Before the La Liga season kicks off every year, there is always drama. Last year it was the unpaid salaries controversy which hit the headlines. When the winter transfer window came across, Racing Santander were the club garnering every attention. And now its Malaga. One year ago, it was unthinkable. A club bankrolled by a Qatar Sheikh with deep pockets, Malaga were expected to pose a challenge to the Big Two. Now its on the cusp of implosion.
Before the take over by Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser Al-Thani in 2010 for reportedly €36 million, Malaga were relegation battlers. Constantly fighting relegation, they were the team which achieved promotion the most number of times; meaning they were also relegated numerous times.
The summer of 2010 brought new hope. While the intentions of the Sheikh were shrouded in mystery, La Liga rejoiced with the arrival of oil money in the league. And they could be forgiven. After all, the Premier League’s two biggest clubs currently, Manchester City and Chelsea, are bankrolled by oil rich owners.
The start was awful. The new coach, Jesualdo Ferreira was sacked after a few months after a string of unimpressive results. In came Manuel Pellegrini and with him he brought a ray of hope. Malaga battled relegation that year and finally cemented their position in La Liga.
The summer of 2011 was a defining moment in Malaga’s history. The owners pumped in money and it was no small amount. €55 million. It was more than what anyone in Spain had spent. And they made the shrewdest signings in Santi Cazorla, widely regarded as one of the best players outside the Big Two and Isco, one of the most talented players of his generation. They did not stop there. They signed up Fernando Hierro, former director general of RFEF, as their new director general. Suddenly Malaga were a force to reckon with. Their on pitch signings were as impressive as the off pitch ones. A project was shaping up and it looked positive and promising.
The start was not awesome but Malaga slowly picked up pace. It was envisioned that Malaga could reach the Champions’ League spot in a couple of years time but the Andalusians were given chances thanks to the forms of Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao. Even till January, Malaga looked adrift but a CL spot was always there for the taking. It was in January, behind the doors, that things started to take a turn.
When reports emerged that the players had not been paid salaries for three months, everybody was surprised. It was not as if the Sheikh had no money. Infact, he had plenty of it. But his interest in the club seemed to be on the wane. Administrative problems were more often coming to public eye. Fans wondered if this was the start of the end. Six months later, it has turned out to be exactly that.
The owners have gone missing. Nobody seems to have an idea what’s going on at the club. One day the club is being sold, the other day its not. Complete chaos.
It all started with Fernando Hierro’s resignation on May 28,2012. The moment the director general resigned after just one year, despite making it to the Champions’ League, it was clear that something was wrong. Then came the skeletons out of the closet. Malaga players were unpaid for months, the owners owed money to clubs from whom players were signed and also to the Spanish Income Tax department. Top players like Cazorla and van Nistelrooy protested because of unpaid salaries as the Spanish federation intervened and gave a ultimatum to the club to resolve their issues by July 31,2012.
But nothing seems to have resolved. Now The owners seem more interested in selling the club and are looking for suitors without reducing the debt. The players are uninterested in representing the club and are looking for more lucrative options. Santi Cazorla’s impending departure to Arsenal may be only the starting point. Rondon and Isco are likely to follow suit. Malaga needs to sell its players to reduce debt and pay the authorities.
Manuel Pellegrini will most probably be cursing his luck for undertaking this project. The man who has remained calm through this non sensical episode seems to be tired of all this. Even he is on the verge of quitting the club. The project which started just two years ago is on the border of total collapse. The threat of administration now looms large. Relegation to the second division is also possibility.
While the players signed are at an obvious risk, the fans are the biggest losers. They had bought all the seasons tickets and were expecting their club to finally play in the Champions League and the attendance numbers were already at an all time high. Now they are clueless about the future of their beloved club.
It is shocking to watch clubs from Spain being destroyed by foreign owners while foreigner owned clubs from England have progressed beyond their wildest imagination. First it was Racing Santander and now its Malaga.
It is hard to understand why Al Thani actually bought the club if he was so disinterested. According to Andy Mitten of Yahoo Eurosport, it may be because the Sheikh had plans to appease the local authorities by investing into the local club for expanding his business on the region. But, Malaga authorities rejected Al-Thani’s plans of developing a hotel and other places of tourism in the region paving the way for his disinterest in Project Malaga. This may be true, may be not; nobody knows. The owners have been shrouded in mystery and there seems to be no official communication on the happenings inside board room.
It is a baffling situation at the club which came after a year when even neutrals cheered for Malaga with the hope that they would challenge the hegemony of Real Madrid and Barcelona. The future looks bleak for Malaga. Is there a way out? Only time will tell but until then the fans can only hope and pray for the best.