Spain was once again the most represented nation as Friday's Champions League draw took place in Nyon, but alongside the familiar names of Real Madrid and Barcelona there was a newcomer — Malaga.
By joining the country's traditional giants in the last eight, the Andalusians made it La Liga's best representation in the quarter-finals since Valencia joined Madrid and Barca in 2003. However, Malaga's progress is much more than just a co-efficient booster, it is a remarkable journey that looked floored before it had even begun during a couple of uncertain months last June and July.
After being bought by Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser Al-Thani — a member of the Qatari royal family — back in 2010, the Andalusians embarked on a bold and expensive recruitment campaign, building a strong squad of experienced internationals and some of Spain's brightest young prospects. Yet, just when it seemed set for the big time and its first ever appearance in the Champions League, the money dried up. As it turned out, it hadn't been flowing for a while. Players had not received wages and clubs expecting transfer fees had gone unpaid.
Consequently, star players Santi Cazorla and Salomon Rondon were sold under value to bring in some quick cash.
When its qualifier against Panathinaikos came round in August it wasn't just for prestige that Los Boquerones was playing, but also the economic survival of the club.
However, that test, as all those it had faced in Europe this season, was passed with flying colours. A 2-0 aggregate victory over the Greeks opened the door to the lucrative group stages and epic European nights against AC Milan, Zenit St. Petersburg and Anderlecht.
Malaga started as it meant to go on with a brilliant 3-0 victory over Zenit, thanks to two goals from its star man Isco, and three wins from its first three games ensured Manuel Pellegrini's men were the first side to book the place in the last-16.
Yet there was more bad news to come on the financial front. On December 21, UEFA announced that Malaga was to become the first big casualty of the financial fair play regulations for its failure to pay players and other clubs on time.
Even if it qualifies for European competition next season — or the next time it does so in the next four years — it will not be allowed to compete, while it could be banned for a further campaign should it fail to show that payments to other clubs, employees or social and tax authorities are up to date by the end of this month.
Moreover, another star player, Spanish international Nacho Monreal was sold to Arsenal in January to help ensure it meets that deadline. UEFA's decision was branded “excessively harsh and negative” by the club's most famous fan, film star Antonio Banderas, but even though Malaga is appealing the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the decision can only be overturned on a point of law, and not whether it's justifiable. — AFP