Purists are of the opinion that the domestic league in Spain is rather unexciting as by the end of the season, it will inevitably be either the Catalan giants or the Men in White, who will be flaunting the silverware. The Barca-Real monopoly (or rather duopoly), according to them, makes the league rather docile and a poor cousin to its English counterpart. Quite certainly, the influx of money in the English League is higher and the fact that the matches are mainly aired on prime-time in the largest continent, adds to their popularity.
Way back in 2003, a certain Russian billionaire acquired a club on Fulham Road and cemented the role of big money in the realm of football. It’s not that these gentlemen weren’t there before, but they weren’t as much in the public-eye as they are now! More importantly, football as a sport evolved – on and off the pitch. From Sir Alex’s treble winning Manchester United to the Galactic Real Madrid to Jose Mourinho’s bludgeoning Chelsea to Guardiola’s all conquering Barcelona – football has seen it all. Off the pitch too, the Glazers and the Abrahimovics and the Perezs and the Laportas contributed to the evolution of the off-field game – maximizing the profit. Each had their own approach!
To add to the list of nouveau riche clubs of Europe, Spain too now has a contender – Málaga Club de Fútbol. A relatively ‘young’ club, Málaga CF’s establishment dates back to 1948. The Los Boquerones are also reminiscent of another club of the autonomous community of Andalusia – Club Deportivo Málaga. Sadly the latter was dissolved in 1992 in the wake of immense financial woes. Not only do these two clubs have a similarity in their names, they also have the same colours and even the same home ground – Estadio La Rosaleda.
Málaga CF had a prominent Real Madrid link as Spanish businessman Lorenzo Sanz – the former president of the Los Blancos – was their major shareholder before eventually selling his stake to Qatari billionaire – Abdullah bin Nasser bin Abdullah Al Ahmed Al Thani. The entry of yet another Middle Eastern investor in European football isn’t something that would make healdines these days. However, the price at which Málaga was bought would raise quite a few eye brows. $48.30 million – Forty eight million and three hundred thousand dollars. At that price, you will not even get an Andy Caroll (with all due respect) leave alone a Cristiano Ronaldo or a (priceless) Lionel Messi. Welcome to the age when the name at the back has become bigger than the one in the front. They say that 20 teams play the domestic league in Spain and more often than not, FC Barcelona or Real Madrid ends up with the trophy. In 81 years of existence, the trophy of the domestic league of Spain ended up in Santiago Bernabeu or Camp Nou a record 52 times! Mathematically, the probability of these two powerhouses winning the league is a little more than 64% and quite appallingly a mearge 36% for the rest of the 18.
Things should change this summer. Thanks to the deep pockets of the Sheikh, Málaga CF perhaps has a squad, which if it performs to potential, might end up winning the league in 3-4 years from now! Usually, the nouveau riche clubs go on a spending spree and end up with an extremely top-heavy and unstable model. Thankfully, Malaga isn’t treading that path! Discerning signings, keeping in mind the goals for the upcoming season and also the future in general, has not only put the team in a great position to challenge for a Champions League spot next season (if not topple Barca and Real from the top) but also has given them a realistic chance to grab a silverware in a year or two! More importantly they have one of the better managers in Europe in Manuel Pellegrini. Of course, the Chilean is known more for his forgettable stint as a Real Madrid gaffer than as a successful Villarreal manager – then again, that’s the irony of life!
Without an iota of doubt, the club looks well poised in their pursuit of the big guns and is taking the right steps. To do that a club would need a great stadium for the fans, top players in the senior team and a thriving youth academy to unearth talents from your backyard. The Sheikh has promised everything and has quite expectedly brought a few big names to the club, which might otherwise have been impossible.
Jesualdo Ferreira was appointed the manager of Malaga at the start of the 2010-11 season. Even before half way through the season, the club was in doldrums and the Portuguese got the boot. Half way through the season, the Los Boquerones were 19th with the possibility of relegation looming large. With the arrival of fresh faces and of course Pellegrini, Malaga’s season got back on track and they finished a respectable 11th by the end of the season. 2010-11 ended on a bright note and it’s quite likely that the 2011-12 season would begin from where it was left
The Harbingers Of Resurrection
They were great players once. They still have it in them to make the difference. Apart from these, they also have the hunger in them to prove that they were champions – they are champions and they will, some day, be champions again. Malaga have strengthened their squad like never before. Perhaps, in the brief history of the club, the squad of season 2011-12 is the best ever. The arrival of Martín Demichelis (from Bayern Munich), Júlio Baptista (from AS Roma) and Sergio Asenjo (from Atletico Madrid) made it clear that the Andalusian club were not looking for marquee signings but impact players. In Asenjo, Malaga has one of the finest custodians of tomorrow. Despite being a little injury-prone, Asenjo’s potential isn’t to be doubted.
Julio Baptista – the Beast, is an extremely compelling adversary and with his ability to bulldoze can break through most defenses. The former Real Madrid and Arsenal star still has in him to strike fear in the heart of his opponents. Although the Brazilian is nowhere near his Sevilla-form, but as a €2.5 million purchase, he’s well worth the gamble and if it pays off in the long run, will be considered a masterstroke! In just 11 outings with the Andalusian side, Julio managed to find the back of the net a nine times. The future looks bright, unless sabotaged!
In Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Malaga has a veteran. With over 150 goals for Manchester United and Real Madrid, two of the biggest clubs, the Dutchman has been there and done that. Injury and over-ambition might just have cut short his Real Madrid-career, but even today, the 35-year old Dutchman is as good as veterans come. Van Nistelrooy moved to Malaga from Hamburg and the icing on the cake is the transfer fee – zilch, zero, nada! Acquiring a striker of Van Nistelrooy’s caliber (even if he’s 35) for free is indeed a fabulous piece of business. His presence alone might be a huge influence for youngsters.
Apart from the legendary Dutchman, and the Beast, the team has some exciting offensive players in José Salomón Rondón, Juanmi Jiménez and Isco. As of now, the present and the future look rosy and Malaga faithful can start dreaming.
Joaquín Sánchez is yet another such footballer, who can contribute to the team’s cause with utmost ease and perhaps in the advent of an unprecedented group of exceptionally talented players for the national team, the Spanish winger’s international career might just have been cut short. Nonetheless, there’s little doubt about the former Real Betis man’s quality. Joaquin’s ability to cross, coupled with the presence of a Van Nistelrooy, should be a combination to watch out for. With Joaquin being entrusted with one of the flanks, Argetine winger Diego Buonanotte might just get the other wing. The 23-year old winger is quite short but that doesn’t deter him and his performance for River Plate bears testimony to that.
The battle of football is usually won in the midfield and Pellegrini confirmed his astuteness by notching up Santi Cazorla and Jeremy Toulalan. The latter was signed from Lyon for a reposted sum of €10 million. The 27-year old is known for his tough tackling and good ball distribution and when clubbed with the more creative Cazorla, the combination has what it takes to run the show!
Cazorla was targeted by Arsene Wenger to add to Arsenal’s repertoire but some smart business and the player’s keenness to stay in Spain got Pellegrini the creativity, which he was craving. The former Villarreal midfielder can also play on either wing and can use both feet with ease. Although priced at €21 million, the price seems to be fair in the inflated transfer market. The presence of Italian midfielder Enzo Maresca too will allow the Chilean caretaker room for improvisation.
If things do not go haywire, it’s safe to assume that the Malaga midfield is in safe hands for at least the next few years; ergo, the club will get the much needed time to groom talents in their academy and bring them up to the senior level. The rich owners have a proper plan and the fact that they are not paying over the top for conceited individuals bears testimony to the fact that they are willing to wait and reap the benefits in a few years from now.
Apart from the exceptional individuals already discussed, the influxes of players like – Joris Mathijsen, Nacho Monreal, Sergio Sanchez adds to the squad depth. In Mathijsen, Malaga has an experienced defender and a World Cup runner-up. Undoubtedly, Mathijsen will add steel to the defense and has the ability to form a formidable partnership with Brazilian defender Weligton. In Nacho Monreal, they have one of the former mainstays of Osasuna and with the 25-year old, bought for €6 million, in charge of the left side of the Malaga fortress, it’s safe to say that the unit is in competent hands.
Sergio Sanchez almost went the Rubén de la Red-way, but thankfully the Spaniard made a comeback. With ill-health, plaguing his career, Sanchez hasn’t been able to carve a niche for himself in Spain; nonetheless, a fresh beginning and a new challenge might just get him out of slumber.
The most emphatic point to be noted here is that, Sheikh Al Thani has sponsored to bolster every unit on the pitch. A near-perfect amalgamation of stars, to-be stars and promising youngsters has resulted in a very balanced squad, which can achieve results and attract bigger names in the near future, thereby attempting to thaw the hegemony of the top two. American philosopher and educator Nicholas Murray Butler once said – “Optimism is essential to achievement and it is also the foundation of courage and true progress.” The Los Boquerones can surely be optimistic and expect a new dawn come the 2011-12 season.
Trivia: Did you know that never a team that started playing La Liga in Málaga has won the title?
No points for guessing who’s playing their first match against the rising Andalusians! Already jinxed, eh?