Can Malaga Recover from the Loss of Manuel Pellegrini and Isco?
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Malaga have been one of the success stories of La Liga since the appointment of urbane Chilean Manuel Pellegrini as their manager.
Pellegrini's studious tutelage over the last three years has guided Los Boquerones to the upper echelons of the La Liga table whilst his teams play a style of football very pleasing to the eye.
Despite the loss of big-name players such as Santi Cazorla and Jose Salomon Rondon, Pellegrini's managerial nous steered his Malaga side through a sensational debut Champions League campaign.
That Malaga eventually succumbed only to two injury-time Borussia Dortmund goals in the quarter-finals of the competition gives an idea of just how well the team were performing for their manager.
Indeed, an unbeaten group campaign was quite the tonic for the football romantic.
Half a season at Madrid I was with him and the last season of my career at Malaga, and my experience was very good.
On a professional and personal level, I rate him very highly. I think he proved with Villarreal most of all—and Malaga—that he could build a team and get things moving. He can create a structural culture at the club where things get better.
In that sense, and I am saying this as an ex-United player, he will build something at [Manchester] City. I only know the way he works and as a person and he is up there with the best.
And herein lies the issue that confronts the next resident of the Malaga hot-seat.
Pellegrini has shown time and again that he is adept at building a team that dovetail together easily, play for each other and for their manager. That he engenders and fosters such team spirit, and to some extent a "siege mentality," is testament to his management skills.
Some may point to a relative failure whilst at Real Madrid, but that is to largely forget that at the time, the 96 points Pellegrini's Madrid side achieved in La Liga was a record for them. It just happened to coincide with Pep Guardiola's record-breaking Barcelona side picking up 99 points in the same season.
Pellegrini's failure to land the La Liga title saw president Florentino Perez wield the axe, but it seemed to be a blessing in disguise for the Chilean who said at the time of his sacking:
I didn't have a voice or a vote at Madrid. They sign the best players, but not the best players needed in a certain position.
It’s no good having an orchestra with the 10 best guitarists if I don’t have a pianist. Real Madrid have the best guitarists, but if I ask them to play the piano they won’t be able to do it so well.
He [Pérez] sold players that I considered important. We didn't win the Champions League because we didn't have a squad properly structured to be able to win it.
As Malaga look forward to next season sans Pellegrini, Malaga owner Abdullah bin Nasser Al Thani would do well to study those words.
Rather than allowing Malaga to become his "play thing," for the short- and medium-term health of the club, Al-Thani must listen to—and heed—the advice of those in and around the Spanish game.
Yes, we were targeted from the beginning of the season by corrupt UEFA and based on racism— Abdullah N Al Thani (@ANAALThani) April 10, 2013
The air of responsibility on him is never more prevalent than now, and broadcasting his ire via his personal Twitter feed clearly does not sit well with the playing and managerial staff.
Sid Lowe of The Guardian reported Al-Thani suggesting that the reason Malaga lost in the Champions League was due to racism:
This is racism… I hope to open a thorough investigation with Uefa regarding the Spanish club out this way. Which does not effect the spirit of sport.
Yes, we were targeted from the beginning of the season by corrupt Uefa and based on racism.
As Sid Lowe identified within the same piece;
Al-Thani's view was not echoed by anyone else at a club where players have gone unpaid and there have been numerous remarks underlining the fact that players and staff consider Málaga's success theirs, not his.
Therefore, it would seem fairly clear that the immediate and continued success of the team and club in general rests with the desire of the owner to foster the team spirit and harmony that existed in the Pellegrini years.
The managerial appointment is key, and any tinkering in playing issues by the owner is a fundamental no-no if the club are to continue moving forward.
As I mentioned above, Pellegrini steered the ship through troubled waters after the loss of Santi Cazorla and Jose Rondon. Now the club is on the verge of losing Isco, who is potentially joining Pellegrini at Manchester City, per BBC Sport.
Francisco Román Alarcón Suárez has been nothing short of sensational this season, his dynamic form earning him a first senior Spanish call-up.
From outstanding performances in the Champions League to the graft, slog and hard work of a long La Liga season. Isco has been at the coalface throughout.
His performance score of 963 over the course of the season is better than every other Malaga player.
So can the team survive his loss?
Malaga can and will continue on their upward curve as long as the stewardship of the club remains on a steady, even keel.
Where non-payment of playing staff is a thing of the past. Where continuity is key, and team ethic is above all else.
Pellegrini was a master of the dressing room and did not allow outside influences to destabilise that harmony.
If Al-Thani can recruit well in the managerial department, then Malaga should be able to look forward to another season with confidence.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport (TAS) decide later today whether to lift Malaga's current European ban for a breach of Financial Fair Play regulations.
If the appeal against the sanction is successful, then the air of uncertainty that pervades the club at present can be lifted, and some equilibrium can be restored at the club.
Perhaps another European campaign—Malaga will qualify for the Europa League by virtue of their six-place finish in La Liga—is the key to attracting the calibre of individual that Los Boquerones desire.
Further, the income generated from another successful European campaign is sure to benefit the club in the short term.
One thing is certain. It's sure to be a busy summer at La Rosaleda.
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