19th place, La Liga
By Daniel Rubens
Not too long ago, Malaga CF were at the table with Europe’s elite clubs. They were one of the smallest clubs there, but as a side in the midst of a golden generation, Malaga’s situation looked extremely promising.
Then, it all came crashing down. Now, less than five years after their greatest achievement, Malaga are
For most of Malaga’s history, the club was a yo-yo side between the top two divisions, never able to fully establish itself in the top flight but never bad enough to drop off the map altogether. The club’s roots date back to 1904, when the first football team was established in Malaga, an Andalusian city on Spain’s southern coast which today has the country’s sixth-biggest population. By 1912, another club, FC Malagueno, was founded, and the two sides developed a heated rivalry. The original team was renamed Real Malaga FC in 1927 after being granted royal patronage, and both sides were founding members of the Tercera Division (third tier) in 1930.
However, within a few seasons, Malaga ran into financial troubles. In 1933, Malaga shut it doors and merged with Malagueno, becoming Club Deportivo Malacitano, which in truth was just a rebranding of Malagueno, who were better off financially and in football terms. The new club debuted in the second tier the following season when it expanded from 10 teams to 24, and after a handful of decent season in the league, the club set the stage for its future success, renaming itself as Club Deportivo Malaga and also opening its new stadium, La Rosaleda, which it still calls home.
After the end of World War II, Malaga won its way into the top flight for the first time in 1949, surpassing Granada on the final day of the 1948-49 campaign to finish second. They stayed in the top flight for two years before falling back to the second tier, where they won promotion immediately. They rode the line between the top two divisions in the early part of the 1950s, with two more relegations before settling in the Segunda Division in the latter half of the decade. Malaga dropped into the third tier once, for the 1959-60 season, but immediately popped back up.
The 1960s saw three more promotions to the top flight but no stay that lasted longer than two seasons. Finally, in 1969-70, a second-place finish in the second division led to a five-year stay in La Liga, during which Malaga finished as high as seventh place twice and made a Copa del Rey semifinal. That run of success came to an explosive and sudden end, however, as team leader Sebastian Viberti left under controversial circumstances after the 1973-74 season and the side was immediately dumped back into the second division.
Over the next two decades, Malaga rode the line between the top two tiers, spending no more than three years in a row in either, until disaster struck in 1992, when the club was dissolved due to financial problems. The club’s reserves, however, continued to play (as CA Malagueno), winning promotion from the third tier to the second before being caught up in
This was the catalyst for a swift rise up the ranks. Los Boquerones were immediately promoted from the Tercera Division in their first season, won their way out of the Segunda Division B after three campaigns, and spent just one season in the Segunda Division proper, riding a dynamic attack to a league title and a comfortable promotion back to La Liga. The club established itself as a top-flight mainstay, even appearing in European competition in 2002 when Malaga won the Intertoto Cup and appeared in the quarterfinals of the UEFA Cup.
An exodus from the team followed, and after hovering in the top flight, Malaga went down with a last-place finish in 2005-06. After a two-year stay in the Segunda Division, though, they were back in the top tier, and they’ve remained there ever since, thanks in large part to a significant helping hand from the Middle East.
After an eighth-place finish in the first season back in the top flight, Malaga dipped all the way to 17th in 2009-10, narrowly surviving in La Liga. More monetary problems behind the scenes led the club’s president to seek out help, and in the summer of 2010, Malaga was sold to Qatari sheikh Abdullah ben Nasser Al Thani. He became president later that summer and added high-profile players including Salomon Rondon and Eliseu, and after a slow start to the season, he replaced manager Jesualdo Ferreira with Chilean Manuel Pellegrini.
This proved to be the stroke of luck the club needed. Pellegrini further strengthened the side with international-quality players, including Martin Demichelis and Julio Baptista, and he led the club to an 11th-place finish after entering with it mired in the relegation zone. Ahead of the following season, deals with Nike and a sponsorship agreement with UNESCO gave the club a wealth of cash, which it used to sign a few huge names, including Jeremy Toulalan, Ruud van Nistelrooy, and Santi Cazorla. Those new faces got help from some holdovers, including former Spain international Joaquin, defender Nacho Monreal, and budding superstar Isco to finish fourth in La Liga and nail down a Champions League place for the first time in club history.
Los Boquerones made it through the playoff and a tough group including AC Milan before beating Porto in the Round of 16. They were on the verge of a semifinal appearance, leading Borussia Dortmund 2-1 in stoppage time, before heartbreak hit when Dortmund scored two goals — either of which could have been ruled out for offside — to knock Malaga from the competition. They finished sixth in La Liga, though, which would have qualified them for Europa League play had debts not excluded them from the competition in an ominous sign.
Now, early in the new campaign, the situation once again looks problematic. After a busy offseason in which the side’s two most consistent players from a year ago, Ignacio Camacho and Sandro Ramirez, were sold, Malaga’s new season has started with three consecutive losses. Los Boquerones have scored just one goal and lost twice at home, and they’re now staring at a stretch of four consecutive games against Atletico Madrid, Valencia, Athletic Bilbao, and Sevilla, just one of which will be played at home. There’s a real chance Malaga could begin the year with seven straight losses, and they still must travel to both Barcelona and Real Madrid before the end of November. Malaga have started slowly and recovered before, but if they aren’t careful, this could be the year where they aren’t able to do so. They need to start winning as soon as possible, because if they don’t, it might not happen until it’s too late.