The feeling of jubilation surrounding the Andalusian outfit three months ago has quickly turned to despair with the news that owner Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser Al-Thani has decided to pull the plug and sell the club. A first-ever Champions League qualification was seen as a stepping stone to further success following massive investment of around €80m in players, yet unpaid wages and money owed on transfer fees have plunged Los Blanquiazules into turmoil before the start of the 2012-13 campaign.
Drastic austerity measures have meant that some star players on high salaries have been jettisoned in an attempt to get the club back on an even keel. Midfielder Santi Cazorla has joined Arsenal for €5m less than the €21m paid to Villarreal for him 12 months ago, Venezuelan striker Jose Salomon Rondon has been sold to Rubin Kazan for €10m and Dutch international defender Joris Mathijsen has been allowed to go on a free transfer to Feyenoord. The reality for Malaga is that if a buyer is not found quickly then the cost of players’ wages cannot be sustained and the whole structure is in danger of collapse.
Boss Manuel Pellegrini has insisted he is staying yet it may prove more difficult to keep quality footballers such as Jeremy Toulalan, Ignacio ‘Nacho’ Monreal and Joaquin Sanchez, all of whom are among Malaga’s top earners, and much will depend on who walks through the exit door. On top of that Pellegrini is badly lacking in the striking department. Rondon’s enforced sale and the retirement of Ruud van Nistelrooy, allied to Julio Baptista’s long-term injury problems, leaves him with few options up front.
Predicting where Malaga are likely to finish is virtually impossible, while there is a real fear among fans the Costa del Sol club could well head the same way as relegated Villarreal.
The difference maker – Julio Baptista
Plagued with injuries for the best part of a year, the Brazilian is due back in October and his return cannot come quickly enough. His goals towards the end of the 2010-11 campaign almost single-handedly saved the club from relegation. Malaga will be hoping a similar assignment is not required this time around.
Best signing – None
Money owed in tax for the transfers of Cazorla and Monreal from Villarreal and Osasuna respectively has prevented Malaga from delving into the transfer market. This needs to be paid in full before any new acquisitions are brought in, although Pellegrini will now have to shop in the bargain basement.
His time? Isco
Malaga-born midfielder Isco was bought from Valencia for €6m 12 months ago and proved a revelation last term. Called up to Vicente del Bosque’s full Spain squad for friendlies with Serbia and South Korea, he was also a member of the Spanish Olympic team and should go on to make an even bigger impact at both club and international level.
Coach – Manuel Pellegrini
Pellegrini says he is staying but for how long is anybody’s guess. The Chilean’s remit of getting Malaga into the Champions League was achieved ahead of schedule, yet it will be a stern test of his coaching ability to raise morale in the camp and prevent some rocky times ahead.
The big question…
Getting into the group stages of the Champions League may attract would-be buyers but failure could see a player exodus at the end of August. Although Malaga still possess what looks like a decent squad, it is imperative the behind-the-scenes problems are sorted out quickly if discontent is not to spread to the playing staff.
Probable line-up: Caballero; Gamez, Weligton, Demichelis, Monreal; Eliseu, Isco, Toulalan, Duda, Joaquin Sanchez; Seba Fernandez
OUT: Ruben (g, Rayo Vallecano), Mathijsen (d, Feyenoord), Sandro Silva (m, Cruzeiro), Apono (m, Real Zaragoza), Xavi Torres (m, Levante), Santi Cazorla (m, Arsenal), Edinho (a, Academica de Coimbra)