Graham Hunter
Graham Hunter

Málaga are already big winners

Friday 5 April 2013, 11.15CET
If Málaga CF's dream debut does finally end on Tuesday at Borussia Dortmund, it will not mean they have failed; rather, their efforts this season should be applauded.
Published: Friday 5 April 2013, 11.15CET

Málaga are already big winners

If Málaga CF's dream debut does finally end on Tuesday at Borussia Dortmund, it will not mean they have failed; rather, their efforts this season should be applauded.

So many millions of words have been written and spoken about football over the ages that truisms can either become or at least seem to be cliches.

One, for example, which is often used by coaches or managers of clubs who are in the chasing pack but who know they are just short of champion material, is that: "There are 20 teams in the league but only one club can actually win the trophy which tells you that not winning the title doesn't count as failure."

The phrasing may change but I've heard versions of that philosophy offered to me in interviews throughout Italy, Scotland, England, France and Spain. "We can't all win." Well, yes, thank you for a statement of the obvious, the pedantic might argue.

©AFP/Getty Images

Málaga have defied the odds this term

Yet there is a philosophical point in there which raises the idea way above a routine, blase phrase. What is 'victory'? What really constitutes success? If a club like Everton FC doesn't win a trophy this season but does reach the qualifying places for next term's UEFA Champions League then haven't they succeeded to a very significant degree?

And if Málaga CF go out of this tournament at the quarter-final stage, having been unable to score at home in a draw with Borussia Dortmund, is this failure or, overall, a triumph for spirit, intelligence, resourcefulness and technique in their debut campaign?

I think many would agree with my argument that coach Manuel Pellegrini has already established himself as the leading man of this European season. Circumstances, since August, have forced him to say goodbye to Santi Cazorla, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Nacho Monreal, Salomón Rondón, Joris Mathijsen, Enzo Maresca, Diego Buonanotte and Juanmi.

Those same circumstances obliged the Chilean, and the technical staff behind him, to somehow recruit Roque Santa Cruz, Javier Saviola, Manuel Iturra, Lucas Piazón, Diego Lugano and Antunes right at the end of each of the last two transfer windows for no financial outlay – loan deals or out-of-contract signings.

©AFP/Getty Images

Manuel Pellegrini has worked his magic

Yet Málaga have not only surged to the last eight in Europe; they have, crucially in my view, played with flair, adventure, optimism, respect and a sense of 'football is fun, let's enjoy this and transmit our enjoyment'. Do you see that everywhere you look across the top flight of football?

So here they sit. They have a short squad, they will be missing Weligton and Iturra for the next leg and they face one of the all-time great atmospheres at the volcanic BVB Stadion Dortmund.

It took a mammoth effort to keep themselves in the first game at La Rosaleda while Jürgen Klopp's technically superb and athletically excellent side, showing the benefit of two consecutive seasons in the UEFA Champions League, threatened to run riot.

Perhaps the second match will be beyond Pelllegrini's Boy's Own adventurers. We shall see – football is quixotic. But I was struck by one thing in the post-match mixed zone when talking to Málaga's players. They were utterly unflustered by needing to get a score draw or a win in Germany. They don't fear Dortmund and, much more importantly, they don't fear defeat either.

The buccaneer spirit of 'all for one and one for all' which has brought them this far (and produced seven clean sheets in 11 matches) is something which, they believe, might reward them with an against-the-odds victory.

I'd say they've already won. This, right now, is success on so many levels. Gracias Málaga, gracias Señor Pellegrini. Little wonder they nickname you 'the Engineer'.


Last updated: 05/04/13 15.16CET