I don’t think many clubs in Spain (or indeed Europe) have endured such a rollercoaster ride of emotions that Malaga Club de Fútbol have endured over the last two decades or so.
Up and Down
Besieged by continuous financial difficulties and a ‘yo-yo’ of a side bouncing between the divisions, stability is hardly their middle name.
As recently as 1993 the actual Malaga CF side (or name) never existed and the former club CA Malagueño were plying their trade in the remote Tercera Division Group 9, gaining promotion to Segunda Division B before being relegated again. The club were now in deep financial mire.
It was at this point the members voted to change the name to the club we know today, hoping for a change in fortunes more than anything and an identity the fans could carry forward into the new century with pride.
Life is a Rollercoaster
The rollercoaster took Los Boquerones on an upward curve in the early part of this century with a mixture of talented youth and more established stars such as Dario Silva, Kiki Musampa and loanee Salva Ballesta. This period of stability came under the management of Juande Ramos before he departed for deadly rivals Seville, a so called bigger club.
Despite having a relatively modern ground in La Rosaleda, the bigger names followed the manager out the club, again leaving them in a state of uncertainty and an unsettled future.
Gregorio Manzano took over the reins from Ramos, a difficult act to follow. Despite starting the season well, 2004/05 results soon took a turn for the worse and Malaga went on a run of eight defeats in nine games. The fans turned on the manager after a pathetic 5-1 home loss to Real Sociedad and Manzano’s time was up as he was showed the exit door.
Antonio Tapia was promoted from within and he guided to club to safety and relative success with a great set of results in the second half of the season and ultimately a 10th place finish.
A New Hope
This raised expectations amongst the Malaguista fans for the following season, which ended in disaster with another relegation. That relegation was far from on the radar during the previous usual scorching summer on the South coast of Spain with the positive results and performances in the previous second half of the season.
2007/08 and promotion was gained back to the top division of La Liga under the guidance of Juan Ramón Muñiz, with a side based on hard work and humility. The fans got behind the side and the slogan ‘Together We Can’ was held close to the blue and white supports hearts.
An 8th place finish in 2008/09 was a remarkable achievement under the back drop of yet more financial problems and a new coach Fernando Sanz, who had to play with a shoestring budget.
The following season was more of a struggle and it looked at more than one point in the season that Malaga were indeed heading back to the Segunda but they survived to fight another day finishing 17th and little did they know but a new dawn was on the horizon.
Money, Money, Money
June 2010 saw the arrival of the Qatari businessman Abdullah bin Nasser bin Abdullah Al Ahmed Al Thani, to give him his full name (copied and pasted by the way) and a seemingly bottomless pit of money to throw at his new toy.
He followed the blue print of many wealthy owners around Europe: Throw money at players/wages and success will come to the club, with the owner becoming an hero to the fans and a virtually overnight household name through a fuelled media frenzy.
Jesualdo Ferreira was now the head coach but results left them in the relegation places and the owner axed Ferreira in favour of the experienced Chilean, Manuel Pellegrini.
It wasn’t success overnight for Pellegrini but the seeds were being sowed for future success and the wisely Pellegrini was to be the first step in a upward curve, the first jigsaw piece in a complicated picture.
Results improved with the arrivals of the Argentine international Martin Demichelis, Brazilian Julio Baptista and most importantly goalkeeper Willy Caballero. Salomon Rondon goals ‘fired’ them to an 11th place finish, as the Venezuelan finished Malaga’s highest ever goal scorer in the top flight with 14 league goals.
This was the start of the real highs of following Malaga for the fans. 2011/12 season saw the Sheikh open his cheque book in quite a spectacular (and successful) fashion. With Spain gripped by an economic crisis in came the likes of Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Santi Cazorla, Jeremy Toulahan and locally born Francisco Román Alarcón Suárez (Isco). Malaga was suddenly the place to be, a possible threat to the dominance of the big two of Real Madrid and FC Barcelona was muted about La Liga.
Pellegrini’s team of ‘superstars’ gelled on the pitch, playing to sold out crowds in the La Rosaleda and an unheard of season ticket waiting list. Despite a few setbacks on the way they finished 4th and gained a remarkable place in the high profile setting of the Champions League. It was a stunning return on the Sheik’s investment and a climb so quick it took your breath away.
2012/13 will always be remembered for their debut Champions League campaign and what a journey it was to take them on. Panathinaikos from Greece were dispatched in the play-off round and Malaga were pitched into a group with Zenit St Petersburg, Anderlecht and Milan AC. Hardly a group of death but a tricky passage nonetheless for the debutants.
Malaga not only survived the group but came out top with a unlikely unbeaten run including dispatching Zenit at home 3-0 and a brilliant performance against a poor Anderlecht side in Brussels, again a 3-0 win. Tight at the back but ruthless going forward, they played with a swagger and high on confidence. The blue and white fans were starting to get a taste for this European lark.
Porto were up next and Malaga took over 3,000 fans to the Portuguese 2nd city. Malaga were fortunate to only come away with a 1-0 loss as Porto played them off the park on the night. Another memorable night ensured at La Rosaleda in the return leg as Malaga overturned the aggregate score with a 2-0 victory, whilst hardly setting the world alight with their performance.
The draw was unkind to Malaga in the next round, the quarter finals, pitting them against many peoples favourites Borussia Dortmund from Germany. A relatively uneventful 1st leg score of 0-0 in Malaga left the Andalucian’s with another uphill struggle but at least Dortmund never had an away goal to take back to their industrial city.
That Malaga were literally seconds away from getting through to the semi-finals is both remarkable and cruel at the same time. Dortmund scoring deep into injury time, with a heavily disputed goal, saw the Germans through with a 3-2 victory. It was heartbreaking for the travelling thousands. It was also why football is the game we love, high on drama and the impossible made possible sometimes.
It was to be the start of the ‘end’ of the short but unbelievable dream of a rollercoaster ride. Alongside this journey had run a worrying story of yet more financial problems that started with a transfer ban on signing players. The worries continued with the exit of a few stars like Santi Cazorla to Arsenal, Van Nistelrooy’s retirement, Salmon Rondon and the experienced Dutch international Joris Mathijsen and ended with a European ban imposed by UEFA for financial irregularities.
The exodus has since continued with the likes of Isco, Toulalan and Demichelis leaving the troubled club. With this background the European journey looks even more remarkable, coupled with a 6th place finish (but the European ban kicked in), Pellegrini really did work miracles which enhanced his reputation on the continent. Pellegrini himself left to join Manchester City and another Sheik for a boss.
Bernd Schuster, a world class player in his playing days, arrived to take Pelligrini’s place but results this season to-date have been mixed and they currently sit in a uncomfortable 16th place in La Liga, just two points clear of the relegation zone.
There is no sign of further investment into the playing side and Malaga may yet become a selling club yet again until the off the field problems can be solved. Too many quality players have left in such a short space of time, hence the worrying downturn in results.
The ride was quick coming and just has quick departing but the Malaguista’s enjoyed every step of the way. The trouble for them is that they have tasted success now and they want more. Patience will not be an attribute many Malaga fans will now have in abundance.