and Top Four Cup double in four years after defeating Inglewood United 2-1. As per the 2018 season finale against Perth Glory, they trailed 1-0 at half-time, before regaining their composure to dig deep mentally and find an extra gear. They eventually scored a 90th minute winner through Silla, who drove forward from right back and squeezed a shot under United keeper Alex Dunn.
Alex Silla wheels away after his last-minute winner in the Top Four Cup Final. Photo by Football West/FotoEnzo
Silla is one of many who have graduated from the Perth Soccer Club academy and their presence is felt not only within the senior squad, but around the league with multiple Azzurri alumni making an impact at other clubs. It is something which provides joy to Falzon, who has observed the progression of these players.
“Enormous pride,” Falzon said excitedly when asked for his immediate reaction to Silla’s winner.
“Back then, he was the sort of player where, if he came under a little bit of pressure, the first instinct would be to put it out for a throw-in. But he’s always been a good one-on-one defender and as he’s gained confidence he has improved with playing from the back and his in-game intelligence.
“We have worked on the timing of his work up and down the flanks. It’s important for the full backs to show energy and we always look for opportunities to attack as well as defend. There have been times when I have said, ‘it’s not a rule that you have to pass’ and have encouraged him to take on the responsibility. In the end I was relieved he listened to me!”
Silla’s story is not an isolated one with many youth products playing pivotal roles in season 2019. Jordan De Leo has worn the captain’s armband in the absence of regular skipper Francis Soale. Harley Orr and Kristian Santich have developed a formidable midfield partnership and Paul Zimarino has matured into a deeper-lying role having scored over 20 goals in 2018.
In fact, Falzon’s mantra has always been based around youth development, ever since he received an opportunity to coach in his native Malta with boyhood club Hibernians, and eventually the Maltese U-17 National Team. It is a part of the world where the round ball game means everything.
Falzon directs his players at Perth Plasterboard Centre Stadium last Saturday. Photo by Football West/FotoEnzo
“Football is very important. It keeps me sane. When you grow up in a Mediterranean country, you’re brainwashed into football and it’s like a religion,” Falzon said.
“I played as a junior through the ranks at my local team and made it to the senior level but injury cut my career short, even though I was an average player anyway at age 20! That was a massive change for me. I was used to training five days a week as I ended up being at home with nothing to do.
“But the head coach always rated me mentally and tactically, even if he didn’t technically, so he got me involved with coaching. Then it eventually progressed to Malta’s U17 team. I’d already been coaching in the junior set up with the national team, but it fills you with enormous pride when you work with youth players, see them develop, see them make a first team debut or earn a professional contract.
“I love that angle of football. And you always get a little extra from players who grow with the club because of their affiliation.”
When asked to elaborate on his philosophy in further detail without giving too much away, Falzon joked said: “I always say, ‘the technique of the Spanish, the tactical minds of the Italians, the fighting spirit of the English and the will to run all day like the Germans!’
“It’s impossible to create that, of course. But I always try to evolve and keep tabs with trends from around the world. I believe that system and style is our strength and not just individuals, even though we have some excellent players. It doesn’t matter who scores the goals, creates space or plays the final pass.
“We practise it at training where players play in different positions. That makes us adaptable to different situations and tactically flexible. If a couple of players are slightly off-form on any day, we can always be confident that our collective stands up no matter who we play.”
More silverware for Falzon and PerthSC. Photo by Football West/FotoEnzo
The 39-year-old credits the opportunities presented to him by two people in particular. His former mentor in Malta and then national team coach in Pippo Psaila and former Perth Glory legend Naven, who showed belief in him on his arrival to Australia.
“The biggest eye-opener was when I involved with the national team set-up, it presented many opportunities,” he said.
“I got to meet Carlo Ancelotti and Sir Alex Ferguson when AC Milan and Manchester United did their training camps in Malta. I watched part of their sessions, met them and picked their brains. I learned so much in that time. Not just through coaching, but also about leadership and that learning broadens your horizons.
“Then I had the pleasure of meeting Gareth (Naven) in 2012 when he had me assist with the Glory alongside John Gibson. I enjoyed those two years greatly because we see football from the same perspective.
“When I took over from Gareth at Perth, the transition was seamless because he had laid the foundations and we were heading in that direction towards youth as a club. Even before my time, Gareth had started shifting the thinking towards the academy, and since then I’ve had great support from (Perth SC President) Gary Marocchi who appreciates the philosophy of developing home-grown players.”
Falzon’s heart still bleeds black and white. Not just through his affiliation with Hibernians but through his love for Serie A and Juventus, an affection which provided a special moment for him and his father in last year’s off-season.
“My father had turned 70 and had never been to Turin to watch Juventus live,” he said.
“I took him to watch two games against Manchester United and Cagliari. It was special. I grew up and have spent a lifetime watching Juventus on the TV.
“He used to get pissed off at me because I got too emotional watching the games with him! But it was the other way around when we went to the stadium and it was amazing. A lovely moment.”
But one thing still grinds at Falzon, despite the domestic dominance of the Old Lady in recent years.
“We still haven’t won the Champions league since 1996!” he said with frustration.
“I was very young when they won it the first time in the 80s, but I’ve seen them lose the final five times now!”
Thankfully for Falzon, and Perth SC, his recent record in cup finals doesn’t mirror that of Juve.