Within the past decade, La Liga has evolved (or devolved, depending on who you’re talking to) into a two-horse race between Real Madrid and Barcelona. Between TV contracts, exposure and merchandise, the Spanish league is divided into distinct categories: the haves (two teams) and the have-nots (18 clubs).
Qatari oil baron Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nasser Al-Thani purchased Malaga in 2010 hoping to restore some balance to the league. Looking to follow the model of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, Al-Thani wanted to build a competitive team that would compete in the UEFA Champions League and feature star players. Santi Cazorla, Julio Baptista, and Joaquin were three of the biggest acquisitions the club made last summer. Most importantly, the presence of Malaga served as a fierce opponent to Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Malaga finished in fourth place in the 2011/12 campaign, pushing them to European play in the Champions League after just two years under Al-Thani. However, new issues have come to life. Reports have been made public that the club owes millions of dollars in wages to players and staff members all throughout the hierarchy of the club. Furthermore, rumors of an ownership change are imminent as Malaga begins to pick up the pieces.
This stretch of poor times has been best epitomized when Arsenal ponied up around 15 million pounds (about 18 to 19 million euros) to take Cazorla off Malaga’s hands. Cazorla was purchased for roughly 21 million euros merely 12 months ago. Was Malaga that desperate to recoup money for one of Spain’s best players?
Cazorla led La Liga in goals outside of the box last season and tied for the most goals from direct free kicks. He has a powerful shot for such a tiny player, and as is customary for Spanish playmakers, he possesses world-class ball control, vision, and passing. A price tag of 15 million pounds implies Malaga had no choice but to get rid of him. Moreover, Van Nistelrooy has been let go, and young striker Salomon Rondon was purchased by Russian club Rubin Kazan.
Malaga’s financial crisis only amplifies the discrepancy between the two-team cloud of Barca and Madrid as they loom over the seemingly-mortal mediocrity that is the rest of La Liga. Barcelona’s acquisition of Valencia left-back Jordi Alba in July further demonstrated that the clubs that ply their trade in Spain can sometimes be nothing more than a feeder club for the two giants in Catalonia and the nation’s capital.
Valencia has finished in third place for three consecutive years, but have virtually no chance of breaking the glass ceiling into the top two. Villarreal, a club that has performed bravely over the last several years, performed way below expectations and found themselves relegated. Other clubs like Sevilla, Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao are simply too inconsistent to compete for a league title. When will this hegemony cease?