The fascinating tale of Malaga C.F
While Barcelona and Real Madrid take the bulk of the interest in the La Liga due to their financial muscle and enormous popularity, there has been a story that has gone untold (to a large extent) – The story of Malaga C.F.
While a few people know bits and parts of the rise of Malaga, a club battling relegation, to the international level, many are still ignorant of it.
After the final match in the 2009/2010 season, Malaga fans breathed a sigh of relief as their team narrowly avoided relegation by one point, secured on the final day after a draw against Real Madrid. With the increasing financial troubles, then Malaga president and shareholder, Fernando Sanz approached a Qatari businessman, Sheikh Abdullah Al-Thani, in the summer of 2010 for financial assistance. Since the club’s take over by the Qatari businessman, the club has managed to both amuse and frustrate in equal measure.
Upon his arrival, Al-Thani made promises of building the club to be a world beater, and even went so far as to promise to rebuild the community and attract tourism to the area, in what he labelled as the ‘Malaga Project’. Finally it looked like the duopoly of the Spanish giants had come under threat. Although things haven’t really gone according to plan, there is no doubt that Malaga’s has been a success story since.
The summer of 2010-2011 season saw the first steps towards building a squad that could compete. In came Kris Stadsgaard, Sebastian Fernandez, Eliseu, and Salomon Rondon. While these players were by no means marquee signings, they were indeed a step in the forward direction. In the winter transfer window, Al-Thani’s vision and commitment was further cemented as the club added further signings in Diego Buonanotte, Julio Baptista, Martin Demichelis, Enzo Maresca, Nacho Camacho, and Willy Caballero.
But the biggest and the most influential signing that was made was of Manuel Pellegrini. The former Real Madrid manager was appointed as the manager in November 2010. His first season saw the Chilean finish a respectable 11th position and he has since gone on to become the heart and soul of the football club.
The subsequent season will always remain as a wonderful memory in the minds of the Malaga fans as it saw their dream of being a powerhouse in the league become a reality. Al-Thani’s financial muscle was like a breath of fresh air to the fans and the club that had gone through financial troubles and mismanagement in recent past.
The summer of 2011-2012 season saw Santi Cazorla, Jérémy Toulalan, Nacho Monreal, Joaquín, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Isco (an unknown at that time) all swapping their jerseys for the famous blue and white of Malaga. With the enormous talent and depth to the side, much was expected of them in the season and they didn’t disappoint. With Pellegrini at the helm in his first full season in charge, Malaga went on to finish 4th in the league (the highest position in their history) and qualify for their first ever European Champions League.
Outside the pitch also, Malaga took giant steps towards international recognition by signing an agreement with UNESCO, making the club an ambassador of peace, equality and sporting values among young people all over the world.
Just as things were looking good for Malaga, they were dealt multiple blows which could seemingly derail them from their path. The first came in the form of the resignation of Fernando Hierro (the president), who was unsatisfied with the club’s financial aspects and lack of direction.
The second came in July, when their players Santi Cazorla, Joris Mathijsen, Jeremy Toulalan and Salomon Rondon filed a complaint against Malaga for unpaid wages. The third and final blow came when Villarreal and Osasuna filed a complaint against the club, claiming they still owed 3.5 and 1 million Euros respectively for the transfers of Santi Cazorla and Nacho Monreal respectively.
It seemed like the club was crumbling under its own weight and further fuel was added to the fire after rumors started surfacing claiming that the Qatari owner was looking to sell the club.
With the club coming under threat of relegation and exclusion from Champions league if their debt was not paid off, the club came out in a press conference and stated that to continue participation in the competitions, the club will have to sell their stars to cover the debt.
With the departure of star players like Cazorla and Rondón, and the rumors of the imminent departure of Jeremy Toulalan and Eliseu, the club seemed to be heading back into their old ways. But with the latter two deciding to stay and the shrewd addition of Saviola and Santa Cruz, under the guidance of Pellegrini, the club has gone on to continue their impressive showing.
With the club still in the Champions league (albeit with a goal down in the first leg against Porto) and hanging on to the much coveted 4th spot in the La Liga, they have performed admirably so far. One must look at their Champions league performance against AC Milan, when they showed showed a kind of panache, freedom and belief in themselves that was unexpected from a club in their situation. Even now, under the cloud of the imminent European ban, the club and the players look more united by their troubles than divided and unfocused.
Perhaps the most impressive and mesmerizing fact about Malaga is that the fact that the club is built, more or less, on the players who were deemed unfit or over the hill by their former clubs. Baptista, Saviola, Santa Cruz, Demichelis, all deemed surplus to requirements or not good enough by their former teams have, all gone on to rediscover themselves. It seems that Malaga is the sacred place where younger players go to be discovered and older players go to rediscover themselves.
Pellegrini deserves much applause for the part that he has played in the team’s outstanding and passionate performance, and their free flowing style of football which has been very easy on the eye at times (especially in the 3-2 win over Real Madrid).
It seems like Malaga, a team in every possible sense of the word, can quite possibly achieve even more in their future, but with a story like theirs- who can really say?