Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A warm breeze from Costa Del Sol

VanGol's Andalucian Affair
There were over 15000 of them in the stands, delirious with joy, waving their scarves, signing “Malaga, La Bombonera”; most of them in their striped blue and white jerseys. The fireworks went off as a timed response to that player who emerged from the dressing room onto the big green pitch and waved to the fans. Blue and white confetti rained down while balloons of the same color rained skywards as the 35 year old Ruud Van Nistelrooy, one of the most lethal finishers in Europe over the last two decades, marked his return back to Spain and acknowledged the crowd, a crowd which exceeded the ones present at his official presentation at all of his previous clubs. One may be forgiven to think that VanGol had made a switch to one of the European elites judging by the amount of fanfare. But Malaga CF are far from being an European elite. They are far from being even a Spanish elite. A club who’s very identity is framed by obscurity, a club which till date has won only one title: The Intertoto Cup, a club which has always been run by presidents that skinny dipped in controversy or landed in a pan of boiling oil soon after resigning from their posts, a club which typified the textbook definition of a yo-yo club, a club who’s lack of remembrance in the annals of La Liga is only eclipsed by the size of the region in Spain it hails from. Until Sheikh Abdullah Al Thani took over, that is.

An Obscure Identity

Malaga CF is one of the youngest clubs in Spain if you go by the official records which record the date the club was registered as 29th June, 1994. However, like stated before, the club’s very existence has been shrouded in obscurity and in an identity crisis. To say that the club has had more aliases than Frank William Abagnale Jr. ever did would not be overstating it either. However, like many clubs that originated in Spain, a club named Malaga Foot-Ball Club was formed as early as 1904 in the coastal city of Malaga by the crew of foreign ships, the British, that docked at the local harbor. In 1912, probably in an attempt to fuel Morbo, a rival club by the name of FC Malagueño was formed. Malaga Foot-Ball club was granted royal patronage by King Alfonso XIII and became Real Malaga FC in 1927. In 1929, both the clubs took the monumental decision of forming the Tercera division in Spain, something which can never been taken away from the club. In 1930, in an attempt to appear more than a football club, Real Malaga FC was rechristened as Malaga Sports Club. In 1933, both FC Malagueño and Malaga Sports Club merged to become Club Deportivo Malacitano, which then debuted in the Segunda Division. Post the Spanish Civil War, in 1941, the club changed its name once more to Club Deportivo Malaga and started playing at their stadium, affectionately named La Rosaleda (The Rose Garden).

And so CD Malaga flitted in from one division to the other and back for a good many years, achieving the ignominious record of the Spanish club to have secured the highest number of promotions, which also meant that they were relegated that many times. However, coming back to the identity crisis, in 1948, CD Malaga took over a youth club, CD Santo Tomas with the purpose of building a reserve team. The reserve club was rechristened as Club Atlético Malagueño, thereby stoking the embers of the then long defunct FC Malagueño. Then in the 1959-60 season, the parent club CD Malaga, and the reserve team CA Malagueño found themselves in the same league; the Tercera. As per the league rules, CA Malagueño could not play in Tercera due to the presence of the parent club and hence CA Malagueño registered as an independent club with the Spanish Football Federation.

In 1992, facing overwhelming debts, CD Malaga dissolved due to insolvency however the other independent club CA Malagueño continued. Despite facing financial problems of their own, CA Malagueño were promoted to the Segunda B and would’ve been liquidated had local businessmen Federico Beltron & Fernando Puche not put in their own cash to rescue the club. In 1994, the club’s board voted in favor of changing names once more and on 29th June, the club legally adopted the title of Malaga Club de Futbol S.A.D. which is how the world knows them today.

Presidential Woes

Malaga’s presidential history has been typified by some dark and colorful presidents, for whom the end hasn’t exactly been sweet. During their golden period, a five year unbroken stint in the Primera from the late 60s to the early 70s, the club’s president Antonio Rodríguez López was murdered by hired assassins, rumored to be on the payroll of the local mafia. As mentioned before, President Fernando Puche saved what remained of Malaga from the brink of extinction by injecting in his own money, but is currently facing a two year jail term after being convicted for dealing in contraband tobacco. The new millennium saw Malaga’s new president, Serafin Roldan, a self-confessed Barcelona fan, rack up an astonishing 30 million euros in debt and was rumored to be trying to push a deal with Arsenal FC to convert Malaga into a satellite club for the Premier League giants. Unsurprisingly, the deal fell through and Roldan sold to the club to ex-Real Madrid President, Lorenzo Sanz who purchased the club for 6 million euros and assumed the responsibility of the 30 million in debt. Lorenzo appointed his son Fernando who oversaw the club go into and come out of administration, while Lorenzo himself tried to unsuccessfully buy Italian club Bari before being jailed on two separate occasions, once for trying to encash a fraud bank cheque and the second for trying to smuggle artwork out of Spain. Fernando Sanz sold the club to Qatar’s Sheikh Abdullah Al Thani for 36 million euros, which was the net worth of the club’s debt.

Al Sahoud & Ghubn in Happier Times
Upon the acquisition of the club, the Sheikh came across as a person with enough money that he didn’t know what to do with it, and predictably, Malaga’s first season under his ownership wasn’t exactly a happy one. Malaga based attorney, Yasmin Al Sahoud was appointed CEO for the club soon after Al Thani took over with Abdullah Ghubn as Chief Secretary. What resulted was a power struggle between Al Sahoud and Ghubn and barely three months into her appointment, Yasmin Al Sahoud was sacked from her post by Ghubn who assumed the role of vice-president with Al Thani as the President and a new pawn, Jose Maria Fernandez Mochon appointed as the General Director. While details about why Al Sahoud was sacked were unclear, it appeared as if the former CEO had detected financial irregularities and the lack of commitment on the club’s (Al Thani’s) part to legally close deals with players like Galatto, Sandro Silva and Quincy. The first half of the first season under Al Thani’s ownership went by sorting out the power struggle and restructuring management within the club, while ex-Porto coach Jesualdo Ferreira ran the club to the bottom of the table.

The New Beginning

The club’s fans who might’ve envisioned a grand future in the wake of the Sheikh’s takeover might’ve seen their dreams snuff out slowly as Malaga continued dropping down in the league table, and would’ve been unwillingly looking forward to yet another league in the Segunda as the club were lodged firmly in 18th position. That was in November 2010 when Al Thani finally took the decision to dispose of Ferreira and hire the Chilean, ex-Real Madrid coach Manuel Pellegrini, who had built up a reputation for himself as an austere coach by turning Villarreal into European pretenders. That coupled with the winter acquisitions of Julio Baptista & Martin DeMichelis in the winter transfer window ensured that Malaga not only broke free of relegation but ended the season in 11th position. The real resurgence for Malaga CF which began in the 2nd half of last season has spilled over into the summer transfer window with the club making some prolific signings.

Ushering in the Dawn of a New Era
Ruud Van Nistelrooy was the first signing of this summer (free transfer) and the club followed it up with highly rated full back Nacho Monreal from CA Osasuna (5 million), attacking midfielder Diego Buonanotte from the now relegated River Plate (4 million), winger Joaquin from Valencia (4 million), center back Joris Mathijsen from HSV (2 million), and defensive midfielder Jeremy Toulalan from Olympique Lyonnais (10 million).

What has set Malaga apart this summer and made the club the talk of the footballing world in the positive sense is the project being set up at the club by Al Thani. Contrary to noveau rich clubs which go crazy with new, free money (ala Manchester City) or suffer because of lack of it (ala Racing Santander), Malaga has been typified with a strict budget, a no-nonsense approach in the transfer market and an absolute refusal to tip their hands in their quest to get what they want; a case in point being the club played hard ball with Valencia to negotiate the transfer of Joaquin. Valencia CF wanted 6 million euros to release Joaquin, while Malaga opened negotiations by tabling an undervalued 2 million euro offer. Joaquin was finally unveiled as a Malaga player for 3,696,00 Euros; a decent piece of business done no matter how you look at it. And it’s not as if the club’s buying washed out players either. VanGol is the only player in the twilight of his career and would most likely serve as back up to Julio Baptista who would probably be starting the bulk of the season. What the signings so far have brought forth is a decent mix of youth, experience and quality, all at an affordable price; always a recipe for success.

The New Project

This is where the blog leaves established facts and enters the realm of speculation based on what was and what is, gazes into the crystal ball and tea leaves and then tries to analyze what the future has in store for Malaga.

And We have a Deal!
Sheikh Al Thani’s decision to buy Malaga has, in all appearances, been a carefully thought about decision. The vice-chairman & member of the board of directors at Doha Bank in Qatar, Al Thani has looked at Malaga as an investment, both in the short term and the long run. A descendant of the royal family, the Sheikh doesn’t really need to make profit out of the club plainly because (leaving the UEFA FFP Rules aside) he doesn’t need the money the club generates for the club to function; one of the perks of being a multi billionaire, many times over. However bankers are often known to be the most miserly folk and Al Thani has been no exception in that aspect. The club was purchased for literally nothing, if you discount the debt of 36 million euros, as that is the same amount that Al Thani paid Lorenzo Sanz to acquire majority stake holding in the club and wipe the club’s slate clean. A figure of 36 million euros would not have burnt a huge hole in the Sheikh’s pocket given what he was getting in return. The choice of Malaga was also a carefully thought out on. For starters, Los Boquerones (named after the local anchovies) were playing in Primera, which was obviously very desirable. Secondly, their debt situation was serious, but not so serious as some of the other clubs in Spain (Zaragoza for instance have a 110 million euros debt) whose management were willing to be bought out. Thirdly, Al Thani, who owns an empire comprising of hotel chains and shopping centers must’ve had the upcoming FIFA Football World Cup in Qatar on his mind. Having a strong fan base in Spain, a nation which as defending champions and most likely to have a record appearance in crowd numbers, would certainly help in attracting crowds to what is essentially a desert country (one of the most beautiful desert countries, though). An influx of crowds to the World Cup will certainly help the Sheikh in more ways than one, raising his own standing in Qatar and not to mention the business that would come his way. The fourth reason for choosing Malaga CF was simply its location. Malaga, the city, has a sizeable expat population who also form a major chunk of the fanbase of the club. It has an airport which tourists use on their way to visit the nearby Costa Del Sol, a tourist hotbed. Needless to say, attracting the expat population and having a base in one of the tourism hotbeds in Spain goes a long way in generating more revenue for Al Thani.

But it is not just Al Thani who stands to gain by this confluence of a club in crisis with a mega rich owner. If the rebuilding process is applied correctly, and with maturity, the club stands to gain much more in the intangibles than Al Thani does in the tangibles. The club’s vice-president, Abdullah Ghubn, was an epitome of maturity when he got straight down to the root cause of the great divide in La Liga, warning of an even greater divide opening up. “"Today people will be excited to see a Clasico, next year the same but in a few years people will get bored of this because this is a league of two clubs. Tomorrow the audience will come down and some other league will be trying to rise up. Eventually, even the two big clubs will have less money from TV rights. They have to realise that if they will not share the cake they will not get the cream", said Ghubn in an interview to Reuters before attacking the Spanish federation, “I don't think we'll see a solution soon to this issue because nobody can handle it. If you have someone who can handle this and act as a judge, a person who could say how things should be, it would be much better”. The vice-president also gave the briefest of glimpses into the vision Al Thani has for the club, saying, “We are confident we can reach our goals because we know exactly how we can be strong and what we are missing. We have many options but this year we are going to have good players we are looking for specifically according to our system. We have a plan to do something very big and very huge so our dream is not limited to one level. We have an agenda, we have a philosophy, and we have time to do something very special for this club”.

We will soon be throwing our weight around!!
The blog is quite intrigued by the last line of this quote which indicates that the club’s management is thinking in the long term, i.e. to build a club which will rival Real Madrid & Barcelona. Based on the actions of the club, the vision appears to be threefold:

Stage One, which has already begun, is to rebuild the current squad and for that the club has signed a mixture of established stars, though not stars which merit a five star pay. No one will argue the talents of VanGol, Joaquin & Baptista, yet the players themselves didn’t cost too much. If Al Thani is to be believed, the only true big billing signing this summer will probably be Santi Cazorla who will be a “gift” to all the club’s fans, as per the president’s own admission. Stage One also involves taking an effort to start marketing the club and efforts are already underway with the launch of Malaga CF TV and a revamp of the official website which is now available in both Spanish & English. There are talks of making the site available in Asian languages in future to capture the lucrative Asian market and the blog won’t be surprised to see the club do an Asian Pre-season tour in the next couple of years. Talking about pre-season, the club has also tried to take efforts to get quality pre-season fixtures. However the time to achieve that this season was quite less and the club’s fans will have to be content to watch their club take on Feyenoord and Manchester City as part of the pre season friendlies. Al Thani is also rumored to be in favor of earlier kick-off timings and like Ghubn’s interview to Reuters suggested, the club is prepared to throw its weight behind pushing the collective TV rights deal. Another faucet of marketing the club has been the club’s deal with UNESCO, which will see Malaga contributing to the cause of UNESCO and sporting UNESCO on their jerseys, thereby profiting from goodwill marketing. The effects of Stage One are already being seen with the club being beseeched with requests for 15000 season tickets, along with a request for 600 more, which were registered the day the counter opened. Al Thani has also recently secured the contract to renovate the Marbella, a place which holds a special place in the hearts of Malaguistas; an audacious project which will convert Marbella into a Dubai like marina. The blog isn’t saying anything more, just watch the video below.

Stage Two in this grand plan involves eventually securing direct qualification to Europe’s premier tournament, the UEFA Champions League and in doing so; make the club capable of generating its own income. Stage Two would also require the club to make some bombastic signings which would improve the club’s standing and ability in win in Europe further. If Stage One goes as per plan, the blog is quite confident that Malaga would be in the transfer market prime time in a couple of seasons from now.

La Rosaleda to ...?
In Stage Three, the president plans to hand the club a lasting legacy. Al Thani has an audacious plan to build a 65000 seater stadium (which will unsurprisingly be named after his country) making it the third biggest stadium after the Santiago Bernabeu and the Camp Nou. The president also plans to construct a prim and proper football academy for which efforts are already underway. The president has confirmed that he has purchased land measuring 120,000 square meters where he plans to build the Malaga Football Academy. This academy will include ten mini stadiums where youth talent at various levels will play. Al Thani has also appointed Antonio Fernandez – a known talent in the world of Spanish Football - as the director who will oversee the development of this academy.

With all these grand schemes already set in flow, the future seems warm for the neutrals, the fans & the Frente Bokeron (the ultras named after the sardines caught at the coast) of Malaga. Whether it will actually come to pass in the manner it has been planned remains to be seen. What do you think?


Elisa ForzaFutbol Uranga said...

Awesome in depth coverage here.  Very impressive.  I really love Malaga city and hope the best for the team.  It will take awhile to gel, but this is a long term project, not a galactico one, in my opinion.

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