La Liga’s Lost Cause: The Collapse Of Malaga’s Push For Power

Josh Challies

After seven games in La Liga, Malaga sit rock-bottom of the division with just a point to their name. This comes just five years after their dramatic charge to the Champions League quarter-finals, back in a time where everything was going swimmingly.

In June 2010, Malaga escaped their vast financial issues with the investment of funds from Qatar’s Abdullah ben Nasser Al Thani, a member of the nation’s royal family, and Malaga started towards their quest to break the dominance of the long-established Spanish powerhouses.

At this time, Real Madrid and Barcelona were seemingly untouchable, with Atletico Madrid yet to enjoy the rise that built them into the super club they are now, and foreign investment within Spanish football was relatively unheard of.

Malaga were bucking the trend and, after a difficult start, things started to come to fruition under Manuel Pellegrini’s guidance in the back end of 2011, where the club enjoyed a record five consecutive victories, ending the season in 11th position but with a platform to build upon.

Ahead of the 2011/12 campaign, Nike arrived as the team’s kit supplier and UNESCO signed a deal to be the kit’s sponsors. Ruud van Nistelrooy, Jeremy Toulalan and Santi Cazorla, who cost a club-record £21m, came in, adding to the promising quota of players that included Isco, Nacho Monreal and Joaquin.

A fourth-placed finish was secured, meaning Malaga would play in the Champions League the following season for the first time in their history, and the Spanish side showed they’re capable of going toe-to-toe with the big guns in Europe.

Malaga advanced through the group stages unbeaten, beating AC Milan, Anderlecht and Zenit St. Petersburg, before overcoming Porto in the Round of 16. A 0-0 draw with Borussia Dortmund followed in the quarter-finals before questionable refereeing decisions turned the tide of the second-leg, where Malaga led 2-1 on the ninety-minute mark.

Two last-gasp goals from Marco Reus turned the leg around, with Dortmund eventually finishing runners-up after losing to Bayern Munich in the final, and things started to go downhill immediately – with UEFA banning Malaga from UEFA competitions for the following season due to debt issues.

The absence from Europe, which was eventually downgraded to one-year, came at a time when Malaga also lost prominent figures from their side. In the summer 2013, Isco left for Real Madrid, Joaquin moved to Fiorentina and Toulalan joined Monaco. Pellegrini was also lost, joining Manchester City, and taking Willy Caballero and Martin Demichilis with him.

Malaga finished 11th in 2013/14, 9th in 14/15, 8th in 15/16 and 11th again last season, now in real danger of being relegated to the Segunda for the first time since they were promoted in 2007/08 – showing the dangers of money when the plug is pulled too quickly.

Sheikh Abdullah Al-Thani remains in control of the Spanish side but the funds have stopped. In the years since the record-signing of Cazorla, who of course joined Arsenal along with Nacho Monreal, the anchovies have not spent higher than €4m- despite selling the likes of Ignacio Camacho, Sandro Ramirez, Pablo Fornals and Sergi Darder.

It’s difficult to say why the spending has stopped, but it certainly has not been aided by the growth of competition within La Liga that Malaga face and the rise of transfer fees, though it’s clear the side are definitely underperforming.

Things need to improve in the next six weeks but Malaga face a tricky test as they must travel to Barcelona, Villarreal and Real Madrid before the end of November, which makes their home clashes with Leganes, Celta Vigo and Deportivo increasingly important.

As the only side in La Liga without a win though, Malaga already find themselves five points from safety and will have to play catch-up for the remainder of the campaign. The biggest danger though is that if Malaga are relegated, they may struggle to return- as the likes of Osasuna, Granada and Rayo Vallecano have all been sucked into struggles in what is a very difficult league to emerge from.

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