Published on April 7th, 2018 | by Paco Polit0
From the Champions League to relegation: five years of misery for Málaga
Málaga were once the biggest story in Europe, the La Liga club breaking the rules with star signings, but now the Andalusians are on the road to relegation
9th April 2013. After a titanic effort and scoring twice, were just a few minutes away from making the Champions League semifinals: Eliseu had scored (1-2) and, with only an handful of plays left, everything was set for one of the biggest upsets of the competition.
But Marco Reus leveled the game in the 91st, and two minutes later, Santana squeezed in the 3-2, knocking Málaga out of a deserved spot in the elite final four.
6th April 2018. After a crazy game where Málaga were always trailing, Diego Rolan’s great finish (2-2) tied the fixture late on that pitted the worst team in La Liga (Málaga themselves) against the second-from-bottom team, Deportivo La Coruña. However, it was not enough to avoid the season’s 22nd defeat, as Adrián scored ten minutes later and sent the Malagueños straight to the mat, a huge 11-points away from avoiding relegation with only seven games to go.
Where did it go wrong?
Málaga’s recent history is one of unfulfilled promises and over-the-top forecasts, which began with an uproarious thunder and is about to end with the team heading to the Segunda División. And, for both good and bad, one single man is responsible: Abdullah Bin Nasser Al Thani.
After buying the 98% of shares in 2010 for about $15 million, the Qatari invested a huge sum to build an all-star team with players such as Santi Cazorla, Jeremy Toulalan, Joaquín Sánchez, Julio Baptista, Isco Alarcón (which he snatched from Valencia for a ridiculous $7.4 million), Martín Demichelis, Ruud Van Nistelrooy…and, above all, the expertise of Manuel Pellegrini on the bench.
Things couldn’t have gone better: Málaga were a marvel in the 2011-2012 season, ending in a fantastic fourth which granted them the chance of playing the Champions League. An opportunity to make the most of it, Málaga also over-performed the following season, wowing the opposition and knocking out Porto in the Last 16 round and only a bad ref call away from the semifinals.
From that point on, things began to fall apart.
The fans’ expectations were totally blown away, so they were puzzled when that mighty team was dismantled in the summer 2013: Isco went to Real Madrid for $37 million, coach Pellegrini was signed by Manchester City, Joaquín moved to Fiorentina, Julio Baptista also left.
The Financial Fair-Play restrictions, which were finally enforced that year, limited Málaga’s wiggle room. Austerity and simplicity would rule the club’s signings while Al-Thani’s ultimate grand real-state project on the city’s coast (which had attracted him to Málaga in the first place) also found its fair share of problems with the local authorities.
With Bernd Schuster on the bench, the team ended in a solid 11th place, racking up seven consecutive years in La Liga, an all-time record at the time. Next season, with current Watford manager, Javi Gracia, in charge, they managed to improve and rise to ninth. In Gracia’s second project they did even better, finishing in eighth and almost seizing a European spot. But then Russian money came around and knocked at Gracia’s door: after his departure, Juande Ramos was appointed as new manager.
Málaga’s traditional flair and style was absent in the 2016-2017 campaign, with plenty of Málaga-born players who had grown and improved under Gracia finding themselves at odds with the new ideas introduced by the new boss. Also, supporters had grown used to good football and proper results, so getting knocked out early from the Copa del Rey by fellow Andalucian team, Córdoba, ended with Juande’s sacking.
Even after ‘Gato’ Romero was put in charge and later replaced by Míchel González, the points kept trickling in (albeit with quite a fair share of agony), ultimately ending in a comfortable 11th place with Sandro Ramírez as the main star (16 goals).
This year, though, things went south pretty quickly. After the board sold key players (Fornals, Camacho, Sandro) and rejected experienced players to replace them, Míchel’s team was a total disaster from day one, getting stuck at the bottom of the standings and unable to bounce back since.
Under the Madrid-born manager, Málaga got an appalling 11 points in 19 games, the all-time worst stats for any coach. In January, he was sacked and Jose González was brought in. But the outcome has been, at the moment, extremely disappointing. Exactly ten years after Málaga’s last promotion to La Liga, only a miracle can save them from their inevitable doom.