28 June ~ The transfer window brings a wealth of inaccurate media reports and then a flurry of last-minute activity. This accepted practice doesn’t stop fans working themselves into a frenzy over each day’s tabloid rumours but does go a long way to explaining why the only Premier League clubs to have done any major dealing are Liverpool and Manchester United. La Liga is entrenched in a similar holding pattern as, while the daily talk of moves for Giuseppe Rossi, Sergio Aguero, Cesc Fabregas and Neymar persists, Real Madrid’s signing of Nuhri Sahin from Dortmund remains the most significant instance of a flexing of financial muscles. It seems everyone is waiting for the transfer market to begin – everyone except Malaga.
The announcement last Friday that former Spain international Joaquin would be joining from Valencia heralded the seventh signing for the Andalusian club since their tumultuous season ended in May. Backed financially by Qatari sheikh Abdullah Al-Thani after a takeover last summer, Malaga have acted quickly to strengthen a squad that finished 11th but toyed with relegation until an impressive run of form in April and May.
That sequence of five consecutive wins was masterminded by coach Manuel Pellegrini, and buoyed by the return to form of Julio Baptista. “The Beast” dispelled the doubts caused by unhappy spells in Madrid, north London and Rome by scoring nine goals and forming an impressive understanding with the Venezuelan Salomon Rondon. Indeed with Joaquin and Ruud van Nistlerooy set to join an attacking unit that already includes the now formidable duo, many are expecting a scintillating brand of football to be on display in the Costa del Sol next season.
Of even greater significance could be the arrivals of Lyon’s Jeremy Toulalan, highly rated left-back Nacho Monreal and Dutch international Joris Mathijsen to bolster a defensive effort that shipped the second highest number of goals La Liga last year. Toulalan could prove a particularly astute piece of business – the 36-cap France international, signed for a relatively modest €10million (£8.96m), will provide a much needed midfield shield to the Malaga back line and allow the team’s more creative forces to flourish.
Unlike their English counterparts, foreign owners remain a rarity for Spanish clubs (see WSC 292) but after initial scepticism, fans are now understandably optimistic about the sheikh fulfilling his promise of qualifying for Europe for the first time since a 2002-03 UEFA Cup run that featured victory over Leeds United and Lee Bowyer’s infamous stamp on Gerardo’s head.
As with all spending sprees, continuity will prove the key issue and whether this influx of new signings can gel sufficiently to mount a serious challenge to the likes of Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao will prove one of the more fascinating stories of La Liga’s opening months. Jonathan Bradley