A sense of enthusiasm and expectation floated through the air in Malaga last June when the city’s club, Malaga CF, announced that former Real Madrid president Lorenzo Sanz had sold his shares to Qatari investor Abdullah bin Nasser Al Thani. Crippled by debt and on the pitch underachievement, Sanz felt it time to bring an end to his four-year reign at La Rosaleda, but in his determination to seek out the best solution for Los Boquerones worked hard to conclude a deal with the Middle Eastern businessman. And as a new day dawned on the sun-soaked southern Spanish coast, a new era began.

For a price of €36M, the famous Sheikh Abdullah, known back in Qatar as a prominent member of the ruling family, bought the chance to steer the Andalusian team into the limelight, and also gained a shot at breaking the Barcelona-Real Madrid duopoly that has marked La Liga in recent years – it is seven seasons since any club outside the ‘big two’ lifted the league title.

The arrival of Sheikh Abdullah could be just the tonic La Liga needs, but first Malaga must pull away from the relegation zone. While the club are widely expected to survive due to the large influx of talent the Qatari’s cash has ensured this winter, the situation is still serious. This weekend’s home loss to fellow strugglers Real Zaragoza at home (2-1) has left Malaga rock bottom of La Liga. Wins are needed, yet a series of new arrivals do give hope for a swift turnaround.


Malaga’s transfer activity has been aimed at laying the foundations for a side which can compete at the top end of La Liga and the players brought in are nothing if not impressive. Highly rated keeper Sergio Asenjo comes in from Atletico Madrid, and is still just 21 years old; at the back, tough Argentine Martin Demichelis has swapped Bayern Munich for Malaga; Ignacio Camacho, another Atletico young gun, boosts the midfield with Italian schemer Enzo Maresca plucked from Olympiacos; up front Ghana striker Quincy Owusu-Abeyie, who arrived in the summer, should add raw pace, while the headline acquisition is undoubtedly Brazilian Julio Baptista from Roma. The 29-year-old has had spells of note with Sevilla, Real Madrid, Arsenal and the Serie A side, as well as picking up 47 international caps.

But what could really turn the tables for Malaga is the arrival of accomplished coach Manuel Pellegrini. The Chilean boss is a well-known name in La Liga, establishing Villarreal as one of the league’s strongest sides and at times de facto rulers outside of the Barcelona-Real Madrid duopoly. Last season, Pellegrini led Real Madrid to a record-breaking 96 La Liga points, doing the heavy lifting for Jose Mourinho, and had it not been for an even greater Barcelona side, "The Engineer" would still have been resident in the Bernabeu dugout today; he succeeded Portuguese boss Jesualdo Ferreira who received the bullet in November.

And Pellegrini is doing all he can to install the will to win at Malaga: Down to nine men against Champions League hopefuls Valencia recently, Los Boquerones held their own, giving as good as they got until eventually succumbing 4-3 to Los Che. Malaga may be bottom of the pile, but in a league where the difference between the teams from third down to twentieth is not what would be expected, the odds are Pellegrini will soon lead them up the table.

With the full support of the board, the former Real Madrid boss needs to find the correct mix of motivation and tactical tinkering to turn his little Peugeot into a Ferrari GTS. His path certainly isn’t easy, but nor is it beyond the scope of his abilities; but the Chilean would do well to note that, for now, he is building a team to beat the drop, not to fight at the top of the league.

Rome of course, wasn’t built in a day, but Malaga’s new owner will lavish cash and, more importantly, patience on his club, in order to see his plans come to fruition. In a league that is begging for a third force to challenge Barcelona and Real Madrid, Malaga have inspired hope that they could be it. For now though, it pays to take things one step at a time.