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Crucial week ahead for Malaga’s Champions League aspirations
- Updated: 4 April, 2012
Just when everything appearing to be falling into place as planned, Malaga contrived to lose for the first time at home since late October last Saturday night (the only two sides before then to have left la Rosaleda with maximum points were the big two), as Real Betis capitalised on two set pieces to poach a victory with their only two efforts on target in the entire ninety minutes.
Afterwards Manuel Pellegrini lamented his side’s inability to make the most of the lion’s share of possession which they enjoyed, as well as their inability to turn the opportunities which they created into goals. However he also urged everyone to remain calm. ‘We are still fourth, there are eight games left, twenty four points, nothing is decided yet’.
Pellegrini also denied that the recent uncertainty surrounding Malaga’s eligibility to play in European competition next season should they qualify, a situation which received plenty of press but which was ultimately resolved, had any negative effect on the team’s performance. It emerged in the run-up to the game that Osasuna, Hamburg and Nantes were all demanding that the club’s Middle Eastern owners pay up in full money owed related to transfers involving Nacho Monreal, Joris Mathisjen and Jeremy Toulalan. Failure to do so by Saturday would almost certainly have led to exclusion from Europe in 2012-13 if they indeed earn the right to do so, and so it came as no surprise when the seven million euros required were duly paid in time.
However although there was little need for such brinkmanship from a hierarchy who are clearly not down to their last few euros, the case does highlight the hypocrisy within Spanish football with regard to debt. Two clubs who owe many millions of euros to the Spanish taxman, Atletico de Madrid and Valencia, continue to borrow money to sign players and ply their trade in Europe year after year because the rules governing eligibility only refer to money owed to other clubs in transfer fees. Malaga’s debt to Hacienda? Not a cent, and for this reason some Malaga supporters see the plentiful national sports press coverage of their issues this week as further evidence of jealousy of a club which is seen as trying to muscle its way undeservedly onto the big stage.
There were also one or two interesting, if rather unhelpful, developments related to on the field issues this week. The first was that it was announced that this year, players will only receive their bonuses at the end of the season if they have finished in the top six, unlike in previous campaigns. Seventh place may be enough for entry into the Europa league if Athletic Club finish in the top six, given that their Copa del Rey final appearance is already an assurance of European football next season, but it will apparently not be sufficient to earn the Malaga squad any extra euros. Such is the nature of the club’s new found expectations.
Related to this issue, with a crucial week fast approaching and the possibility of almost guaranteeing that top six finish if they can prevail in three very winnable matches (against Racing, Villareal and Sociedad), the timing of a story carried by ‘la Opinion de Malaga’ suggesting that the club’s owners were considering hiring Galatasaray coach Fatih Terim could hardly have been worse.
The paper cited respected sources in Turkey to back up its revelation, with a top four finish considered the only way that Pellegrini could redeem himself. Following his incredibly harsh treatment at Real Madrid, and the progress which Malaga have undoubtedly made under his guidance despite injuries to key players, there will be many in football who will be willing for his sake that his team to live up to their employers’ expectations of them.Follow @icentrocampista