Malaga ride out growing pains

Buoyed by Qatari cash, the Andalusians scent a Champions League spot but progress has been uneven

In the recent derby with Seville, the Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini cut a far more animated figure on the touchline than usual. As the final whistle went and the win was confirmed, the Chilean energetically pumped his fists on the touchline, his grey hair flapping in the breeze. These are strange times in this part of Andalucia.

Pellegrini is an admirable, dignified personality on the merry-go-round of La Liga coaches. A qualified civil engineer, the urbane 58-year-old takes on a new study project every year. In recent years, these have included learning German and to play the piano – the latter venture "a disaster", he admits.

One imagines Pellegrini has rather less hobby time on his hands at present. Expectation at Malaga is growing. With the pinnacle of their achievements a pair of seventh-placed finishes in the 1970s and a Uefa Cup quarter-final in 2003, this traditionally modest club set on the travel hub of the Costa de Sol have been more notable for their sizeable English supporters' club than any feats of wonder on the pitch.

This changed when Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser al-Thani, a member of Qatar's royal family, paid €36m (£29.8m) to buy the club from former player Fernando Sanz in the summer of 2010. Along with the Qatar Foundation's shirt sponsorship deal with Barcelona and QSI's (Qatar Sports Investment) subsequent takeover of Paris St-Germain, it signals the nation's determination to make inroads into European football ahead of hosting the 2022 World Cup.

Pellegrini was appointed in November 2010, with Malaga bottom of La Liga after a disastrous start to the new regime under former Porto manager Jesualdo Ferreira. The club have backed him heavily in the market. The purchase of experienced players such as Julio Baptista and Martin Demichelis in January 2011 helped haul the team out of trouble, then Ruud van Nistelrooy and €20m (£16.5m) Spain midfielder Santi Cazorla were among last summer arrivals. At almost €60m (£49.7m), Malaga's net summer spend was bigger than that of either Barcelona or Real Madrid.

With financial hardships and internal troubles handicapping the likes of Villarreal, Seville and Atletico Madrid, Spain's fourth Champions League spot is begging for a taker – but Malaga do not look ready. As season ticket holder Christian Machowski told The Independent, "the club has managed expectations well and the message is still that this is a long-term project."

Still, the change in culture from a yo-yo club based on nurturing local talent towards an international concern is jarring. The disjointed performance in defeat at Seville on the opening day of the season presented Malaga's identity crisis in microcosm. Behind the scenes cracks were even more apparent when Pellegrini told midfielder (and youth product) Apono he was being substituted at half-time. He blew his top, later admitting he was "livid" with the coach. Pellegrini suspended him indefinitely, and last month Apono was packed off on loan to bottom club Real Zaragoza.

"There just wasn't any rapport between us," Apono said. "I'm from Malaga and I always will be. I grew up in the neighbourhood and I've been coming to La Rosaleda [Malaga's stadium] since I was little. I still hope for the best for the club." If his insubordination gave Pellegrini legitimacy, integrating sons of the soil is still an issue that bristles.

In January's Copa del Rey defeat to Real Madrid, La Rosaleda booed Pellegrini for the first time after he substituted 19-year-old Isco. The talented midfielder was raised in Benalmadena, next to Malaga airport, and brought home from Valencia amid much fanfare in the summer. Isco represents the union between the club's tradition and its future. He can do no wrong – after being sent off in the win over Seville for a brutal studs-up lunge on Álvaro Negredo, he was given a standing ovation.

"The fans love their young and local players," Machowski said. "The €14m investment into the brand new academy and the partnership with other Andalusian clubs [Real Jaen and Cordoba] are being seen as an assurance from the owners that the club will heavily invest into young players."

Pellegrini has struggled in the shadow of a grand project before. As Real Madrid coach, he presided over the first season after Florentino Perez's return as club president. He received €200m-worth of new talent including Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka but absolutely no power of attorney and was sacked in May 2010. It was a far cry from Villarreal, the small-town club he took to the brink of the 2006 Champions League final and whose wealthy owner Fernando Roig trusted him with team affairs.

Today's Malaga is not quite so beatific. "This was a lot more than just three points," Demichelis, one of the flagship signings, said after the Seville match. "We've had an intense week, but we've cut the gap on the leading pack." Minutes earlier, Pellegrini was brutally frank. "On many occasions, we've given the impression of a team that lacks cohesion and that we haven't had the spirit to get results," he said. "Today we did what we had to do, with conviction and with the intention of improving."

Supporters appear ready to be patient. "The fans are aware that the players who have joined recently are of a different quality to what was there before," said Machkowski. "Signings like [Joris] Mathijsen and Van Nistelrooy have not necessarily lived up to expectations, but we know not all signings are going to turn out to be great ones." It seems that after the scarring experiences of the Bernabeu it is Pellegrini, as much as Malaga's owners, who must adjust his demeanour and expectations.

Money no object: Europe's new rich

Anzhi Makhachkala:

Owner Suleyman Kerimov

Net worth of owner £4.92bn

Where money comes from Russian Vnukovo Airlines and traded shares in Transneft, the oil-transportation monopoly; shares in gas producer Gazprom and retail bank Sberbank.

Players bought Samuel Eto'o (£21.8m), Yuri Zhirkov (£13.2m), Christopher Samba (£12m).

Paris Saint-Germain:

Owner Qatar Investment Authority

Net worth of owner £37.8bn

Where money comes from Oil wealth, and investments in Volkswagen.

Players bought Javier Pastore (£38m), Kevin Gameiro (£9m), Mohamed Sissoko (£7m), Jérémy Ménez (£8m)

Malaga:

Owner Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser al-Thani

Net worth Estimated £20bn

Where money comes from Gas, hotels, shopping centres, mobile phone companies, car dealerships, and the Doha Bank.

Players bought Santi Cazorla (£16.5m), Ruud van Nistelrooy (free), Jérémy Toulalan (£8m), Martin Demichelis (£2.5m)

News
i100
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio, at an awards show in 2010
filmsDe Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
News
i100
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Life and Style
Red or dead: An actor portrays Hungarian countess Elizabeth Báthory, rumoured to have bathed in blood to keep youthful
health
Arts and Entertainment
James Dean on the set of 'Rebel without a Cause', 1955
photographyHe brought documentary photojournalism to Tinseltown, and in doing so, changed the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
News
i100
Sport
Tom Cleverley
footballLoan move comes 17 hours after close of transfer window
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

Stolen youth

Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Scorsese in the director's chair with De Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

Made by Versace, designed by her children

Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Anyone for pulled chicken?

Pulling chicks

Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
9 best steam generator irons

9 best steam generator irons

To get through your ironing as swiftly as possible, invest in one of these efficient gadgets
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing