Malaga, like a growing number of unfashionable clubs whose fortunes had been transformed by the arrival of a wealthy new owner, appeared to be on the verge of becoming European football’s latest rags-to-riches success story ten years ago.
However, the Andalusian club is now on the verge of being relegated to the Spanish third division, turning what was once a dream into what seems to be an unavoidable nightmare.
This is their story, which should serve as yet another example that fans should be careful about what they wish for when it comes to sudden cash infusions from afar.
The European adventure of Malaga
On April 9, 2013, Malaga was within a few seconds of the Champions League semi-final, but the linesman’s flag was not raised.
As the quarterfinal second leg entered extra time, an entertaining team led by Manuel Pellegrini, which included Julio Baptista and Isco, both of whom would go on to play for Real Madrid, led 2-1 overall at Borussia Dortmund.
However, Jurgen Klopp’s team completed one of the most remarkable comebacks in Champions League history by scoring twice in two minutes, with Felipe Santana’s scrambled goal scoring from an obviously offside position.
Malaga, a provincial club that had never won a major trophy before, had a bright future in spite of that heartbreaking loss.
In 2010, the Qatari businessman Sheikh Abdullah Al-Thani became the new owner, heralding a dramatic transformation. Pellegrini was given a large budget for the transfer market, and he wisely spent it, investing heavily in Ruud van Nistelrooy and Santi Cazorla, to finish fourth and sixth in La Liga.
In spite of the fact that Pellegrini left for Manchester City in the mid year of 2013, and rising star Isco was gobbled up by Genuine Madrid, at first there was certainty that Al-Thani’s sponsorship would keep the group battling for a noticeable spot in European football.
But then things started to fall apart, and ever since then, things have been falling apart quickly.
Dreams become nightmares.
Al-Thani, who was already dissatisfied with Barcelona and Real Madrid’s financially dominant position in Spanish football, was made aware immediately that rules would impede his efforts to establish a money-means-nothing superpower when the club was barred from the Europa League by new Financial Fair Play Rules.
However, even more significant developments occurred outside of the football industry.
Al-Thani had announced in 2011 that it would substantially remodel the marina in Marbella, a popular tourist destination 40 miles west of Malaga.
The project was praised by Marbella’s mayor as “an emblematic work that will lay the foundations for a new city model and act as an engine of economic development for the entire coast,” and it was partially owned by the city hall and Al-Thani’s company.
The idea of investing 400 million euros to build “the most important marina anywhere on the Mediterranean coast,” which would obviously be called the Al-Thani Marina, promised to revitalize the area, create thousands of new jobs, and generate substantial profits for the company’s owner.
In any case, the plans before long ran into issues, with Al-Thani apparently unfit to meet his monetary responsibilities.
He also had a bad relationship with BlueBay Hotels, a business partner with whom he had agreed to jointly own and run the football team. These sagas ended up in court, with both rulings in favor of Al-Thani, who was becoming increasingly absent.
The marina hasn’t been built yet.
Malaga was inevitably relegated in 2018 due to unmanageable debts because the football team’s fortunes mirrored those of its owner. Al-Thani was removed as club president two years later, in February 2020, by a regional court for alleged misappropriation of funds. An audit found that Al-Thani and his family owed the club more than 7 million euros.
Control of club undertakings was given to a court-selected executive, Jose Maria Munoz, who has remained in control from that point onward and generally prevailed with regards to steadying the club’s monetary position.
However, there has been no improvement in the business’s football component.
Another drop is “nailed on.”
BBC Sport was informed by freelance journalist Alex Fitzpatrick, who maintains a podcast and Twitter feed devoted to the Spanish second division. Manolo Gaspar, a former player for Malaga, was appointed the club’s sporting director, but he was not up to the task.
“He was in charge of all signings, and many of them went wrong. The crew arranging was extremely poor, and his administrative arrangements were scattergun.”
Scattergun might be an overstatement given that Malaga has had ten managers in the past five years, including three this season.
The latest officeholder, Sergio Pellicer, returned for his second spell in January, right away before Gaspar himself withdrew to add further disorder in the background.
Hamstrung by a reiteration of unfortunate signings, no administrative solidness and a missing proprietor who keeps on fighting his guiltlessness, it is nothing unexpected that the group has endured.
Results and exhibitions this season have been reliably poor, and Malaga are somewhere down in assignment inconvenience – eight focuses unfastened of wellbeing with nine games remaining.
“It looks nailed on that they will be consigned,” says Fitzpatrick. ” However, the club has a strong youth program and is now commercially successful, so they may be able to rebound after this season.
“Appointing a new sporting director to replace Gaspar is the most significant decision. They may be considering Mirandes’ Chema Aragon, who seems like the ideal candidate. That appointment is very important for the future.”
Another court hearing in the “Al-Thani case” is scheduled for April 21 and will settle the club’s ownership future at some point.
Qatar Sports Investments chief Nasser Al-Khelaifi, owner of Paris St. Germain, has acknowledged that his organization is interested in purchasing Malaga. Al-Thani will almost certainly have to give up or sell his controlling stake in the club at some point.
On the field, it is too early to completely give up on avoiding relegation with 27 points still available. However, Malaga’s Champions League knockout stage glory days will undoubtedly soon be replaced by semi-professional opponents in the regionalized third division, and the ongoing demise shows no signs of abating.