Brave Malaga rides out storm in style
MADRID - Reuters
Malaga players (L-R) Wilfredo Caballero, Jesus Gamez and Ignacio Camacho celebrate their victory against Milan in the UEFA Champions League. EPA photoReports that Malaga’s Qatari owner wanted to exit after only two years, silence from the board room, a fire sale of top players and delayed wages was hardly the best preparation for their first Champions League campaign.
Yet, as sometimes happens in times of adversity, the Andalusian club’s off-field problems appeared to forge a bond between the players and staff that sharpened their focus and made them hungrier for success.
Led by coach Manuel Pellegrini, Malaga’s perfect start to its European campaign has put the team on the verge of a place in the knockout phase and it took the prize scalp of seven-time European champions Milan on the way.
The 1-0 win at home to the Italians last month left jubilant fans rubbing their eyes and victory at the San Siro tonight will put Malaga into the last 16 of the elite club competition as group winners if Zenit St Petersburg fails to beat Anderlecht.
“Besides the fact that we have a group of extremely talented players we have a very capable coach,” their American central defender Oguchi Onyewu, who joined Malaga on loan in the close season, told Reuters. “He knows what he’s doing and the team is comfortable and confident with his style of play.”
Owner Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nassar Al Thani, who briefly met the players at the Milan game, let it be known in early September that he was not looking to sell up.
The extent of the club’s problems was highlighted when Malaga was among the teams to have prize money withheld as UEFA revealed the first sanctions under its Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules.
After the departure of Spain midfielder Santi Cazorla to Arsenal and Venezuela striker Rondon to Rubin Kazan, Malaga signed cheaper replacements including Argentine forward Javier Saviola, Onyewu and Paraguay striker Roque Santa Cruz.
Pellegrini and the players held what the coach called a “positive meeting” with executive vice president Moayad Shatat this week and he said they were able to reach an agreement with management on settling wages.
“The issue is closed for me and for the players. There is confidence in the words of the club’s representative,” he said. “There are players who are a little more skeptical but we’re going to wait and see and trust his words.”
Malaga has shown how fast things can turn sour in football but if the players continue to perform they can hold their heads high even if the excitement generated by the arrival of Al Thani’s millions turns into disappointment should he depart.