Malaga face uncertain future
Just when Malaga fans thought it might be OK to loosen their seatbelts, the Rosaleda rollercoaster ride looks set to continue after the appointment of former Germany international and Real Madrid coach Bernd Schuster as the club's new manager.
This week had seemed to be bringing a sense of closure for Boquerones supporters and their club. Tuesday's upholding, by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, of UEFA's European competition ban was disappointing and the club disagreed with it. In the end, however, there was an acceptance that the struggle was over. Malaga would not play in next season's Europa League, but at least they could move on.
That decision accelerated the departure of big-name players. Such exits are not exactly welcomed, but they are at least understood as the club's controllers continue to 'downsize' their investment.
Joaquin Sanchez left for Fiorentina, with fans mostly accepting that and thanking him for his contribution to Malaga's surge through the Champions League in their first season in the competition. Other key men such as Julio Baptista, Jeremy Toulalan and Martin Demichelis also edged closer to the door but - just as with Manuel Pellegrini's departure for Manchester City - the mood was less angry than accepting, with fans happy to at least have shared three memorable years with them.
Such big names were always going to leave given the new 'age of austerity' which has followed owner Abdullah Al-Thani's decision to remove his financial support but not sell up and leave. Malaga's budget for salaries next season will be about €40 million - down from €150 million just two years ago. That is a pretty drastic reduction by anyone's standards, but the reality is more nuanced than the erratic Al-Thani's Twitter followers might think.
Preparations for living within the club's limited means have been ongoing for a while now. Left-back Vitorino Antunes - signed on loan in January when Nacho Monreal was sold to Arsenal - agreed a permanent move earlier this week, while Portugal Under-21 centre-half Flavio Nunes Ferreira has also come in. The days of spending big to bring in experienced stars on big salaries are over, but these signings still seem to make sense.
And Malaga still have a decent enough squad. Homegrown playmaker Recio, 22, has gained valuable experience on loan at Granada, and looks ready to become a regular in the Primera Division for his hometown club next season. Highly-rated Spain youth international attacker Juanmi, 19, also developed on loan at Racing Santander last term.
Malaga may also be able to keep hold of long-serving, experienced players such as goalkeeper Willy Caballero, right-back Jesus Gamez, left-sider Eliseu and slow-moving but quick-thinking midfielder Duda, who all played for them in La Segunda prior to Al-Thani's arrival.
If some of the money being received for the departing stars is spent on a few carefully-selected new recruits, and especially a proven top-flight goalscorer, Malaga should have a side capable of maintaining a top-half place or even challenging for a Europa League spot that they would be able to take up this time.
This is especially true because they are not the only Spanish club 'downsizing' this summer, with Atletico Madrid, Valencia, Athletic Bilbao, Real Betis, Sevilla, Espanyol and Celta Vigo also seeing their best players leave as La Liga's financial crisis bites even deeper. For long-suffering fans of Spain's foremost 'elevator' [yo-yo] side, such a prospect is actually not too bad.
That's the bright side, though. Pellegrini, Joaquin, Toulalan, Demichelis and company might all be gone next season, but Al-Thani and his representative on the ground, Moayad Shatat, are still there. And the surprise exit of impressive sporting director Mario Husillos, along with the arrival of the combustible Schuster, suggests the drama is not yet over.
Former Boquerones striker Husillos had gelled really well with Pellegrini. The pair made such smart moves as finding Antunes at short notice in January and getting Isco to renew his contract with a clause ensuring that Malaga will receive €35 million when he leaves for either Manchester City or Real Madrid as expected.
Husillos was apparently willing to stay and continue his squad-building work, but reports in Andalucia claim Schuster was the owners' choice, and a disagreement led to him leaving before the new coach arrived.
Schuster is, maybe, as different a character from the old boss as you could find. Pellegrini's calm but firm approach helped hold everything together despite all the boardroom shenanigans. Schuster's more combustible and abrasive nature suggests he might not be as willing to keep calm when issues with the owners arise.
The official statement confirming the new man's arrival talked up his five-year contract and the club's "solid long-term plan" - but stability is not really a concept you associate with Schuster. As a player, he retired from international football aged just 24 after falling out with the German federation. Malaga are his ninth club in 16 seasons as a manager.
He did lead Getafe to the Copa del Rey final, but left immediately for Real Madrid. He then guided the Bernabeu side to the 2007-08 La Liga title but was fired less than six months later, having fallen out with local journalists, many of his players and - maybe most tellingly - his superiors in the boardroom.
So it seems the Rosaleda amusement park remains open for business. The rollercoaster stopped, and more than a few people got off - but the fun and games at Malaga might not be over just yet.