It would be fair to say that the tale of Malaga has become the story of the summer in Spain.
With Real Madrid and Barcelona not really making a ‘marquee signing’ that had not run into a summer-long saga (looking at you Luka Modric), it was unusually quiet, barring the dramatic collapse for their closest potential rival.
Malaga, following their takeover by Abdullah Al Thani two seasons ago, had supposedly been awash with riches, allowing them to build one of the most expensive squads in the league and attract some delightful players into Andalusia.
The likes of Joris Mathijsen, Jeremy Toulalan, Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Santi Cazorla all upped sticks to join the revolution, with Real Madrid and Barca in their sights for the future.
Manuel Pellegrini was talked into taking over the leadership of the club, with his experience at the top level with Villarreal and Real another key cog in adding another stallion to the two-horse race at the top.
Then last season, their dreams came true. Following a rocky first season, the second saw Malaga push up the table, leapfrogging more historically illustrious rivals like Atletico Madrid and Sevilla to take fourth place.
Champions League football had been realised, within the time schedule, as Malaga went into the summer knowing only a two-legged qualification match stood in their way of a maiden European Cup campaign.
But then it all started to unravel. Debts existed. Heavy debts that threatened the club’s Primera Division status, let alone their participation in the Champions League.
A group of players – including Cazorla – had submitted a complaint to the AFE (Spanish Players’ Union) in regards to unpaid wages going back three months, while former President, Lorenzo Sanz, also claimed he was still owed money from the deal that saw Los Boquerones sold to Al Thani in the first place.
There was never any doubt that Malaga had been swindled by a ‘fake Sheik’, like Racing Santander fell victim to, as Al Thani was well-known member of the Qatari royal family, with his personal fortune incredibly vast.
It seemed a mere formality at first, as it was to be expected that Al Thani would simply transfer some money over to the club and settle these debts imminently.
But the money never came. Al Thani decided that he was not to be held responsible for the rising costs of debts, and that Malaga would have to settle debts of around €70million themselves, by off-loading players.
So the squad became gutted, with key players going at minimal fees, given their abilities.
Santi Cazorla went to Arsenal for €16m, a €6m loss from his €22m move from Villarreal the previous summer, despite having been Malaga’s most consistent and valuable performer in a season that saw them storm the top four.
Salomon Rondon was shipped out to Rubin Kazan, while Mathijsen returned to Holland to turn out for Feyenoord.
The squad began to look somewhat bare, especially in the striking department, with Ruud Van Nistelrooy retiring from football and Julio Baptista still taking up space (a lot of it) in the treatment room.
Seba Fernandez is the only recognised senior striker at the club at the time of writing (Javier Saviola and Roque Santa Cruz could be on their way), with Malaga under-going a transfer embargo over the summer until these debts had been settled.
However, the debts were eventually dealt with by the off-set of these players, Malaga’s Primera Liga existence was confirmed, while UEFA were courteous enough to allow them into the Champions League and not make a further example of them, unlike Mallorca who suffered omission two years ago.
They secured an opening day victory at Celta Vigo to ensure that some positivity survived, with their problems forcing them to field young Fabrice Olinga. And that move paid off, with the youngster coming good to become the youngest ever goal-scorer in La Liga history.
Champions League football was then secured, as Malaga saw off Panathinaikos of Greece, 2-0 on aggregate with all the goals coming in the home leg at La Rosaleda.
A mercurial performance from Isco brought hope for the future, as he was one of the key names they held on to, with Joaquin and Toulalan providing able support.
He dazzled with some exquisite movement and passing, leading some to suggest that Cazorla was not even required anymore, as he was holding the youngster back.
There is still some way to go for Malaga before they can truly challenge the big two again. Just a repeat of finishing in the top four will be a big ask for them.
But stability that looked so remote at one point in the summer has been achieved and that is what this season will be about.
This year will be set to steady the ship and look to rebuild once again for the following year. At least they will have a maiden Champions League campaign to help soften this stark downturn in fortunes.
Tags: Champion's League, Fabrice Olinga, Isco, La Liga, Malaga, Manuel Pellegrini, Santi Cazorla, Sheik Al Thani