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Malaga defy debts to reach Europes elite

16 Mar 2013 16:46:59

Malaga defy debts to reach Europes elite

Spain was once again the most represented nation as Friday's Champions League draw took place in Nyon, but alongside the familiar names of Real Madrid and Barcelona there was a newcomer - Malaga.

By joining the country's traditional giants in the last eight, the Andalusians made it La Liga's best representation in the quarter-finals since Valencia joined Madrid and Barca in 2003.

However, Malaga's progress is much more than just a co-efficient booster, it is a remarkable journey that looked floored before it had even begun during a couple of uncertain months last June and July.

After being bought by Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser Al-Thani - a member of the Qatari royal family - back in 2010, the Andalusians embarked on a bold and expensive recruitment campaign, building a strong squad of experienced internationals and some of Spain's brightest young prospects.

Yet, just when they seemed set for the big time and their first ever appearance in the Champions League, the money dried up.

As it turned out, it hadn't been flowing for a while. Players had not received wages and clubs expecting transfer fees had gone unpaid.

Consequently, star players Santi Cazorla and Salomon Rondon were sold under value to bring in some quick cash.

When their qualifier against Panathinaikos came round in August it wasn't just for prestige that Los Boquerones were playing, but also the economic survival of the club.

However, that test, as all those they have faced in Europe this season, was passed with flying colours.

A 2-0 aggregate victory over the Greeks opened the door to the lucrative group stages and epic European nights against AC Milan, Zenit St. Petersburg and Anderlecht.

Malaga started as they meant to go on with a brilliant 3-0 victory over Zenit, thanks to two goals from their star man Isco, and three wins from their first three games ensured Manuel Pellegrini's men were the first side to book their place in the last-16.

Yet there was more bad news to come on the financial front. On December 21, UEFA announced that Malaga were to become the first big casualties of their financial fair play regulations for their failure to pay players and other clubs on time.

Even if they qualify for European competition next season -- or the next time they do so in the next four years -- they will not be allowed to compete, while they could be banned for a further campaign should they fail to show that payments to other clubs, employees or social and tax authorities are up to date by the end of this month.

Moreover, another star player, Spanish international Nacho Monreal was sold to Arsenal in January to help ensure they meet that deadline.

UEFA's decision was branded "excessively harsh and negative" by the club's most famous fan, film star Antonio Banderas, but even though Malaga are appealing the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the decision can only be overturned on a point of law, and not whether it's justifiable.

That sanction doesn't affect their current European campaign and Banderas was in attendance as they experienced another famous European night at La Rosaleda with the 2-0 win over Porto that saw them progress to the quarter-finals.

A feat which secured a unique double for manager Manuel Pellegrini as he became the first man ever to lead two sides to the quarter-finals of the Champions League on their debut in the competition following his success with Villarreal in 2005/06.

Unfortunately for Malaga it is unlikely to be one that has gone unnoticed either. After being hurriedly dismissed to make way for Jose Mourinho following just one season at Real Madrid, Pellegrini is hungry for another shot at the big time.

Rumours have linked the Chilean with Chelsea and Manchester City in recent weeks and should he go at the end of the season, his absence is likely to be felt much more strongly than that of Cazorla, Rondon or Monreal.


AFP

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