Steadying Malaga’s ship

He's less revered than Pep Guardiola, less eccentric than Unai Emery and less ostentatious than the man that took his job at Real Madrid, Jose Mourinho.

Yet few others during the last decade in La Liga have achieved quite as much, in quite as impressive style, as Manuel Pellegrini.

A title winner in Argentina and Ecuador and a Cup winner in his native Chile, Pellegrini first arrived in Spain in 2004.  He was Villarreal's driving force during the Castellon club's glory years, taking them to a Champions League semi-final and a second place finish in La Liga.

He then inspired Real to collect 96 points in season 2009-10 – at the time their highest ever tally – yet had the misfortune to lose both the title and his job. And last season at Malaga, he took a mish-mash of multi-million signings, assembled at great cost and with great haste by owner Sheikh Abdullah Al-Thani, knocked them into shape and guided them into the Champions League, undoubtedly the greatest achievement in the club's history.

Therefore it’s difficult to understate the significance of Pellegrini's recent pronouncement confirming that he will remain in charge of the ailing Andulasians.

“My situation is very clear,” the 58-year-old told AS. “I want to stay at the club and help it through these difficult moments. Of course things have gone wrong here on the economic side and what's more the players haven't been paid. The priority now is to address these delays and then we can move forward.”

Malaga's fall from grace, from riches to rags, has been remarkably sudden and violent. Having emerged as one of Europe's increasingly powerful and seemingly richest clubs last summer, they are now in such dire financial straights that they're making Levante look like fat cats.

Assailed from all sides, by their players, the Press, the tax authorities and by clubs still owed money from last years spending splurge, they have been forced to sell striker Salomon Rondon to Rubin Kazan, winger Santi Cazorla to Arsenal and centre-back Joris Mathijsen to Feyenoord. The speculation was that Pellegrini would follow, not because of dissatisfaction on his part but simply because Malaga could no longer afford his wages.

The Anchovies didn't exactly romp to fourth place last term, and Pelllegrini took his fair share of criticism. But in their current predicament Malaga could never have attracted a replacement of equal experience and acumen, and with a CV like his Pelllegrini could easily have walked into a job elsewhere.

It is to his credit that he hasn't, but is it a futile gesture? Is the Chilean, rather like the captain in the film Titanic, nobly going down with his ship?

Not necessarily. Weakened as they are, Malaga are not exactly cannon fodder. From money to morale, so much depends on the Champions League play-off round, the first leg of which is played tonight, and fortunately the draw has been kind.

Pelllegrini's men have been paired with the Greeks Panathinaikos, a team going through a spot of their own financial chaos, some of their players having had to take 40 per cent pay cuts this summer.

Malaga also go into the game with renewed confidence having won their La Liga opener on Saturday. As narrow, late and scarcely deserved as it was, the 1-0 victory over Celta Vigo was a commendable result in the circumstances, and the discovery of Fabrice Olinga – the 16 year-old Cameroonian whose winner made him the youngest goalscorer in La Liga history – is an invaluable one at a time when so few fit forwards are available to Pellegrini.

For those players that have remained at La Rosaleda, Pellegrini's decision was greatly reassuring. “He told us that right now we should not worry about him and he will be here with us,” winger Joaquin Sanchez disclosed. “It's true that we don't know what the future holds for any of us, but what will be will be and he is going to be alongside us.”

At a time when the composition of the team and the board are both subject to dramatic change, on the bench at least, there is continuity. It's not much, but for the bewildered fans and players of Los Blanquiazules, it’s something to cling to.