Malaga: Will UCL Success Keep Manuel Pellegrini at Malaga During UEFA Ban?
Malaga are set to be without European football next season after UEFA handed them a ban for non-payment of bills, meaning that this season's run in the Champions League might be their last adventure on the continental stage for some time.
Having spent heavily in the transfer market under the ownership of Sheikh Al Thani, Malaga propelled themselves into the top four of Spanish football in the 2011-12 season, guaranteeing Champions League football for the present campaign.
Having made it through the group stages, they now face Portuguese side Porto in the last 16.
Manager Manuel Pellegrini is one of the most respected names in the game and has enjoyed success in Europe at Real Madrid and Villarreal prior to Malaga—but the fear now for the Andalusian side is that they may lose their head coach if he cannot be tested at the highest level.
A big run this season in the Champions League might be the only way to convince Pellegrini that he can have an important role to play in the longer term with Malaga. Here are the pros and cons of that situation that the club have to consider.
Malaga's Achievements to Stay in the Top 4
Ruud van Nistelrooy, Jeremy Toulalan, Joaquin...the arrivals were impressive as Malaga scoured far and wide to bring some top talent to La Rosaleda, but the way the team gelled so quickly was testament to the players themselves as much as the head coach.
Malaga secured a top-four finish, imperative for generating financial rewards as the initial free-spending was quickly curbed.
This season, in addition to putting in some impressive performances on the continental stage, Malaga have maintained their competitiveness domestically and currently sit fourth in La Liga table, two points clear of Valencia in fifth but some seven points behind Real Madrid in third.
With 14 matches left to play, the situation is clear: The battle for fourth place is pretty much between Malaga and Valencia, with Real Betis and Rayo Vallecano slight outsiders.
With the UEFA ban currently in place, even a top-four spot won't guarantee Malaga continental football, but it might show Pellegrini that the team has consistency and competitiveness to regularly feature in the upper echelons of Spanish football, rather than just being a one-season wonder.
It is notable that Pellegrini's former club Villarreal, who were not too long ago competing in the Champions League themselves, now feature at the Segunda Division level.
What of Pellegrini himself, and his ambitions?
The Chilean manager has already been head coach of Real Madrid—in Spain at least, it's not going to get much bigger than that. Arguably he has already had the biggest job in all of club football.
On a personal level, though, he may believe himself capable of being the man to break the stranglehold of Real and Barça on La Liga, and that Malaga are the team to do so.
If that's the case it's going to take a monumental effort and no short amount of improvement, despite Malaga's success so far—they currently trail the league leaders Barcelona by 23 points.
Over time they may be able to close that gap, and a season without continental football might aid that progress...but at the same time, the boss will know that reputations can be won and lost in the space of a single campaign.
He could opt to leave Malaga on a high, citing the unavailability of European football as a valid reason, and progress his career elsewhere.
Chelsea have already been linked with a move for him in the summer (via Guardian) as their new replacement, and others will follow if Pellegrini indicates he wants to leave.
Malaga's Top Players and a Year Without Champions League Football
It's not just the boss who might choose to leave in search of more sustained European action.
Some of Malaga's top players have found their best form again and will be in high demand in the summer, especially those who can offer larger salaries or extended football in Europe.
Isco, Weligton, Nacho Camacho and Jesus Gamez might be some of those in serious demand, while Nacho Monreal has already departed for Arsenal.
Replacing such top talent without the lure of European football immediately will be difficult for Malaga, and Pellegrini may not want to risk trying to keep the club playing at the same level with a lower quality—and possibly quantity—of playing staff.
Champions League Glory: Job Done?
So back to the initial question: Is Champions League glory enough to convince Pellegrini that he should stay at Malaga and lead them to further future successes?
It could certainly work both ways.
Victory, silverware and the adulation of supporters are all powerful incentives for an individual to decide to stay at a club, pledge their future and forge longer, stronger bonds of friendship.
All of which would be undone in a heartbeat if the club gets off to a poor start in the new campaign.
It would also cause an extremely embarrassing situation for UEFA (which they would no doubt find a quick remedy for) to discover they had banned their own reigning champion from taking part in the Champions League next season.
On the other hand, after continental success, where else could Pellegrini take Malaga?
Would that be the end of the journey, the ultimate destination which could never be bettered? He would hardly have a better time to walk away with his head high and leave his successor the unenviable task of emulating him.
It can also be acknowledged that "success" in Europe could be relative for Malaga. Making the quarterfinals, or semifinals, could be well beyond the initial plans of the club's owners, board and coaches for this season.
Again, performing so well could give Pellegrini—especially if other clubs are interested in securing his services—the inclination to jump ship while the going is good, leaving his reputation intact and polished in Spain and beyond.
It's going to be another interesting summer ahead for Malaga, and their most significant deal of all might turn out to be merely keeping in place the man who already leads them into weekly battle.