THE POWER OF MONEY: MALAGA CF

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November 9, 2012 by jstevenson0804

Manchester City’s meteoric rise to success has been both rapid and startling. Following in the footsteps of Abramovich’s Chelsea, the Etihad has seen a huge transformation. Massive spending sets these clubs apart from most others, however this is swiftly changing as more and more wealthy investors are following the English example.

In June 2010 Malaga CF was purchased by Qatari billionaire Sheik Al Thani for a reported fee of €36 million. The first summer of spending saw a fairly meagre €30 million spent on new recruits. November witnessed former Real Madrid coach Manuel Pellegrini appointed as the new manager with the primary aim of securing Champions League football. Results-wise the season was not a huge success as Malaga could only manage an eleventh place finish – still an improvement on recent results. In many eyes this was seen as a failure, with some pre-season analysts anticipating a challenge to the Clasico duopoly. Regardless, the first season was not simply about the result, but rather installing the foundations for future success, including heavy investment in a new academy.

The summer of 2011 saw further spending, but this time on a far more significant level. Not only did the fees increase but so too did the profile of the players. The marquee signings of Santi Cazorla, for a club record fee of €21 million and Ruud Van Nistelrooy on a free transfer represented the scale of ambitions of the owners. Further transfers in a big summer of rebuilding saw a total of €65 million spent. Expectations, naturally, increased and 2011-2012 was viewed as the make or break season.

On the field the ball flowed and the perfect combination of senior wisdom and youthful exuberance saw Malaga claim their highest ever league finish; fourth. Not only was this a massive improvement on the previous seasons, but with it came the jewel of Champions League football. Still short of challenging Real and Barcelona, Malaga’s 2011-2012 season was nonetheless a resounding success and a triumph for huge spending.

However, this summer has witnessed the first signs of trouble. Questions over finance led to a ‘dry’ summer with not a single euro being spent – the only club in La Liga to do so. Even more worryingly the list of departures increased. Prized asset Cazorla was sold for the loss of €2 million merely a year after his record move to the club. This move was not just a financial but also footballing loss. Cazorla had been by far and away Malaga’s stand-out player last season, and the key architect in the on-field success. Van Nistelrooy was also gone and top scorer Salomon Rondon left for the even greater riches of Russia leaving behind some big gaps in the squad.

At this point serious questions were being raised, the future of Pellegrini, the future of other key players, and perhaps even the future of the club. Wages had gone unpaid, transfer fees had not been completed and Al Thani had temporarily disappeared from public view. His investment had all but ceased and he was rumoured to have been searching for a buyer. There were questions over his actual wealth, with many beginning to distrust his pre-takeover claim.

With many fearing for the future, the on-field results have been nothing short of remarkable. The club’s first assault on the Champions League has gone exceptionally well. A fairly comfortable 2-0 aggregate win over Panathinaikos saw Malaga reach the group stage. Halfway through this stage Malaga lead the group with a one hundred percent record five points clear of second-placed Milan, and all without conceding a single goal. It should be a fairly routine task for Malaga to seal their progression to the next stage, which in itself is an outstanding achievement.

League results have been impressive too. Going into last weekend’s fixtures Malaga were sitting third in the table with only one defeat in eight. Unfortunately, they slipped to fourth after their first home defeat of the season to a surprisingly impressive Rayo Vallecano side. Still it is a very promising start, especially under such difficult circumstances.

This latest performance may well just be a minor setback but it could be a sign that other issues are taking their toll. Certainly the extra pressure of consistent mid-week football is a new venture for most of the team. Last week they had a Copa Del Rey tie with another crucial Champions League fixture this week as they head to the San Siro. Even more stressing is the non-payment of October’s wages, once again bringing Al Thani’s wealth into serious question. Undoubtedly the next few weeks will determine whether this was a one-off blip or part of a more serious decline.

Isco – the new Iniesta?

However, fans of the club do still have something to cheer. Not only have the results continued to come, but in Isco Malaga have one of Europe’s brightest talents. Dubbed by many as being the ‘new Silva’ or even the ‘new Iniesta’ the 20-year old has stepped up to the mantle and has led the team superbly. Last season he was a supporting act to the more experienced Cazorla, but this season he has taken on the leading role. He is a delight to watch and is the heartbeat of the team. It is no coincidence that the weekend’s defeat corresponded with a fairly anonymous performance from the small Spaniard. Malaga’s success could well rest not only on money, but also the form and fitness of Isco, if indeed they can keep him away from the clutches of the bigger teams. Only recently Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United have all said to have enquired about the star’s availability.

In spite of the recent troubles, it is very clear that, like Manchester City and Chelsea, money has helped to bring success to this formerly mid-table club. The foundations are in place and the results so far are certainly impressive, but whether this will continue is another question. Tougher times lie ahead and developments must be monitored with a watchful eye.

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