Málaga v Almería
La Rosaleda / Segunda División / 7th September 2019
Málaga Club de Fútbol are bonkers. Utter bonkers.
On writing about my first time at La Rosaleda a couple of weeks ago, I compared Málaga to my beloved Swansea City. The comparison largely came from the off-field issues both clubs have had and are still having. However, although Swansea City’s American owners still remain absolute twats, Málaga’s owners make the Swans’ idiots look like astute custodians of the club. What has unfolded at Málaga in the past week or so has been…well, I’ve not really seen anything like it. Let me try to to give you some background. Those that know more, please feel free to correct me as I’m still learning the ins and outs of this whole Málaga melodrama.
Sheikh Abdullah ben Nasser Al Thani became owner of Málaga in 2010 and soon the ‘oil money’ went pouring into the Málaga coffers. With that, Málaga built a team that took the club to 4th in La Liga and into the quarter finals of the Champions League. Van Nistelrooy, Cazorla, Isco, Demichelis, Julio Baptista, Toulalan and so on – established names were leading the way for Málaga. Al Thani wanted to not only develop Málaga CF, but Málaga itself, as he came up with plans for a new Sports City complex, a new training ground, a new luxury marina area and a range of luxury hotels across the coast amongst other projects. Al Thani wanted to be king of the Costa del Sol jungle, but a convoluted dispute over TV rights with the league and the fact he was denied planning permission for his luxury marina led to Al Thani throwing his toys out of the pram and ultimately turning off the money tap. Sadly, for Málaga, that meant a mass exodus of their star players and Málaga have battled through the post-Champions League hangover years ever since. A rapid dip occurred from Champions League contention to relegation scraps
The club got relegated from La Liga at the end of the 2016/2017 season and thus found themselves in La Segunda last season. The monetary issues continue and the club really needed to get itself out of the second tier at the first time of asking; instead the club lost a play-off semi-final to Deportivo La Coruña and so found themselves bracing for another season in the second tier. And bracing is definitely the word as this past week has been described by many Malaga fans as the most embarrassing in their history.
How do you own disorder? Well, Al Thani seems to embrace the ownership of disorder. Despite his claims otherwise, it seems Al Thani has hit the self-destruct button. Malaga have spent the summer offloading most of their players to free up the wage bill – a wage bill that needs to be under control to conform to the league’s rigid financial fairplay rules. Whilst offloading players, Malaga did make two new signings on free transfers: José Rodríguez and the marque signing and face of the club’s latest marketing campaign, Shinji Okazaki. Well, everyone thought they’d signed. The league thought differently. Due to the club’s financial situation and the fact their wage structure was still out of sync with the league’s rules, Okazaki and Rodriguez were not allowed to be registered for the league. The club had until midnight on 2nd September. Some senior players took pay-cuts to help the club and to hopefully help those behind the scenes secure registration for the two new boys. It was always doomed to fail though. Neither were registered and both left the club and instead three relatively unknown players arrived on low wages. The fans were furious. To add to the disarray, two of the Málaga’s most popular young players were registered with the youth team meaning they can’t play for the main team until January at the very earliest. The fans were furious. The next game was to be Almería at home and talk immediately turned to protests.
Okazaki had been the poster boy of the summer for Málaga and with a former Premier League winner on the books, it was unsurprising that ‘Okazaki 23’ shirts became the most popular piece of Málaga merchandise this summer. Of course, no-one would expect that the new signing would be out the door and on his way to Huesca three weeks after signing. Annoyingly, I was one of those people who had indulged themselves by getting the Japanese striker’s name on the back of my home shirt. Initially, I’d said no to the ‘name on back’ offer, but on being offered the option for free and on realising Okazaki wore my ‘lucky 23’ I went for it. Lucky 23 indeed… With thoughts of a replacement shirt in mind, my first port of call on arriving in Málaga for the Almería game was the club shop. I figured the ‘Okazaki 23’ home shirt I owned was redundant now and having taken a fancy to the new pink third kit, I decided to invest in that lurid, sartorial masterpiece.
“Would you like a name and number on the back? It’s free,” asked the lady in the shop.
“Definitely not. I’ve learned my lesson.”
“I understand. Did you buy an Okazaki shirt? If you bring it in we’ll swap it for a new one.”
Hooray for that. Although some have suggested I hold on to the shirt as a memento of this tumultuous week in Málaga’s history; a sort of “I was there” piece. I think I’m going to take the swap though. Again, no name and number on the back when I get my new replacement home shirt, free or not. I just don’t trust this club at all anymore.
Now looking pretty in pink, I went for what is surely to become my traditional craft beer fix in Central Beers and then I was off out towards La Rosaleda, more specifically, I was heading for Bar Hermanos Madrid to meet up with the Guiri Army at their usual place.
Much love to the Guiris who again made me feel very welcome on my second time amongst them. It seemed some had read my previous blog too and so a few of the Guiris came over to me to introduce themselves. I was also joined by football writer and Manchester City fan Alex, who was holidaying in the area and had decided to come along to the game with me, it was his second rodeo at Málaga having visited for a game a few years previously (a lot had changed on and off the pitch since his last visit). Because of Alex’s ‘Citeh’ ties, we were then introduced to the famous Reggie – another Manchester City fan, who basically invented the ‘Guiri Army’ many years ago and pretty much wrote the book on Málaga…literally, he wrote a book. Just like my last visit, all was very gregarious in the Guiri bar. It was equally convivial on the streets leading up to the ground, although here you could find a more ‘pitchfork’ mentality, as fans gathered outside the stadium with placards denouncing the club regime. ‘Al Thani Fuera Ya’. Al Thani leave now.
The evening’s opponents, Almería, are just like Málaga – they have a Sheikh owner too. However, at the same time, Almería are nothing like Málaga. They’ve spent money this summer. A lot of money. Turki Al-Sheikh, the former sports minister for Egypt and the owner of Egypt’s infamous Pyramids FC, has come in and thrown his wallet about, signing 12 players in the space of 22 days. The fortunes of Almería and Málaga are at polar opposites right now with Almería being embraced by their owner and him being embraced back. A lot of the away support arrived in Málaga with their heads adorned with keffiyehs – the typical head garments of middle-eastern Sheikhs. As one club venerated their Sheikh, the other protest against theirs.
Despite the varying change in fortunes off the pitch, on the pitch there really wasn’t much in it. Essentially, both teams were pretty crap. Málaga were without four players because of the international break and that included them missing my much-loved Albanian Keidi Bare in the middle of the park. With Venezuelan playmaker Juanpi missing too, Málaga created very little and relied on going out wide to whip in crosses. Sadly, it seems that Málaga have not quite mastered crossing yet this season.
Málaga had a great sight of goal in the opening minutes, as a low cross landed at the feet of captain Adrian, but he could only drag his shot wide of the post. Málaga would be punished almost immediately.
Almería strung together the only real flowing passing move of the whole game, as they broke down the right wing. A ball across the box landed at the feet of Senegalese striker Sekou Gassamma, who slotted home against debutant goalie Kellyan Garcia. Sekou would be the villain of the afternoon thanks to some of his theatrics throughout the rest of the game, theatrics which were meant with choruses of boos and whistles from the home end.
The home end, despite the prematch protests and the toxic vibe sweeping over the club, was generally one of positivity, as there had been a call to arms over the days leading up to the game to back the young lads who were gracing the shirts. As I learned on my first visit, La Rosaleda can make a hell of a noise when it really gets going. However, undoubtedly the loudest the stadium got was during the allocated water breaks; this was the time when the protest signs came back out again: “Al-Thani fuera ya.” “Caminero corrupto.”
The second half saw Málaga have more of the ball, but ultimately they did virtually nothing with it and the second half proved to be very drab to say the least. I turned to Alex about 65th minutes in and said this game is finished already. And it proved correct.
1-0 to Almería. 3 points and a goal for the away team, who proved more street-wise than Málaga, but showed very little too. It had been an awful game. The positive to take from a Málaga perspective was the fact that the players had worked their arses off – there was just quality lacking. Málaga manager Victor Sanchez is adored by the home crowd for how he has battled through the saga off the pitch, however, the man needs help from those above him and that just doesn’t look like coming any time soon.
“You can exchange your Okazaki shirt Matt, but you can’t trade in your season ticket!” was the summary from one Guiri standing with us. Indeed – it looks like the season ticket will bring some drama with it, but will be a bit of a slog at times for the months ahead.
I was straight out of the stadium, down the graffiti-covered pathways (again, “Famillia Al Thani Fuera Ya!” “Caminero corrupto” was sprayed everywhere) to meet fellow season ticket holder Ken. Evertonian Ken, with his wife Pam, run The Tavern in Marbella and he had kindly agreed to give me a lift back to Marbs. I paid him back by having a few beers in The Tavern, as we both watched France v Albania. Of course, I was keen to watch, as our boy Bare was starting for the Albanians (although he didn’t really get a look in against a formidable French team who won 4-1).
Pessimism still sweeps through the Malaga fanbase and this week Marca have even reported that Malaga’s financial situation is so dire, that there is even a chance that the league may demote them to the third tier – similar to what happened to Catalonian club Reus (a story worth googling if you are a sadomasochist .
It is going to be a long season ahead for Malaga.