Malaga facing almost certain relegation from Spain's second tier

Fallen giants Malaga have slumped from the Champions League last eight to potential relegation from Spain’s second tier… now in ownership limbo and riddled with out-of-form stars, they need a MIRACLE

  • Over the course of a decade, Malaga have tumbled down the ranks in Spain 
  • The ailing club are now facing relegation from the second division this season 
  • Their support has not changed but off-field drama has left them stuck in limbo 

There were 27,300 fans inside La Rosaleda two weeks ago to watch second division Malaga face Huesca – it was the fourth biggest attendance of the weekend anywhere in Spain, beaten only by top flight teams Barcelona, Real Madrid and Sevilla.

The Costa del Sol club are languishing in the relegation zone with only two matches to save themselves and yet they have the best average attendance in their league.

Ten years ago there were just under 30,000 packed into La Rosaleda to watch them take on Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League quarterfinals.

The club’s support has remained the same through the decade-long nosedive in fortunes, everything else has changed.

Malaga drew that first leg in 2013 0-0 and should have made it to the semi-finals but after two offside goals in injury time it was Borussia Dortmund who went through 3-2 on aggregate.

Fallen giants Malaga stand on the cusp of relegation from Spain’s second division this season

Just ten years ago, the club took on Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League last eight

Abdullah ben Nasser Al Thani’s (right) ownership has turned sour with his spending drying up

A decade on and they need a miracle to stay in the second division. They must win their last two matches of the season and hope that Sporting Gijon lose their last two. It looks all but impossible.

It was not meant to be like this. Malaga were the forerunners of foreign ownership in LaLiga and for a while it appeared overseas riches would transform them into a real force in Spanish football.

Abdullah ben Nasser Al Thani took over the club in 2010. The £12million [€14m] debt was wiped out and it seemed being bought by a member of the extended Qatari royal family was the answer to all their prayers.

Bold statements about reaching the Champions League inside three seasons only added to the sense of excitement. And although things started badly that first season, when Manuel Pellegrini arrived 11 weeks in, he turned the situation around and huge player investment followed.

At the start of the next season Ruud van Nistelrooy, Santi Cazorla, Isco and Joaquin all arrived and suddenly that Champions League dream looked on.

Pellegrini guided them to fourth in his first full campaign and the following season they played in Europe’s top competition reaching the quarter-finals.

They would have gone further were it not for those two terrible decisions from the match officials that saw them eliminated by Jurgen Klopp’s Dortmund.

The usually mild-mannered Pellegrini was irate and the feeling at the club was that they had been punished for an ongoing financial fair play case against them. How could a team under investigation by UEFA be allowed to reach the UEFA Champions League final? The following year they were banned and denied a place in the Europa League.

Manuel Pellegrini guided Malaga to fourth in LaLiga in his first full campaign but later departed

Pellegrini also impressed during his side’s European run, supported by sizeable investment

After the European ban Pellegrini left for Manchester City and Al Thani’s spending completely dried up. In truth he had cut-off funding long before the climax of that glorious Champions League run. By the pre-season of that campaign the players’ union in Spain were already expressing concerns over unpaid wages.

Ambitious plans off the pitch were also stalling. Sources close to Al Thani suggested at the time that local government had denied him permission to carry out various development plans in the region including a new hotel and marina in Marbella. There is still a sense that this was the biggest cause of the about turn in the owner’s attitude towards the club.

Big players were now being sold, subsequent managers had to operate on a shoestring budget, and in 2018 the club went down to the second division where they have been ever since.

This also marks the end of Al Thani returning to live in Qatar, no longer occasionally turning up at La Rosaleda to watch the team.

Things went from bad to worse in 2020. The club was close to going out of business, saving itself with the emergency sale of Antonin to Granada for 1.5m euros.

And in February of that year a judge took control of the club away from Al Thani and put it into the hands of an administrator after accusations of misappropriation of funds and money laundering were brought by a group of small shareholders – fans of the club.

After a police raid on the offices of the club the case was admitted. And the judge appointed administrator Jose Maria Munoz, a lawyer and economist, to take over the running of the club.

Three years down the line he remains in charge with Al Thani unwilling to pay the sum of around 9m euros to regain control of the club (the sum the prosecution claims has been illegally taken).

The club’s loyal supporters are hoping for a miracle, but the size of the crowd has not lessened

Malaga’s financial situation has improved to the extent to which LaLiga gave it one of the highest maximum squad spend limits in the division for this season.

In the summer then-Director of Football Manolo Gaspar, brought in prolific striker Ruben Castro from Cartegena, where he had scored 20 goals the previous season. It was a sign that things were on the up and a promotion push to get out of the division beckoned.

But Gaspar left in February, the club are now on their third manager of the season, Sergio Pellicer, and Castro only has ten goals. The team are not in the fight for promotion, they are on the verge of exiting the division through the wrong door.

Malaga’s loyal army of fans will go on hoping for a miracle in the last two games while off the pitch they just want a resolution to the stalemate.

Al Thani has given evidence from Qatar and the investigation is closed but with no date set for a final ruling.

If the court eventually finds Al Thani guilty the club will be sold. The hope is that he could have a change of heart and willingly put it on the market – but as things stand it seems he has no intention of doing that.

This March, a story broke that Qatar Sports Investment (QSI) were trying buy the club. In a Marca-organised football conference held in Malaga, Paris Saint Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi refused to rule out PSG owners buying Malaga.

He said: ‘We are looking at opportunities. It’s a fantastic club currently having a hard time. If there is a chance, then why not [buy it]? It’s a great city and a great club.’

There is still courtroom drama to come for the club, although relegation beckons imminently

QSI have already extended their portfolio with the acquisition of a quarter stake in Sporting Braga in Portugal and Qatari bidders have also tried to buy Manchester United from the Glazers.

Some Malaga fans expressed concerns at the time over the possibility of becoming a feeder club for PSG. Others asked the question – how could it be worse than the current situation?

Whatever happens in court and on the pitch it will remain one of the sleeping giants of the Spanish game.

But as of this weekend, if they fail to beat third placed Alaves away, it will have gone from Champions League quarter-finalists to third division outfit in the space of just 10 years.

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