Andy Mitten

Fans enthused by moneyed Malaga

Andy Mitten

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Football stadiums are usually mothballed for the close season, lonely places for lonely groudsmen. Not so in Malaga.

The Rosaleda threw its doors open again last week for the faithful to come to greet their latest signing. Over 16,000 of them braved the stifling mid-summer Andalusian heat to give winger Joaquin a hero's welcome - a higher number than recently came to cheer former Dutch international Ruud van Nistelrooy and current Dutch international Joris Mathijsen, both of whom were signed from Hamburg.

Add to this Malaga's 10 million euro record signing, Lyon's French international defensive midfielder Jeremy Toulalan. Argentina's Martin Demichelis and Diego Buonanotte have also joined the books this year, plus Spain's Nacho Monreal, the man likely to replace Joan Capdevila as left-back for the national side.

Brazil's Julio Baptista arrived at the start of 2011 and finished the season showing the type of form which attracted Real Madrid in 2005.

Backed by the billions of the Qatari Sheikh Abdullah Al Thani, who took over the club in 2010, Malaga have bought seven new players so far this summer (11 in 2011) and the fans' enthusiasm swells with each new arrival.

The crowd which greeted Joaquin was bigger than they had for some first-team games last term, a season where they initially struggled to cope with all the changes but finished strongly in 11th position.

The Qatari owners have been lavishing their fortune on a collection of solid international footballers and fans are not complaining. But then fans seldom complain when someone else's money is spent on new players.

It's not sustainable for the moment and it's ethically questionable that a club should gain an advantage from money gained from selling natural resources in another country - not that such questions are being asked in the city where Picasso was born, as well as actor Antonio Banderas - or 'Tony Flags' if you want the English translation of his name.

Los Boquerones (the club's nickname is derived from a small fish ever popular in Malaga) are being called 'The Spanish Manchester City'. Whether they will repeat City's success in winning a trophy remains to be seen, but they now have enough talent to better their best ever seventh-place finish in the Primera Liga.

They also have an outstanding coach in former Villarreal and Madrid boss Manuel Pellegrini.

Malaga will lose money this season, but they are spending big before UEFA financial restrictions kick in to establish themselves as a force in Spanish football. Now is the time. Spain is suffering a deep financial crisis, clubs are in debt and well-established giants like Valencia, Atletico and Sevilla are living relatively frugally.

The third-place spot in Spain is up for grabs and Malaga now possess the financial muscle to take it.

Investment in Malaga could make sense for their Arab owners. The Rosaleda has already been fully refurnished and holds 29,000 with space for further expansion. The Qatari owners have grandiose plans for a new 70,000 seater stadium, but are they so fanciful?

With a population of 600,000, Malaga is the sixth biggest city in Spain and it's also a one-club town. Andalusia's biggest city, Seville, is divided between Sevilla and Betis. Malaga is Malaga and it's no one-hotel town like Villarreal, another club with a wealthy benefactor.

Close by is the Costa Del Sol, with a large, in part wealthy expat population from northern Europe. Many are football fans and Malaga already boast a significant British following.

Persuading a player to go and live in Malaga is not difficult - indeed many footballers 'retire' to the Costa Del Sol when their playing days are over. There are good schools, Spain's third biggest airport and 300 days of sunshine a year.

Malaga could become an Andalusian powerhouse, especially if they can persuade some of the locals to drop their allegiance to Barca or Madrid.

The fans are rightly excited, while the rest of Spanish football hopes that the new money on the block either falls flat on their faces into a plate of Boquerones or succeeds in breaking the Barca-Madrid duopoly.

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