It is like the ultimate cheat on Football Manager. Longing looks at the top of the table while a squad of journeyman grind out points in front of empty stadiums to achieve mid-table ignominy, if not fight against relegation, while the board sweats over ever-increasing debt all become a thing of the past. Multi-million Euro takeovers by a hyper-wealthy benefactor transform the hopes – and expectations – of supporters.
Fans start planning potential starting XIs of the superstars who are now queuing up to play for their club. Big European nights and silverware are just around the corner. It is a brave new dawn, the new owners promise.
It took Roman Abramovich over €1bn of investment at Chelsea, not to mention see his team ride their luck, to fulfil the Russian owner’s dream of finally winning the Champions League title last season, but he got there eventually. Sheikh Mansour rapidly outpaced Abramovich’s expenditure at Manchester City, with an outlay of €1bn since 2008 to deliver the club’s first League title in 44 years. At Paris Saint-Germain they have spent €200m in two years on transfers alone, with their sights also firmly set on Europe’s top prize.
And it was this bracket that Malaga leapt into in 2010 when Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nasser Al-Thani bought the club for €36m.
Two years into the project at Malaga, this should have been a euphoric summer – the club reaching the qualification phase of the Champions League for the very first time. Yet, instead, it is one of uncertainty. The owners may have ploughed €150m into the club over the course of two seasons, and seen impressive results on the pitch, but nobody knows what state the club will be in come the end of the week, let alone in time for next season.
There had been top class signings, the club membership surged and La Rosaleda – which the new owner hoped to name after Pablo Picasso – was not big enough to cope with the rise in ticket sales. After escaping relegation in the first season, and bringing in the former Villarreal and Real Madrid Coach Manuel Pellegrini, they finished last term fourth. They had made it on to the big stage. When Al-Thani took over, he had spoken of a five-year plan to become one of the major players in Europe. In just two they are already knocking on the Champions League door.
But not everything was going so smoothly. Local boy and legendary Spain and Real Madrid defender Fernando Hierro had been brought in as general manager – a high profile squad deserved a high profile co-ordinator. Yet Hierro left in May, barely a year after joining. “I didn’t feel comfortable,” he said as he departed, adding somewhat ominously. “I really do believe that this project has a future.”
Two months on, neither the players nor the Coach know what is happening at the club. Al-Thani has not been at the club since the final day of the season. “When there are this many rumours then of course it has an effect,” Pellegrini said on the pre-season tour in Venezuela. It has hardly been the summer of pre-Champions League preparation Pellegrini had hoped for.
Malaga have been reported to the players’ union, and as a result to the League authorities, by four of their own players – Ruud van Nistelrooy, Santi Cazorla, Salomon Rondon and Joris Mathijsen. The players are owed between 30 and 50 per cent of their season’s wages. Villarreal, Osasuna and Hamburg, meanwhile, have reported the club to UEFA over unpaid transfer fees. And the previous owner, Fernando Sanz, is still owed a €3.5m instalment of the take-over fee from two years ago.
Amongst uncertainty this week, reports broke about an imminent sale. Al-Thani was believed to be negotiating with Albanian oil company Taci Oil, although they in turn denied they are considering a take over. Any investor interested in the club may only face the price Al-Thani paid for the club in 2010, but would take on the debts accrued over the past two years.
For now Malaga need to push forward the proposed sale of Santi Cazorla to Arsenal in order to ease the cashflow problems – hardly the type of problem Malaguistas anticipated when Al-Thani took over.