Things have altered at Malaga, of that there is little doubt. If ever a club has undergone such a dramatic change in fortune in such a short space of time then it is the Costa del Sol outfit.
The apparent lack of interest shown by Qatari owner Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nasser Al-Thani in the fate of his once pet project, and the refusal to inject more funds, has necessitated Los Blanquiazules having to restructure its finances from top to bottom. From being one of European football’s new kids on the block, with a seemingly limitless supply of money for players, Malaga now have to cope with the reality of the financial restraints that most Spanish clubs are currently forced to endure.
The transfers of Nacho Monreal and Diego Buonanotte in the transfer window – to Arsenal and Granada respectively – and the arrival of five loan players, has continued the remodelling process started last summer, so much so that the entire staff wage bill has been drastically cut by a staggering €13m since then. Furthermore, it is clear the club has now paved the way to operate on a much reduced budget in the future.
Over the last six months, Malaga has had to survive thanks to its own resources, with the added complication of unpaid salaries to first-team players and considerable debts to the taxman. However, the new mindset, and particularly the sale of Monreal for an initial fee of €12m, indicates a definite turning point in the way things will be run from here on in, although even before the start of the present term the writing appeared to be on the wall.
The retirement of Ruud van Nistelrooy and the subsequent departures of Jose Salomon Rondon, Joris Mathijsen and Santi Cazorla trimmed an estimated €13m-a-year from the total salary outlay, while the exits of both Apono and Edinho also saved an extra €1.7m. All this before the Sheikh had even intimated that he would no longer be investing in the club he purchased from the Sanz family in June 2010 for a reported €36m, leaving fans to ponder if there was more going on inside the corridors of power than actually met the eye. Now, the untimely parting of the ways with Monreal and Buonanotte has salvaged another €3m-a-year between them to help keep the ship on an even keel.
In contrast, the arrival of eight new players since last August has obliged all of them, with the exceptions of Javier Saviola and Roque Santa Cruz – and to a lesser extent Diego Lugano – to conform to the new wage structure. The fourth highest earner in this group is Oguchi Onyewu, whose salary is by no means exorbitant, while Manuel Iturra, Lucas Piazon, Pedro Morales and Vitorino Antunes will take home significantly less than the rest of Manuel Pellegrini’s squad, around €5m in total. Indeed, the calculations also exclude the cases of goalkeeper Ruben Martinez, midfielders Sandro Silva and Recio, and striker Juanmi, who have all been loaned out for at least the rest of this season and in some cases possibly next. In addition, Iturra, Saviola and Morales will all be out of contract at the end of June alongside defender Martin Demichelis.
The silver lining offered by the unexpected Champions League run, where Malaga have set up a quarter-final date with Porto after impressing in the group stages, has brought a much-needed windfall into the coffers despite prize money being delayed for non-payment of debts. Whether it will all be enough to stave off further austerity measures at a club that has been used to functioning that way since its founding remains to be seen, in spite of director of football Mario Husillos insisting the team, and more importantly the club, is not about to be dismantled.
“Everyone is talking about the end of this project, but we all know about the new Financial Fair Play rules. We must reduce the wage bill. No club in the world can afford to pay players if they do not have the income. We’d obviously like to buy the best, but with what we bring in we cannot pay them,” argued the Argentine, while general manager Vicente Casado was looking further ahead.
“We are building the foundations of a solid and viable club,” he insisted. “This summer we are not contemplating any players leaving. The feeling that we are destroying things, that it is the end of an era, offends us. It is the construction of a building. We are not destroying it. We are exercising responsibility in the face of commitments we have. There is one game on the pitch and one in the offices.”
Even so, supporters are growing increasingly concerned that the club’s prize asset, Spanish international Isco, will be sold in the summer. The locally-born youngster signed a new improved contract at the end of January, yet most aficionados believe this is just a marriage of convenience until one of the continent’s big boys come calling at the end of the season. The raising of the release clause in the 20-year-old’s release clause to €35m has had some fans believing it merely a cosmetic measure. Time will tell.