Perhaps it’s their passionate fan-base. Or maybe the enamour of that rich Andalusian culture. The weather in Spain’s south-west coast is certainly pleasant but, then again, the weather’s nice elsewhere too isn’t it? Or perhaps it’s simply that this particular team has very little to lose. Whatever the source of Sheikh Al Thani’s sudden infatuation with Málaga C.F., his intentions seemed unlikely to differ from others of his ilk: inflate the transfer budget, undermine the manager and await a certain supremacy that will never come. But, after a year of the Qatari presiding over the mid-table outfit, the indications are that their ascent won’t involve whimsical spending and bitter spats á la ManchesterCity and the like. At Málaga, they’re going to be doing things a little differently.
Last season a certain Merseyside outfit splashed out some £35 million on casino dwelling Andy Caroll. Meanwhile, a London club was struck by the blues when their extortionate acquisition of Fernando Torres for £50 million didn’t quite yield the results they had envisaged. In June last year Sheikh Al Thani, a wealthy Qatari apparently partial to watching the odd game of football, purchased lowly Málaga C.F. for a meagre €35 million. A shrewd piece of business from an astute tycoon who recognises that Spain, hard hit by the recession, is something of a buyer’s market, unlike England. So, spending spree time right?
As it turns out, the Málaga hierarchy weren’t so overzealous in their pursuit of Ronaldo, Kaká, Villa et al. Instead, the club has recruited modestly, signing players appropriate to their needs, seldom squandering millions where millions needn’t be squandered. Last January’s transfer window saw the arrival of Julio Baptista (aged 29) for €2.5 million, Martín Demichelis (aged 30) on loan, Diego Buonanotte (aged 23) for €4.5 million and Enzo Maresca (aged 31) on a free transfer.
So, a decent forward, a seasoned international defender, a promising prospect from overseas and a well-travelled Italian midfielder. Hold on, where’s the antagonistic prima donna with the extortionate price-tag? Or how about an international centre forward who’s seen more hangovers than training sessions? Could it be that Málaga are trialling the rather prudent approach of carefully assembling a team that is, or perhaps even exceeds, the sum of its parts?
Of course, Sheikh Al Thani did dismiss the head coach during the first few months of his tenure, its something of an unspoken rite of passage among the elite of football ownership after all. However, he subsequently appointed erstwhile Real Madrid manager, Manuel Pellegrini to helm the club, ultimately delegating all football issues to, wait for it, the football manager. This decision proved imperative to comfortably eluding relegation last season. Such tactics will certainly render Al Thani something of an outcast at the next foreign football club owner’s function but, alas, each success has its costs and the long-game may soon prove to be a fruitful approach for the Qatari.
This measured tactic is in lieu of the more erratic Manchester City-esque approach to handling new-found affluence. If Sheikh Al Thani truly aspires to disrupt the duopoly of Spain’s top-flight, he would be well-advised to learn from the mistakes of his England-based counterpart. In their first full summer transfer window under new owner Sheikh Mansour, Manchester City enlisted the services of a cavalcade of stars, ostensibly Emmanuel Adebayor for £25 million (now eager for a permanent transfer to Real Madrid); Kolo Touré for £16 million (currently suspended following a failed drugs test); and Carlos Tevez for around £25 million (now plotting an exit strategy to anywhere that isn’t Manchester). [Incidentally, there aren’t any decimal points missing in those numbers.] These recruits would be joined the following summer by everyone’s favourite insolent caricature, Mario Ballotelli, thus completing the cast of controversial, albeit frequently entertaining, characters.
The operating theory among the figureheads of Abu Dhabi United Group had been that relentless, and often reckless, activity in the transfer market would inevitably be accompanied by silverware. However, it turns out this tactic is best adopted by 12 year-olds with a short attention span and a copy of Championship Manager. Certainly City’s trajectory hasn’t been completely flawed, as evidenced by their improved standing in the league (they placed 9th in 2008 and 3rd in 2011) but a solitary trophy seems an underwhelming return on their extravagant spending.
Meanwhile, Málaga’s restrained expenditure has garnered them a marked improvement on 2010’s 17th, finishing 11th last season. The summer thus far has seen them bolster their squad with a more daring venture into the transfer market, recruiting Jérémy Toulalan for €10 million on a four-year deal; Juaquín Sánchez for €4 million on a three-year deal; and Ruud Van Nistelrooy on a free. Unfortunately, however, regardless of what signings they make, a shadow forever looms over any aspirations Los Boquerones might have. While the upper ranks of the premier are at least somewhat penetrable given the correct personnel and finances, attempting to separate La Liga’s perpetually dominant top two is a futile endeavour. The role of third wheel in the Spanish Primera División has been occupied by numerous clubs, often with unsavoury brevity. So, Málaga C.F. do face the danger of becoming merely the next flavour of the month.
In that respect, God knows why so many wealthy entrepreneurs are compelled to enter the ever turbulent world of football. It seems to be the venture of the eccentric tycoon in desperate pursuit of adoration rather than, say, profit. However, in their peculiar attempts to cultivate the affection of their fan-base and fabricate football’s next heavyweight, the business plan of most foreign owners typically consists of a shopping list featuring more luxuries than essentials.Manchester City magnate, Sheikh Mansour has subscribed to this mentality, much to his own detriment, but Málaga owner Sheikh Al Thani could be a welcome departure from this hackneyed stereotype if he were to accomplish prosperity on something of a shrewd budget. Of course, if he fails he could always purchase another club elsewhere, perhaps on Spain’s East coast. I hear the weather’s nice there this time of year.