Malaga woe a case of 'when billionaires go wrong'
Published: 09.08.12 / Written by: David Gold
La Liga outfit Malaga are in a curious position.
Theoretically, they are the richest club in Spain, with wealth that could even put Barcelona and Real Madrid in the shade. That is because they are one of the new breed of teams in Europe, such as Manchester City, Chelsea, Paris St Germain and Anzhi Makhachkala, bankrolled by unfeasibly wealthy owners. This season, the Andalucians are set to embark on what will be their first campaign in the Champions League.
Yet, amid what should be a glorious moment in the club's history, they are on the verge of losing their best player to Arsenal, a team who more than most have been on the receiving end of the nouveau-riche enticing their best players with promises of riches. In fact, Santi Cazorla signed for Malaga just a year ago, when they beat Arsenal to his signing.
It is a strange situation for the club to be in, but the reason Cazorla wants to leave is because of the uncertainty and unreliability of the club's paymasters. Wages have reportedly been delayed - and not for the first time, causing anguish in the south of Spain. Coach Manuel Pellegrini has admitted the concerns have hampered preparations for the new season.
On their tour of Venezuela this week Pellegrini said: "We are focused on the sporting side of things but when there are so many rumours it has to have an effect, also being away from Spain. But we are calm because we have been working very well.
"We'll see when we get back to Spain, see which rumours are true and which are not. Until there is a certain clarity about what is going on it's not good to express opinions. We'll be back in Spain on Tuesday and we'll see what we find there."
With their Qatari owners looking to sell, the biggest questions may come after a takeover is complete. The club, having signed a number of big players, and forced their way into the Champions League, will be making far less than they spend. Particularly in Spain, where television rights are not shared collectively, unlike in the other major leagues in Europe. That means that this season, if Malaga repeat their fourth place finish, they may take less in television income than the team finishing bottom of England's Premier League (though they will also receive broadcast revenue from participating in the Champions League).
And so how exactly can Malaga cope financially unless they are taken over from an equally wealthy individual?
Their fate should intrigue those whose fortunes are tied to the other teams bankrolled by billionaires. This could easily be Manchester City, Chelsea, Paris St Germain or Anzhi. If any of these teams had a similar situation arise tomorrow, then they would be in a hole too deep to dig themselves out of. Of course, this would not be such a concern were the team either owned by someone who genuinely cares about the club, or in the case of Manchester United or Arsenal, by someone so concerned with making a good return on their investment that they run the club within its means.
Malaga is just the first of this breed to face this potentially existential question. What do you do when the billionaire runs away? Lessons should be learned, but as so often happens in football, it would not be a surprise were this one ignored.