When Sheikh Abdullah Al-Thani became the new owner of the Malaga, back in 25th June 2010, it signaled the dawn of an exciting new project. A project that was supposed to eventually break the strangle hold of Real Madrid and Barcelona in the La Liga. The people at the club knew that this couldn't be attained in a single season; it would take patience and planning (for the future). What excited everyone most was the way the new owners went about executing this plan. They invested, but for the future. They made some shrewd deals in the transfer market, bringing in €150m worth of talents like Santi Cazorla, Isco, Joaquin and Toulalan, At times, when new owners come in they usually go on mindless spending streak, but Malaga were different. They were not after instant success, instead they wanted long-term success. Off the field they made some interesting signings as well. They signed Fernando Hierro as their director at the club.
Before this take over, Malaga were a side annually involved in relegation dog fight. So it was envisaged that it would take some time for them to qualify for Europe. But thanks to a wonderful second half of the season and poor form of Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao, Los Boquerones attained their first goal, qualification for Europe.
But just months after that wonderful achievement of getting into the qualification stage of the champions league for the first time in their history, Malaga are a club in deep trouble. It has been revealed that lot of players haven't been paid their wages for sometime now, there are also unpaid transfer fees to some of the clubs, Fernando Hierro has resigned just a year after entering this project and even the Spanish tax department is after the club. And in-between all these chaos the most mysterious part has been the silence of the club owners, it is as if they have disappeared over night and so has their money. Key players have already been sold off to cut down the debts. Santi Cazorla has left for Arsenal, Rondon has joined Rubin Kazan and a host of other names will join the exodus it seems.
Many have now even questioned the motive of Sheikh Abdullah Al-Thani behind investing in the club in the first place. Common belief is that Sheikh invested in the club to be on the good side of the local authorities as he had planned to expand his business in the region. But reportedly his plans of setting up hotels and resorts in that region has been rejected by the local authorities. This might have dwindled his interest in the club. At the end of it all, these are not something well documented, but the owners's silence during this crisis is certainly instigating the conspiracy theorists out there.
The club is said to have been put up for sale by owners. Multi-millionaire Rezart Taci, head of the Albanian petrol group Taci Oil, is said to have been in talks for a possible takeover. A club statement released in their official website says -
"Malaga Football Club has started a process of internal restructuring within the organization to adapt to the standards of financial fair play and with the intention of guaranteeing the self-sufficiency and sustainability of the organization.
"This process doesn't mean the current owners have refused any type of investment.
"This will involve some changes in the current organizational entity of the club and will make the organization stronger in the future."
But this certainly doesn't explain why someone like Hierro resigned just a year after accepting to head this project of Malaga. There must be something deeply wrong in behind the walls.
Despite all the financial gloom, everything is not looking down for Malaga. They still have good squad, and if they can hold on to the rest of the players (who are/were threatening to leave due to unpaid wages), they have a good chance of qualifying for Europe again this season.
Willy Caballero is a solid goal keeper and with the likes of Demichelis, Monreal and Weligton in the back four, they look solid defensively. Toulalan will once again be the key in the center of the midfield. Cazorla stole much of the lime-light last season and Toulalan's contribution went highly unnoticed. The Frenchman provides the solidarity in the midfield and with him protecting the defense, teams will find it hard to score against Malaga this season.
The biggest question was perhaps who will replace Santi Cazorla. The answer perhaps laid within the squad. Isco will have to step up this season and take most of the creative responsibility. The youngster has started the season well and looks close to fulfilling his promise. Joaquin will as always bring in lot of experience to the team. His pace might have left him (not completely though), he still remains a wonderful footballer. Eliseu is someone, who will have to improve with his consistency. He was brilliant in the Malaga's first leg match against Panathinaikos.
The man, or should we call him the kid, who has grabbed most of the headlines this season so far is Fabrice Olinga. The 16 year old forward, broke the record of youngest ever goal scorer (earlier held by Iker Muniain) in La Liga, when he scored against Celta Vigo. Although comparison with another famous Cameroonian Samuel Eto is perhaps too early, this kid has certainly got the talent. Moreover, he shows understanding of the game beyond his age. He will be stepping into some big shoes at Malaga, with the likes of Rondon and Ruud van Nistelrooy leaving this season. Worryingly perhaps, so much expectation has already been put on a 16 year old's shoulder.
The fans will be hoping that the board and owners can quickly sort out the financial problems, as they still have a team that can continue this project and may be build on it the next season. Even for football fans, it would be a crying shame to see a team that was playing such good football last season, being disintegrated and dragged down the routes of Racing Santander.
Previously, there were reports of Malaga being possibly relegated or removed from champions league, but now those fears have been snubbed out. The owners have made enough money available to settle down the debts and unpaid player wages. So there will be no repeat of what happened to Mallorca when they were removed from Europa league in 2010 after Villarreal lodged a complaint over unpaid transfer fee.
Malaga put in a wonderful performance against Panathinaikos and have not qualified for the group stages of the Champions league for the very first time in their history. Malaga have been drawn in the same group as AC Milan, Zenit and Anderlecht. While Milan are the favorites to top this group, Zenit is expected to give Malaga a stiff competition for the 2nd place. The away game at Russia for Malaga might decide outcome of this group, but Manuel Pellegrini will be quitely confident.
The transfer window which caused such heartbreak for the fans in the opening stages, closed with some good success. Malaga were short in numbers upfront and had to rely heavily on a 16-year-old kid early on in the season. They signed Roque Santa Cruz on loan from Manchester City from under the nose of Real Betis. Javier Saviola, the former Barcelona and Real Madrid forward, was also signed up from Benfica. Oguchi Onyewu was brought in on loan, with an option to make it permanent, to beef up the defense. Pellegrini will be quite happy with his attacking options now with Santa Cruz and Saviola upfront. This will also allow Fabrice Olinga to develop slowly without being burdened with expectations of leading the line at such an young age.
The Andalusian club are still undefeated this season and this run continued in the match against Zaragoza, as an inspired performance from midfielder Ignacio Camacho helped clim up the table to 4th place now and just two points behind leaders Barcelona. Though it is still early part of the season and any prediction can be premature. Malaga are in contention to qualify for Champions league again this season.
So all is not doom for the Spanish side at the moment. If they supper no more loss in the transfer window and the boardroom can settle down the pending wages, then Malaga can use this season to stabilize their financial structure within the club and build on from there.