The closest most of the Costa Del Sol's 300,000 British and
Irish expatriates go to the city of Malaga is when they pass through its
charter hub airport en-route to the resorts or hillside villas they call home.
Many are aware of the existence of nearby Primera Liga side Malaga CF through
match reports in the local English language media, but for most their interest
remains a passing one.
Some remain indifferent to Spanish football, preferring to
keep in touch with British teams by watching games on satellite television; the
proliferation of live football meaning it is possible to watch almost every Premier
League tie. That doesn't satisfy everyone, not least those who crave the
match-going experience that the small screen can never provide - that's why
they follow Malaga.
Depending upon the opposition, up to 3,000 British fans
travel to Spain's sixth biggest city of 534,000 to watch the Boquerón (CF
Malaga's nickname named after the locally caught fish). In 1999, fans formed an
International Supporters' Club based at The Tavern pub in Marbella. It now
boasts hundreds of members and organises coach travel to all the home games,
with demand peaking for the visits of Barça and Real Madrid.
The expat fans have seen their ups and downs and never quite
know what to expect with their team. They were circumspect when the Qatari
Sheikh Abdullah Al-Thani took control of the club last summer and talked of a
bright future and a new 65,000-seater stadium. Malaga's current La Rosaleda
home is more than sufficient, having been fully developed with a sufficient
28,963 capacity for Malaga's 17,000 average crowds.
Al-Thani's talk was backed up by some big names. Cerebral
Chilean coach Manuel Pellegrini arrived in November after leading Real Madrid
to their record ever points haul for a season. It was a busy time - Malaga were
involved in no less than 21 transfers in the close season. Unsurprisingly, they
didn't reap instant rewards and a poor start to the season means there have
been acquisitions since.
Malaga have won just two of their eight home league games
and they're likely to be knocked out of the Spanish Cup on Wednesday by
Andalusian neighbours Sevilla, to whom they lost 3-5 in the first leg. Tickets
for the match will cost just €5 and it's worth the gamble because you never
quite know with Malaga, the team who knocked Leeds United out of the UEFA Cup
in their only season in European competition in 2002-03.
Although Malaga was
founded in 1933 and the Rosaleda stadium was remodelled to host three games
featuring Scotland, New Zealand and the USSR in the 1982 World Cup, Malaga fell
into serious problems in the early 90s and were only recreated in their current
guise in 1994. As recently as 1995 they played Tercera A, in theory Spain's
fourth division, in reality one of 17 regional leagues where crowds average
350. Three promotions in five years saw them reach La Liga in 1999 and - save
for one relegation in 2006 - they've since established themselves in the top
flight. Barcelona and Real Madrid still court many fans in the city, but
Malaga's fans are proud of their club and their international support.
Malaga beat Sporting Gijon away at the weekend to move out
of the relegation zone. The new big name players have also begun to raise
Nearly 4,000 fans met the Brazilian international Julio
Baptista this week, the former Arsenal and Real Madrid man joining Malaga from
Martin Demichelis has also arrived on loan from Bayern
Munich. The Argentina international will remain at the club if they stay up and
claims that the hugely respected Pellegrini - who took Villarreal to the
Champions League semi-final - was a big
Talented goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo also arrived from Atletico
Madrid. Asenjo's fellow Spain U21 international Ignacio Camacho also made the
move from Atleti while another new signing has been the former Juventus,
Sevilla and West Brom midfielder Enzo Maresca.
These are patently not the actions of a club who want to
finish in 17th and narrowly avoid relegation like last season. Lesser names
have also been signed and Malaga have been linked with other potential recruits
from Emanuel Adebayor to Jay Bothroyd.
Malaga are flashing the Qatari cash and they'll attract a
bevy of suitors to the sun drenched city by the coast.