It has been a summer of change at Malaga. After coming so agonizingly close to a Champions League semifinal berth in 2013 and surviving a European competition ban the following season, owner Abdullah Al Thani tightened the purse strings and a new era began at La Rosaleda. Malaga were six points clear of the drop in 2013-14 and finished comfortably in the top half the past two seasons - even as the team was in the drop zone after 13 rounds in 2015-16.
Now, Juande Ramos has returned to Andalusia to take over for Javi Gracia (who left for Rubin Kazan) and the club has been very active on the transfer market, fortifying last season’s eighth-place squad with savvy deals. Said deals may even help the Boquerones fight for European football in 2017-18.
To get a closer look at Malaga’s business this summer and what to expect for the coming season, I spoke with Christian Machowski (@Christian_ESEM), the Managing Director of Euro Sport & Event Management and a devoted Malaguista.
Q: Who are Malaga’s most important players?
A: Probably Ignacio Camacho, who is vital at the heart of the team's midfield. On a 20m Euro buyout clause, but at this stage looks like to stay at Malaga.
Watch out for Juanpi. The Venezuelan could finally fulfill his potential under Ramos. Outstanding talent.
Q: After flirting with relegation for a time last season, Javi Gracia helped steer Malaga to an 8th-place finish. How much will he be missed in the dugout?
A: Until mid-December, Malaga were in big trouble and Gracia's position was becoming more and more difficult, although he had the support from the vast majority of supporters, as they were sympathetic, because of so many of the team's best players being sold. Some felt at the end of the season though, that a fresh start might not be a bad thing.
Q: What is the confidence level in the well-traveled Juande Ramos as his replacement?
A: Fans were delighted when Ramos was appointed, as they had positive memories from his first stint as Malaga coach a decade ago. He is highly regarded and respected.
[On Ramos’ potential tactical setup] Ramos has been experimenting with his starting line-ups and tactical setup not clear, difficult to comment at this stage.
Q: Malaga were relatively busy this window, acquiring wingers Jony and Keko from Sporting Gijon and Eibar respectively. How do you see them impacting the team?
A: Jony and Keko have been well received and have played very well in Malaga's impressive pre-season. The likes of [Diego] Llorente, [Zdravko] Kuzmanovic and Sandro look promising signings, plus the emergence of young striker Nesery gives Ramos options and makes the squad very competitive.
I think Sandro needs games, will hopefully find his feet and become a great asset.
Q: What is the general expectation for the club this season? Better or worse than 2015-16?
A: Ramos thinks the team can challenge for a place in Europe and the fans go into the season with a lot of optimism. Over 20,000 season tickets have already been sold. If Malaga can add a prolific striker to the squad, they might be able to challenge for a European place. Top 8 finish realistic.