Monday, 6 June 2011

Málaga – Spanish Football’s Billionaires

Andalusia, situated in the southern region of Spain, is a destination well known to people in England because it’s one of the top tourist destinations for holiday makers. The tourist hotspot is home to two teams, Sevilla and Málaga who all play in Spain’s top flight division La Liga. Next year’s campaign will exceed by one, at the very least, as Real Betis gained promotion to the top flight after finishing top of the Segunda Division (Spain’s second tier of professional football). Granada CF could be the fourth side from the region to compete in La Liga, should they win the Segunda Division play-offs.

Some of you may be familiar with a couple of the sides located in the south of Spain, Sevilla who won the back to back UEFA Cup titles in 06’ and 07’. Newly promoted Real Betis, a club which has had their ups and downs over the past few years, has been home to some fantastic players in the past such as Denilson (Brazilian winger who Betis once paid $21.5million back in 1998), Marco Assunção (a culture centre midfielder and free kick specialist) and finally Spanish winger Joaquin who now plays with Valencia, and once commanded a fee of €25million.

With these great rivals becoming a focus of things to come next season, there is a captivation story unfolding amongst the third side from the area, who look to build their history after a turbulent recent one, which saw them dissolved in the early 1992 and then forced them to make their way up the football ladder and back into the top flight in 1999. They would continue their superb rise and fully establish themselves as a mainstay mid table side in Spain’s top flight for the next six years until the 2005/06 season were there troubles began to reappear.

The Andalusian outfit were relegated from La Liga with an embarrassing total of just 24 points. To make matters worse, during their first season back in the Segunda, they almost suffered back to back relegation, finishing just six points away from the relegation places. They managed to regain their form in the 2007/08 season, finishing second in the league, and gaining automatic promotion back into the top flight.

During their return to the top flight, they finished brilliantly in 8th place at the end of the 08/09 season, but they were back to their old ways the very next, scraping past relegation in the next season, finishing 17th.

Heading into the 2010/11 campaign, they were one of the favourites to slip out of the division. However in that summer before the season began, an interesting development befell the club, as the club’s owner Lorenzo Sanz sold the club for a report €36 million. The significance of this deal was that it had given the club a new lease of life and cleared all of the side’s debt. The buyer? One man named Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nassar Al-Thani, a Qatari businessman and billionaire, member of the Qatari ruling family.

The Sheikh, whose full name is Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Abdullah Al Ahmed Al Thani, who has ties to the Al Nair Stud horse collection, manages a “Business Empire based in the United Arab Emirates which employs around 3,000 people and operates in more than 30 coutntries”.

The Sheik’s aims for this Málaga team? "Our goal is to help Málaga take the necessary steps to consolidate its presence in La Liga and to reinforce the excitement and hopes of the supporters.”. His first move was to relieve Juan López Muñiz of his position, and employed Jesualdo Ferreira. The Portuguese manager had built up a career in his home country, but was given only four-and-a-half months in charge as Málaga and was sacked with the club underperforming and sitting in 18th place in the league.

In stepped the well respected and established coach; Chilean Manuel Pellegrini, who had had success with Villarreal and a short yet successful stint at Real Madrid. His immediate aim was to steer Malaga clear of relegation. In the winter transfer window came the unattached, and well travelled Enzo Maresca, the well experienced but somewhat of a liability Martin Demichelis, defensive midfielder Ignacio Camacho, goalkeeper Wilfredo Caballero and finally inspired signing Julio Baptista.

A mix of technically sound, experienced and hungry players added to a squad that already possessed Simon Rondón who scored 12 of his 14 goals in 30 games under Pellegrini. Established central midfielder Apoño made 27 appearances, winger Eliseu who made 35 appearances, and club captain; right back Jesús Gámez made 30 appearances. All key players helping the sides eventually finish in 11th place. Mission one accomplished.

Testament to Pellegrini, and the €2.5million gamble Julio Baptista inspiring Málaga to this fantastic finish, was that on the 10th April 2011, with eight matches remaining were five points from safety. Pellegrini, and Baptista, who scored seven goals in the final eight games of the season, inspired “The Anchovies” to shoot up the table, collecting 17 points with a record of D, W, W, W, W, W, D, L for those remaining games.

A fantastic turn around for the club, and now it’s the opportunity for Málaga side, a team who in the next few years, have ambitions to make a serious impact against La Liga’s two dominant sides, will now be bankrolled by their respective Qatari owner, just like Manchester City and there rich Middle Eastern owners in the English Premier League, Málaga have a reported budget of €100million to spend in this summer.

Abdullah Ghubn, the Vice President who runs the club on behalf of Sheikh Abdullah Al Thani, has been vocal recently, stating that with Real Madrid and Barcelona negotiated their TV deals individually rather than in European leagues were “clubs bargain collectively and income is shared more equitably” he feels La Liga could get boring, and fans could get disinterested due to the duopoly of Real Madrid and Barcelona.

One thing’s for certain, the influx of foreign ownership may not be as bad as some fans are making out. Getafe has recently been taking over by Dubai based Royal Emirates Group, but it remains to be seen whether they have the supposed financial backing as this Málaga side. A signal of intent is that they have signed great Dutch striker Ruud Van Nistlerooy, at 35 years old, he of course past his prime, but still has something to offer.

Would it be so negative if the club broke up into the top four, and eventually managed to topple the top two teams in La Liga? Manchester City have shown its possible in England, but it seems all too farfetched idea with regards to the Spanish league, as I believe that no amount of money could simple overpower the fan base, great tradition and football philosophy of Barcelona or Real Madrid in Spain. In their league, they are miles ahead of fellow competitors and expected to be there for years to come. One thing the ambitious Sheikh Abdullah Al Thani can take solace in, is the fact his club is definitely heading in the right direction under Pellegrini, and given time, they could reach the heights Sevilla did a year years ago, in the domestic cups or even on the European stage.

Finally it seems the label of relegation/promotion “Yo-Yo club” could fade away as long as the club keep the excellence Manuel Pellegrini in charge, maintain the squad with a good degree of depth, whether they can challenge for the title remains to be seen, but a fresh face throwing their hat into the ring for a the places in the upper echelons of La Liga, whether through financial means or youth development methods, anyone who can break up the duopoly of Real and Barca is a refreshing and welcome side in my eyes.

Real Talk Football

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