Málaga, from the Champions League to the precipice in Segunda | Sports

On February 12, a group of Málaga CF footballers confronted their fans in the stands of the Carlos Belmonte municipal hall, in Albacete. After losing their umpteenth game of the season they did not stop receiving insults. In a ruckus, but with a face of circumstances, other players apologized for the defeat, one more in a disastrous streak of sports. They were just a few seconds, but they served to describe the tension experienced by a club that has just turned three years under the orders of a judicial administrator. With the aspiration of returning to the First Division after signings such as Rubén Castro or Fran Sol, the goals do not come. Nervousness spreads over the abyss of a possible relegation, a misfortune that nobody wants to mention in the corridors and that Sergio Pellicer, the third coach of the season, wants to avoid. Meanwhile, the owner and president, Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser Al Thani, who lives in Qatar, is removed from office by justice and investigated for alleged crimes of unfair administration and misappropriation.

The fashionable city has its team far from the elite. The entity from Malaga is going through a delicate situation with the only peace of mind of healthy accounts that guarantee viability even if it falls into the well of the First RFEF. Yes, he was only a few days away from disappearing three years ago, in February 2020, after the dismissal of Caminero as sports director and that of Víctor Sánchez as coach. The economic situation then could not get worse and only the departure of a youth player, Antoñín, to Granada CF for 1.5 million euros granted an extension for survival. “Without this sale, the club would have closed its doors,” says Sergio Paulo Barbosa, known in the field as Duda. The current grassroots football coordinator was a fixture in the blue and white eleven for years. Also the historic Champions League season. With him on the field, the team reached the quarterfinals where they lost to Borussia Dortmund with an offside goal in discount. That was heaven for the malaguistas, who did not know that a purgatory would then begin that would drag them down to the Second Division and, later, to the current struggle to avoid falling even lower.

Today he is an unpopular figure, but the arrival of Al Thani in 2010 generated much anticipation. The fans were excited, millions arrived —137 in two seasons— and renowned players like Van Nistelrooy, Cazorla or Isco. With Manuel Pellegrini on the bench, sports responded, but internally there was a horror story. That Champions League season began with defaults —and the visit of Luis Rubiales, then president of the Association of Spanish Soccer Players, to the stages of pre-season – and predicted a difficult future. “The property is gone. He didn’t make decisions. Players had to be sold and the workers spent several months without getting paid”, recalls Lucas Rodríguez, then head of communication and today coordinator of the Málaga CF Foundation. Why did the sheikh disappear? “It’s the million dollar question,” says Rodríguez, whose silences during the interview are as significant as his words. The answer is, according to sources close to him, that Al Thani was unable to do business with the expansion of a marina in Marbella. And it is gone, although the city council dedicated a roundabout to him from which he would later erase his name.

Kike Perez, general manager of Málaga, in the offices of the La Rosaleda stadium.
Kike Perez, general manager of Málaga, in the offices of the La Rosaleda stadium.Garcia-Santos (The Country)

In love with football, Paco Martín Aguilar, 73, has been at the club for more than 40 years. Affable, close, while he leaves his mobile decorated with the malaguista shield on the table, he recounts that in those four decades he has seen it all. Nothing like a president directing a club from Qatar, more than 5,000 kilometers from Malaga. “He built a giant with feet of clay,” he notes as he recalls years of bewilderment, aimless, freefalling into a dark pit. Until the fans said enough was enough in 2019. The Association of Small Shareholders filed a complaint against the sheikh for the alleged crimes of unfair administration, improper approval and imposition of abusive agreements. The court admitted it for processing at the end of the year and, after a police search, in the spring of 2020, removed Al Thani and appointed a judicial administrator, José María Muñoz. He just completed three years in office this Tuesday.

His arrival was convulsive. Muñoz raised an ERE that ended with several workers and soccer players fired, but today in the entity they believe that his role has been fundamental so that, economically, the club is healthy and solid. It is already the second-highest fourth salary cap. “The problem is that with the judicial issue we function tied hand and foot. You can’t fly like this,” says Martín Aguilar. Al Thani’s statement before judge María de los Ángeles Ruiz served to close the investigation of the case, but there is still no date for a key trial in the future of the club. “Then Málaga CF will know where it is and where it can go, but important decisions cannot be made until then”, explains the counselor. Yes, there are steps, such as the recent arrival of the new general manager, Kike Pérez, from Cádiz. He has been in the city for three weeks and has barely left the office. “I don’t bring a magic recipe, but I do bring ideas and work habits. I am optimistic because there is a solid base to grow”, says the player from Alava, who also does not want to mention the possibility of relegation. Forbidden word.

Francisco Martín Aguilar, advisory director of Málaga.
Francisco Martín Aguilar, advisory director of Málaga.Garcia-Santos (The Country)

Last Monday, Unicaja paraded its basketball Copa del Rey through the streets of the city, but 16,164 people accompanied Málaga CF that night at La Rosaleda. In the surrounding bars, in the pre-game, there was little hope. Several friends summed it up around a few beers. “There is nothing to do,” said Nacho Orduña, 38 years old. “In every game you feel frustration,” added Miguel Ángel Pérez, 34. “Mismanagement has led us to the hole,” stressed Justo Checa, 45 years old. Rubén Castro rebelled against these opinions and, with two goals against Real Zaragoza, he became the top Spanish scorer in LaLiga with 285 goals adding those achieved in First and Second. Newcomer Lago Junior closed a victory as clear as it was necessary. “We were risking our lives,” Castro said after the meeting.

It was the necessary spark to dream of salvation, five points away but with 14 games to play. The arrival of Sergio Pellicer —after the failures of Pablo Guede and Pepe Mel— has given the team another life. And the fans thanked him with hopeful cries of “yes we can” in the final stretch of the game. Granada is their next stop this Monday (9:00 p.m., Movistar) while they dream of maintaining the category as they once dreamed of the Champions League.

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