Last Monday morning many Malaga fans must have woken up wondering if the previous 24 hours had in fact been a dream, as their side qualified for the Champions League for the first time in their history. However, little more than a week later, questions are again been asked about the club’s financial dealings in the wake of general manager Fernando Hierro’s seemingly imminent departure.
The evidence suggests that Hierro has had enough of owner Abdullah Al Thani’s endless brinkmanship with regard to paying his bills, whether they be players and staff salaries or transfer fee instalments. Malaga currently owe around 25 million euros to various bodies, including the Spanish taxman after failing so far to pay all of the VAT owed on the Santi Cazorla transfer fee. If these debts are not cleared by June 30th, they run the risk not only of being excluded from European football’s biggest club competition, but also being demoted from La Liga.
It seems highly unlikely that Al Thani would allow this to happen, having already invested so much in the club, and indeed he has already avoided a similar threat back at the beginning of April when various clubs were pressing for money they were owed. It is also worth bearing in mind that there are a number of clubs who have far more pressing financial concerns than Malaga.
However if an article which has recently appeared on popular Spanish website Periodista Digital is to be believed, it is the manner in which Al Thani goes about his financial dealings which has convinced Hierro that his future lies elsewhere. Rather than following the normal weekly or monthly model of pay cheques, the owner waits until paying a visit to the Costa del Sol (a relatively infrequent occurrence), asks how much he owes and promptly pays up.
The website claims that this unusual modus operandi could in theory claim an even more high profile victim, with coach Manuel Pellegrini apparently now free to leave the club should he so choose now that he has remained unpaid for more than three months.
It remains highly doubtful that the Chilean would choose to walk away at a time when the ‘los boquerones’ are about to rub shoulders with the elite of European football for the first time, but Hierro has clearly decided that he no longer wants to deal with the tensions caused by the constant uncertainty regarding salaries. After meeting with al Thani in the Middle East, he was told that the owner had no intention of changing his approach, and thus a parting of ways was inevitable.
Despite the apparently troubled waters behind the scenes, moves are already been made to strengthen the squad ahead of what will be in all likelihood an historic 2012-13 season. Reports suggest that a bid has been made for Bologna and Uruguayan star Gaston Ramirez, although this may be in part a reaction to the possible exit of Isco, who has recently been linked with a move to Barcelona. A cheaper and more likely addition may be former Rayo Vallecano midfielder Mohamed Diame, who would arrive on a free from Wigan Athletic. However the priority this summer will undoubtedly be a top quality striker, even if the expected return of Julio Baptista would be the equivalent of a new face after he missed nearly all of last season through injury.
All in all, Malaga fans have much for which to be grateful to Al Thani, who has already provided a significant cash injection which has taken the club from La Liga strugglers all the way to the Champions League in just twelve months. In that same year nearly 40,000 Malaga shirts have been sold, seven times as many as during the previous season, and the demand for tickets at La Rosaleda remain far in excess of its capacity for the first time in many years. However it seems that they will have to continue to put up with his rather unconventional approach to business for as long as he remains the owner, and hope that it does not ultimately have serious consequences on as well as off the field.