With Malaga about to embark on their first-ever Champions League foray, financial turmoil threatens to blight the season before it has even begun.
The Andaluz side’s players returned to training this week ahead of a campaign that should mark the most important period in the history of the club. Last season’s impressive fourth placed finish has propelled Manuel Pellegrini’s side into the UEFA Champions League for the very first time, creating a sense of anticipation around La Rosaleda that fans have seldom experienced.
There has been talk of more big-name players arriving, with many even suggesting Malaga could provide the strongest challenge yet to the duoploy enjoyed by Real Madrid and Barcelona at the top of the table.
So how did the week draw to a close with the season threatening to implode before it has even begun, amid claims that their best player, Santi Cazorla, wants out after just 12 months at the club?
It has been a traumatic few days for Malaguistas as they find their club in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. The week began with Spanish Footbalers’ Association (AFE) President Luis Rubiales alleging a number of players were still owed up to 40 per cent of their salary, with suggestions that legal action could be taken against the owners.
Press reports soon revealed the players in question were Cazorla, Salomon Rondon, Joris Mathijsen and the recently-retired Ruud van Nistelrooy – with both Cazorla and Rondon said to have told officials they wanted to leave the club.
Then, news emerged that Villarreal had finally reported Malaga to the authorities over an outstanding €3.5m VAT payment they are still owed for the deal that took Cazorla to the Costa del Sol last summer.
The Valencians had already threatened to take action earlier this year, before a deal was seemingly agreed to settle what was owed. However, with no payment received from Malaga, Villarreal have finally lost patience and lodged an official complaint with UEFA.
This follows similar incidents with German side Hamburg over missed payments for Mathijsen and a temporary transfer ban imposed in January after it emerged Osasuna were less than enamoured with Malaga’s behaviour after they signed Nacho Monreal last June. There have also been suggestions that midfielder Jeremy Toulalan threatened to quit unless he was paid wages he said were still outstanding.
The club claimed complex administrative proceedings surrounding fund transfer from the middle-east were at the root of the issue. However, the unrest soon proved too much for sporting director Fernando Hierro, who stepped down earlier this summer citing unhappiness at the ‘inner dealings of the club.’
Malaga’s situation is nothing new in Spanish football, of course, and fans of the club feel aggrieved by what they perceive as media assassination – pointing to the debt of clubs such as Atletico Madrid, Real Betis and Osasuna who are all reported to owe more money than Malaga yet seem to attract far less attention from the Press.
However, the situation is beginning to escalate, with new reports suggesting Osasuna have again denounced Malaga over the Monreal deal, with another transfer embargo being sanctioned by the authorities.
Malaga released an official statement on their website on Friday, announcing an agreement had been reached to pay outstanding wages with the players in question said to have retracted their denouncement of the club.
The damage may already have been done, however, and most notably in the case of Cazorla, who has said very little since the latest situation began. Currently on an extended holiday, the 27-year-old was immediately linked with a host of big-name clubs, with English Premier League sides Arsenal and Tottenham most prominent.
Malaga officials were obviously quick to play down the spat and insisted Cazorla was going nowhere. That has done little to quell the speculation however, and many now wonder whether the club can fully repair the damaged relationship with their most influential player of last season.
It seems astonishing that a club bankrolled by such a wealthy benefactor should find themselves in this uncertain predicament heading into a season that could define their future. Ultimately, only time will provide the answers but with just five weeks left until the start of the new season, time is something that Malaga seem unable to afford.