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Home   /   Sorry Spaniards: Malaga in the Mud

The epicentre of the Costa Del Sol, Malaga is famous and loved by many all over. Whether it be Pablo Picasso, the beaches or its 300 days of sunshine every year, there is really something special about the area, which sees 16 million holidaymakers pass through its airport every year.

Andalusia, like the rest of Spain, is football obsessed. The south is dominated by Sevilla CF and Real Betis in terms of size and success, yet both inevitably sit in the shadow of Barcelona and the Madrid clubs. 

It hadn’t always been this way and for a brief period, Malaga CF had been punching above its weight and knocking on the door of Spanish football’s elite. 

Although with the highs must come the lows, nowadays the club finding itself in a desperate situation much like a stereotypical ‘Brit abroad’ in the departure lounge after a fortnight in Marbella. 

As low as the Tercera division in the mid 1990s, Malaga had gained the reputation as a yo-yo club throughout the 2000s. Despite the club winning the Intertoto Cup in 2002 and having substantial work and upgrades to their stadium, La Rosaleda, they were not able to obtain any stability or consistency in La Liga.  By 2006, they found themselves in the second tier once more and lacking any sort of direction with attendances dwindling.

Fast forward to June 2010, after surviving relegation by a single point on the final day, euphoria arose surrounding a Middle Eastern takeover. Local excitement had peaked and the buzz had returned for Los Boquerones (‘The Anchovies’ to you and I) as Qatari Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser Al-Thani stepped forward and purchased the club for €36 million.

In the 18 months that followed, Al-Thani got the chequebook out and signed the likes of Salomon Rondon, ex-Arsenal man Julio Baptista and Eliseu to offer a more potent attack. Experienced Argentinian duo Martin Demichelis and Willy Caballero were also acquired. During this time, Manuel Pellegrini took over the reins, the Chilean, sacked by Real Madrid, arrived at Malaga with a point to prove. 

Al-Thani’s era was beginning to take shape after an unsteady start, a new bumper kit deal with Nike enabled further investment. Santi Cazorla was signed for a club record fee of over £20 million and the accomplished Jeremy Toulalon was also added to the ranks. Add into the mix Ruud van Nistelrooy, Joaquin, Nacho Monreal and local uncut gem Isco and Malaga had a recipe for something serious. It clicked straightaway and a fantastic league season saw them qualify for the Champions League for the first time in their history. 

The European fairytale saw them brush shoulders with the big boys, topping a group which contained AC Milan, Zenit Saint Petersburg & Anderlecht. Overcoming Porto in the last 16, they faced Jurgen Klopp’s formidable Borussia Dortmund outfit. Unfortunately crashing out with Dortmund scoring twice in added time in an infamous finale.

2013 was Malaga’s Everest, it all began to dramatically unravel that summer for Al-Thani. All notable players were sold in an attempt to save face having been issued with a UEFA ban from European competition and soaring financial issues gripping the club. The asset stripping and deeply divisive politics within the club commenced. 

As a result, the on pitch quality had reduced drastically and this was seen in the La Liga standings each year as they slid down the table and were relegated in 2018. Turmoil and scandal had become the norm at the once proud Andalusian club. 

In 2019, it seemed as though a statement of intent was being made with the signing of Premier League winner and Japanese international, Shinji Okazaki. Could he be the man to fire them back into the big time? 

Unfortunately not, Okazaki was released 34 days after signing due to the club being unable to afford his pay packet and registration fee. This was a deeply embarrassing saga for the club which saw the Mayor of the city express his utter dismay at the whole episode contributing to further conflict. 

When the 2020/21 season began for Malaga amid strict Covid protocol in Spain, the club experienced more bad press. Media headlines reported that six people were arrested over a sexually explicit video of boss Victor Sanchez del Amo being uploaded to Twitter.

Unsurprisingly he was relieved of his duties, and as he embroiled himself in a legal battle against those involved, the club settled for more mid-table mediocracy.

A new season and new hope. Yet despite the lifting of Covid restrictions, La Rosaleda has remained scarcely populated as 17 league defeats this campaign has left the club hovering above the relegation zone.

Once again in a serious mess although they look to be trundling their way to Segunda safety somehow. A crucial win in Tenerife appears to be enough for survival but it begs the question as to how long this can continue at a club with such potential and previous charm.

Al Thani is still at the helm, although for the sake of the dwindling fanbase and presumably considerable hits to his revenue streams, he must be starting to doubt if this whole saga can continue.

New ownership seems to be the only valid suggestion as Malaga look to rise again from this turbulent and increasingly dire spell in the clubs history. They really are crying out for something new to avoid regression akin to the 1990s.

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July 2024