Malaga had turned a corner, putting their summer financial insecurities behind them to qualify unbeaten for the latter stages of the Champions League and rising to fourth in La Liga equipped with the league's best defense.
Then came a kick in the teeth.
Shortly before they were due to end 2012 by hosting Real Madrid, UEFA's Financial Control Body—from nowhere—announced a €300,000 fine and, more importantly, exclusion from the next season's European competitions should they fail to get their house in order by March 31.
In the immediacy of the announcement—like in the summer when financial instability forced the sales of Santi Cazorla and Salomon Rondon—it seemed to unite the club. They went on to beat Real Madrid 3-2 with a Roque Santa Cruz double and one from Isco.
In the aftermath since though, there is a feeling of discontent, disappointment and confusion. They say they don't understand what the punishment is for, insisting their house is now in order, while UEFA's statement offers little information as to the exact reason they have inflicted these penalties on Malaga—a further statement is expected this month.
It has led to the birth of Manifesto for Malaga, an online petition "to alert UEFA on the harshness of the penalty imposed." Yesterday, Diego Buonanotte became the latest player to add his name to the cause as the total of signatures approached 60,000.
As much as Malaga do protest though, and they may be completely right to do so, the darkness of last summer's financial indiscipline is still fresh.
Qatari Sheikh Abdullah al-Thani's withdrawal of money towards the end of last season led to a domino effect. First of all, sporting director Fernando Hierro suspiciously left, then four players lodged a complaint that they hadn't been paid, other clubs suggested they were owed money from transfer fees and even former owner Fernando Sanz was demanding €3 million.
Malaga's queries now lie in the fact that these issues are all, seemingly, sorted. The four players have moved on—some for large fees—the club's transfer ban was lifted in August, one of the clubs owed money, Osasuna, have publicly backed them and it's reported that al-Thani has reinvested another €7 million into the club, so impressed is he with the work of Manuel Pellegrini's side this season.
On Tuesday night they endured a tough 70 minutes before overcoming third-tier Eibar in the Copa del Rey, setting up a quarter-final meeting with Sunday's La Liga opponent's Barcelona.
When the Champions League resumes, fan optimism is high that over the two legs they can overcome their Iberian neighbors Porto, and who can blame them after the way their team dealt with AC Milan, Zenit Saint Petersburg and Anderlecht in the group stages.
Although despite all these positives, if they don't get the UEFA decision overturned, or at the very least explained, then some of the hard work from this season may end up feeling like a complete waste of time.