- S.D. Eibar ready for maiden La Liga outing
- SD Eibar stengthen ahead of debut La Liga season
- Can ‘Super Mario’ live up to expectations in Madrid?
- MAN IN THE GROUND – Brentford 0 – 4 Osasuna
- Historic Basque derby welcomes S.D. Eibar to La Liga
- Munich to Madrid, via Brazil – Tony Kroos
- Rakitic in Spanish Switch
- Can Spain find redemption in Rio?
- Viva Espana! A season of redemption for Spanish football
- From the old to the new: who can fill the void in years to come for La Roja?
Onwards and Upwards as Málaga make history
- Updated: 18 May, 2012
It’s been quite a week for Málaga as the Andaluz side finally secured fourth spot in la liga to bring lucrative Uefa Champions League football to la Rosaleda for the first time in the club’s history next season.
Manuel Pellegrini’s side knew victory over Sporting Gijon would guarantee passage into European club footballs promised land, however with the Asturians also desperate for the win themselves as they looked for a dramatic final-day relegation escape act , the encounter promised to be far from the routine result some predicted.
As it transpired, Salomón Rondón’s 49th minute strike proved enough to separate the two sides. However the hosts should have finished the game off as a contest long before referee Carlos Delgado Ferreiro brought proceedings to an end with the final whistle. In truth, Málaga dominated the game and with results elsewhere going against Gijon, it was clear that Javier Clemente’s attempts to drag them from the abyss were to be in vain.
Pellegrini himself will acknowledge it has not been a perfect season as the team struggled with inconsistency – especially during the first part of the campaign, however that is only to be expected for a side that have seen such investment and transformation to its playing staff. It has been just less than two years since Málaga’s wealthy benefactor Sheikh Abdullah Al Thani bought the club from previous owner Lorenzo Sanz, and despite some considerable investment in the transfer market, the Qatari billionaire seems well-grounded enough to acknowledge success does not come overnight in football.
In Pellegrini, the club have a coach who has been allowed to work with the team and develop it into a squad of players capable of competing with the traditional powerhouses of Valencia and Atletico Madrid; the other main rivals behind the country’s undoubted giants, Barcelona and Real Madrid. The dream of course, is to challenge the duopoly at the very top, but for now securing Champions League football is a huge step in the right direction and will greatly increase the marketability of the club when dipping into the summer transfer market – the calibre of player Manchester City were able to attract after they qualified for Europe’s top club competition, is proof to this.
Speaking in the days after the Sporting triumph, Pellegrini told journalists he was happy with the side’s fourth place finish and said he believed it was another key moment in the continued growth of the club for the future: “Things happened as I expected them to, despite the number of injured players we had throughout the season. It was a great satisfaction to see how well the team handled the various complications, I’m so proud of them. We’re all working hard, and everything depends on the growth of the Club, and the level of growth in a project which has been underway for 18 months.”
The Chilean will accede there are many areas to address ahead of the 2012/13 campaign; not least the fact that Málaga managed to lose a hefty 14 games last season, despite finishing as the fourth-best team in Spain. Compare this to the number of losses from the fourth-placed teams in Europe’s other top divisions – eight for Borussia Mönchengladbach in Germany, nine for Tottenham Hotspur of the Premier League, and 12 for Serie A’s Lazio, and it is apparent there is work to be done, however the foundations have most certainly been put in place.
The second half of the season also saw improved performances from a number of players in the team; most notably Santi Cazorla. The former Villarreal star enjoyed a fantastic start to his Málaga career and struck four goals as the club won three of their first four league games, however the 27-year-old then struggled for consistency in a team still adapting together. Cazorla’s next goal did not arrive until March when he scored in stoppage time against Getafe, and there were claims from some quarters of the media that the €21m Málaga paid for his services may have been proving difficult to carry. Cazorla soon put pay to those accusations however, and his post-New Year performances proved key to the club’s eventual top four finish. His most memorable goal came at the Bernabeu when a last-gasp free-kick grabbed a point against eventual champions Real Madrid.
There have been some other outstanding performers for the club this season; Salomón Rondón fired in 11 crucial goals (vital when you take into account the absence of Julio Bapista who played just four times due to injury), Martin Demichelis was a rock at the heart of the defense, and 20-year-old Isco schemed and provided from midfield with aplomb all year. The former Valencia youngster has been so impressive this season that he has been rewarded with a call up to Vicente Del Bosque’s 21-man squad to face Serbia and North Korea next week.
Málaga’s stand-out performer was undoubtedly Jeremy Toulalan however; despite the Frenchman missing the final 12 games of the season through injury. Toulalan was nothing short of immense throughout the campaign and, at a reported €10 million, the former Lyon star proved to be arguably the transfer of the season in Spain.
Where the club go from here is key of course, but there can be no doubt that Málaga will only continue their growth, both in Spain and with the financial investment available, most-probably among Europe’s elite. Work has already begun at La Rosaleda so the ground complies with Uefa’s strict safety requirements, and with a number of additions the squad will also soon be ready for the European adventure. As for Málaga’s targets for next season, Pellegrini simply said: “What were hopes and dreams before are now our obligation. Everything will depend on the performance of the team”.Follow @icentrocampista