Malaga on track after uncertain summer

Champions League debutants Malaga are on track to become financially viable after a troubled summer for the Qatar-owned club, new director general Vicente Casado said.

Owner Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nassar Al Thani invested heavily in players and coaching staff after buying the modest Andalusian club in 2010, helping them qualify for the Champions League for the first time with a fourth-placed finish in La Liga last season.

But speculation that Al Thani was preparing to bail out - rumours that initially went unanswered - coupled with delays in wage payments and the sale of players including Santi Cazorla and Salomon Rondon, projected an image of a club in deep crisis.

In an interview at the club's Rosaleda stadium before Saturday's 4-0 win at home to Real Betis, Casado admitted it had taken too long to quosh the sale rumours.

Malaga were now on track with a restructuring that will make the club financially viable while achieving the goal of becoming a front-rank team in both Spain and Europe, he said.

"Maybe there was a little too much of a delay but there was a reaction," Paris-born Casado, who previously worked for the Madrid Masters tennis tournament and the Spanish football federation (RFEF), told Reuters.

"From outside the crisis looked much greater than what we were experiencing," added the 40-year-old Spaniard, a sports marketing expert and a fluent French speaker.

"The club was not for sale. We were listening to investors, as we must listen, but there was no attempt made to sell.

"We are demonstrating that we have a solid base but there is much still to do in terms of ensuring the club's viability."

FRONT-RANK TEAM

The club's silence was eventually broken at the beginning of August when they published a brief statement saying Malaga had begun the process of adapting to UEFA's financial fair play (FFP) rules, designed to make clubs live within their means.

Executive vice president Moayat Shatat held a news conference a month later at which he said Al Thani had no intention of selling and would continue to invest, the first official denial that a sale was imminent.

The club had promoted Casado to director general and appointed Mario Armando Husillos, a former Malaga player, as sporting director, Shatat added.

The crisis appeared to have been averted and fans' fears were further allayed by the performances of the team under Chilean coach Manuel Pellegrini.

They successfully negotiated a Champions League playoff against Panathinaikos, thumped Zenit St Petersburg 3-0 in their opening Group C match and have begun their La Liga campaign with four wins and two draws to climb to third.

"I believe that the crisis did not affect us on the pitch but instead united us, thanks to our coach who has done some great work," Casado said.

The extent of the club's financial problems was highlighted this month when Malaga was among 23 teams to have prize money withheld as European football's governing body UEFA revealed the first sanctions under its FFP rules.

Casado said the restructuring plan now underway was designed to ensure the club complied with the regulations and any future investment would be "targeted and controlled".

After the departure of Spain midfielder Cazorla to Arsenal and Venezuela striker Rondon to Rubin Kazan, Malaga signed cheaper replacements including Argentine forward Javier Saviola, United States defender Oguchi Onyewu and Paraguay striker Roque Santa Cruz.

"What perhaps hasn't been fully understood is that we want to comply with FFP and we have reoriented the club to be viable and balanced in the future," he said.

"We showed that this summer selling players and bringing others in for free.

"It was never said that the Sheikh will not put more money in and we will make targeted investments if they are necessary, controlled investments.

"A club that is competing in Europe with controlled investment and a balanced budget."

CULTURE CLASH

The uncertainty over the summer revealed something of the culture clash between Malaga's Qatari owners and the Spanish officials who run the club on a day-to-day basis.

Casado said there were lessons to be learned about how to deal with outside investors, not just in the sphere of football.

"Given the economic crisis that Spain is in we need to learn how to better welcome foreign investors," he said.

Malaga had a budget of 150 million euros last season, compared with around 500 million for La Liga giants Real Madrid and Barcelona, but the club say it is too early to name a figure for this season.

One area where they hope to boost income is from the sale of audiovisual rights, a controversial issue in Spain where clubs negotiate deals with broadcasters individually and Real and Barca take about half the total pot of 600 million euros.

Casado said Malaga were currently earning about 20 million euros from their TV deal but wanted to increase that to at least 30 million and were confident Real and Barca would show the flexibility needed to create a fairer distribution of TV cash.

"Real Madrid and Barcelona are not against it," he said.

"They have started to move and I hope that soon we can show that the gap between the clubs that earn the most and those that earn the least is narrowing."

"They need a strong La Liga to improve and not have tough matches only in Europe. For that you have to help the others."


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