The Last Word: Malaga's footballing fairy tale at odds with off-field chaos

Their unfettered attacking is sublime and their defence a model of austerity

Orwell himself could not have conceived a bureaucracy as dystopian as the one that determines football's "coefficients". Things reached a nadir this summer, when England were promoted to No 3 in the world rankings, and the champions of Spain, Germany, England and the Netherlands ended up in the same Champions League group.

Poor Roberto Mancini must suspect that no other English team would have mustered even that solitary point from his first three games. Even so, many neutrals will be gratified that teams assembled as organically, and inexpensively, as Dortmund and Ajax should simultaneously embarrass the prefabricated galacticos of Real Madrid and City.

Rival fans, certainly, see only the brassy candour of cosmetic surgery in a team like City, or Paris St-Germain. A club that spends its way to the top prompts a certain ambivalence even in its own followers. They instead view this new voluptuousness as might a husband the bosom of his spouse, when swollen by the arrival of an infant – and promptly requisitioned in some unnerving new capacity. Having long cherished a private emotional bond with their clubs, fans suddenly see glory both secured and appropriated by interlopers: new owners, new fans, new critics.

Every now and then, however, you encounter a team that hopelessly addles the instincts of fans and neutrals alike. Step forward Joaquin Sanchez, whose goal against Milan on Wednesday took this summer's crisis club of Europe to nine points from nine. As it happens, Joaquin was breast-fed until the age of six. "When other lads ran to the fountain, I went to my mum's tits," he confesses cheerfully. Whatever the merits, at least it prepared him for the challenged look of bystanders. Because nobody seems to know quite what to make of Malaga.

A couple of years ago, its acquisition by Qatari interests identified the club as a Mediterranean foil to City and PSG. Those who have witnessed Qatar's emergence as an overnight superpower on the Turf can testify that these guys have their mattresses stuffed with fresh saffron every night. But even as PSG moved to the next level, Malaga were staging a fire sale – with Arsène Wenger pouncing for the prize asset, Santi Cazorla.

It was mystifying. True, the just-add-oil packaged champions were derided for their chaotic integration, but they eventually found enough momentum to snatch fourth – and so made the qualifying round of the Champions League. Yet there followed tales of unpaid salaries and fees, rumours the sheikh was fed up, selling up. The bottomless pocket had apparently become a bottomless pit.

Malaga appealed as a salutary morality tale. Those who reckon a sugar daddy is now the only feasible key to the Champions League could instead be urged to borrow the wholesome option suggested by Ajax or Dortmund. But the rump of the squad, under the seasoned Manuel Pellegrini, has somehow transformed Malaga from a symbol of the game's sickness into one of the fairy tales of the season. Their unfettered attacking is in sublime contrast to the uncertainty off the field, yet their defence has been a model of austerity. The only team with three clean sheets in the Champions League has conceded just five times in eight domestic games.

Yes, it always seemed fanciful that even Qataris could redress the inequities, in distribution of Spanish television revenue, that petrify the duopoly of Barcelona and Real Madrid. It was fitting, too, that imminent strictures of Financial Fair Play have also been blamed for the invertebrate condition of Malaga's victims on Wednesday – whose decline had been pitifully expressed, funnily enough, in discarding Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva to PSG.

Malaga may yet cash in the sensational 20-year-old Isco in January. No doubt the Premier League's big spenders will head the queue, albeit no longer able to offer the Champions League spring beckoning "The Anchovies", as Malaga are known. For now, then, let's just enjoy the legitimate, abiding succour available in the Malaga adventure – for the city's half million inhabitants, or a manager who once got Villarreal to a Champions League semi-final, or Wednesday's match-winner.

Earlier in the game, Joaquin had missed a penalty for a second time in five days. The years rolled back to the 2002 World Cup, where the young winger was one of the revelations of the tournament before missing the vital penalty in a quarter- final shoot-out. The poor guy has since been frozen out of the national squad – after 51 caps, and even as a new generation of champions emerged – and sucked into consecutive club disasters. At Valencia, he was marginalised until Silva and Villa were sold off to arrest the haemorrhage. Now, at 31, he again finds himself unexpectedly restored as the cornerstone, while his latest employers in turn repent of their initial investment. Yet Joaquin has remained irresistible throughout. A matador manqué, he has always seemed as animated by laughter and charm on the pitch as off it.

Sometimes, then, even folly can give rise to joy. The authors of coefficients, likewise, are now trying to calculate Financial Fair Play. In football, it seems, nothing is black or white – even when you are deep in the red.

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Louis van Gaal would have been impressed with Darren Fletcher’s performance against LA Galaxy during Manchester United’s 7-0 victory
football
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
News
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
i100
Life and Style
fashionLatex dresses hit the catwalk to raise awareness for HIV and Aids
Travel
travel
Life and Style
The veteran poverty campaigner Sir Bob Geldof issues a stark challenge to emerging economies at the Melbourne HIV/Aids conference
health
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and John Malkovich talk Penguins of Madagascar at Comic-Con
comic-con 2014Cumberbatch fans banned from asking about Sherlock at Comic-Con
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
filmGuardians Of The Galaxy should have taken itself a bit more seriously, writes Geoffrey Macnab
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform