A little over six seasons ago, Malaga were just a few points away from being relegated to the third tier of Spanish football. Tonight they have the chance to qualify for the semi-final of the Champions League. Whether they qualify or get eliminated, it really shouldn’t matter – the club deserve a huge amount of credit either way.
Before the season got underway there were huge doubts over the future of the club, people questioned if they’d become another Villarreal or not. They had spent big the season before and continued to do so, but then after a difficult few months they ended up having to sell key players and rely on bringing in loan signings and free transfers. Staying in La Liga looked likely to be the challenge for the up-coming season.
During the season, the club were hit with yet another major blow, banned from the next European competition they would otherwise qualify for in the next four years – this could be their first and final season in the Champions league for at least the next half decade – time to make it count.
So far, the club, supporters, Coaches and manager haven’t let themselves down. Sitting sixth in La Liga even though there’s little to no chance they’ll get back into Europe next season, they are keen to still achieve as high a League position as possible.
In the Champions League they’ve taken the whole of Europe by surprise in their debut in the competition. Malaga were one of the teams who had to start the tournament from the early stages of August, taking part in the qualification round, beating Panathinaikos over two legs 2-0. They then went on to beat the likes of Zenit St Petersburg, Anderlecht and Milan. In the Last 16, they overcame Porto in a very tense and tight encounter 2-0, setting up for a quarter-final showdown with Dortmund.
Last week Malaga held Dortmund to a goalless draw, just the third team this season Dortmund haven’t managed to score against. It’s fair to say it was more the lack of Dortmund’s cutting-edge than Malaga’s superb defensive work, but nevertheless a great draw and no away goals conceded – they’re also still unbeaten at home in the Champions League this season.
Manuel Pellegrini led Villarreal to a semi-final in the Champions League in their debut season in the competition, whether or not he can lead his Malaga side into this season’s semi-final is yet to be seen. For me, it doesn’t matter, the squad and the manager himself deserve a huge amount of credit for what they have done this season.
It’s not an easy environment to be working in, not knowing where the owner is or what’s happening with the club, who’s coming or going, if you’ll be sold or not, will we get paid this month? Will the manager remain with the club or will he move on? Will we get European football next season or should we stop fighting in the league all together? – So many questions, yet nobody knew any answers, what were they to do?
Well what they did, in fact what Pellegrini did, was at the start of the season he got his club together, built an amazing atmosphere within Malaga, with the help of the fans, and together they have so far this season done themselves more than proud. Every day we see the likes of Isco, Toulalan, Pellegrini and many, many more linked away from the club. The reasoning for that is just how good a season they’re having. They’ve kept their heads down, worked hard for one another and reaped the awards that came along with it.
As I said, one who deserves credit more than any one is the manager Pellegrini, before the season stated he could have jumped ship, and there were many teams that wanted him. Even throughout the season more clubs came knocking, but again he stated he’d like to continue at Malaga. Even the weekend just past, Pellegrini’s father had died before their important league game against Real Sociedad. Pellegrini being Pellegrini didn’t tell anyone and got on with the game, so as not to distract his players. He left and went home to be with his family afterwards, but the club say he will be back on the bench for this evening. Manuel Pellegrini maybe deserves the most amount of credit for his work this season.
If Malaga can do it tonight in Germany, who knows how far they could go? Win it, why not? If they do indeed fail to qualify and the quarter-finals is the last step, then that’s fine, they can return to Malaga with their heads held up high, because what they’ve done this season has been simply wonderful.