x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Qataris' plan for Malaga is to go step by step

Malaga's purchase by a member of the Qatari royal family last June opened eyes. Abdullah Ghubn, the club's vice-president, talks to Ashish Sharmar about the club's future.

Right now, Weligton, left, and his Malaga teammates do not match up against the likes of Pedro Rodriguez, centre, and Barcelona or the other top clubs in the Primera Liga.
Right now, Weligton, left, and his Malaga teammates do not match up against the likes of Pedro Rodriguez, centre, and Barcelona or the other top clubs in the Primera Liga.

When Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nasser Al Thani diverted some €36 million (Dh193m) from his global multibillion dollar business empire to buy Malaga last year, Spain took note. Here was an owner who could blow holes in the budgets of Real Madrid and Barcelona.

And so, after the impact of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed on Manchester City's fortunes since he took over the English Premier League club in 2008, Spaniards waited in anticipation.

Almost a year on and most Malaga fans are still waiting as they reflect on a disappointing season, as the anticipated spending spree to spearhead a charge for a European place did not materialise.

It has not got any better. After just 10 games of the 2010/11 season, Jesueldo Ferreira, the newly installed coach, was sacked following five defeats in a row and with Malaga in the bottom three.

The arrival of Manuel Pellegrini, the hugely respected former Real Madrid coach, showed the club's ambition, but the Chilean has also struggled. Today Malaga sit precariously just once place outside the relegation zone.

Sheikh Abdullah's right-hand man, Abdullah Ghubn, has been given the responsibility to steer Malaga. The 32-year-old vice-president was born in Libya but is of Jordanian nationality. Ghubn has been the secretary general of Sheikh Abdullah's company, Nasir Bin Abdullah and Sons Group (NAS) since 2003.

His responsibilities are worldwide, but he admits the Malaga post is one of his most testing projects.

"I have to be honest and say that to be an administrator of a club in one of the biggest leagues in the world has been more challenging than we expected," he said. "Our intention this season has always been to control the management side of the club and to work out our strategies."

It hints at reasons why the club did not splash out last year.

Ghubn says the strategy for spending was always going to be one shaped by how the club progresses.

"You have to follow your plans step by step," he said. "If you want to speak about superstar players, it's a negotiation. It's not just that this player costs you US$25 million (Dh150m) and you just go out and buy him, and that's it. You have to know first if he wants to come to you. Does he believe in your ideas and your project?

"You also have to ask what you can offer the player.

"So, we think that we have to grow as a club, and get into the right position in the league table, and then we [will be] better equipped to look at players."

That said, muscles were flexed in the January transfer window in order to help Pellegrini.

Martin Demichelis, the Argentine international defender, came in from Bayern Munich. He was quickly followed by Julio Baptista, the Brazilian midfielder formerly of Real Madrid and Arsenal, from Roma.

"Our project is step by step," Ghubn said. "In the January market we brought in excellent professions like Martin and Julio. If you bring in players like that then suddenly everyone notices you.

"That means when you speak to other star players they already know that you have important players in the team."

The strategy is to build a club and not just a team.

Essential to this is the development of an academy that can produce and develop players of the highest calibre. Ghubn refers to it as a "factory of players".

"We have already started our work on the academy," he said. "It's very important to have a proper football philosophy. This is one of the secrets of all successful teams. You need to have the younger teams following behind the first team. There has to be a playing philosophy which develops as the club and the teams develop."

Ghubn is also keen to look at the Gulf region for exciting young players. With Qatar hosting the World Cup in 2022, he is aware of the interest in football in the Middle East but is at pains to point out that the plan is a global one

"We will look at every region throughout the world and also at local talent," he said. "The most important thing is to develop players with a mentality and an identity of Malaga Football Club no matter where they come from."

Ghubn has also shown a steely side to the new owners with the dismissal of Ferreira.

His replacement, Pellegrini, who guided Real to second place in the Primera Liga last season, has presided over some disastrous results, including a 7-0 thrashing by his former club.

But Ghubn says there is no intention of replacing him nor of abandoning the ship if things fall apart this season.

"Manuel Pellegrini is a great coach and he is the right coach for our project," Ghubn said.

"Logically he needs time to improve his football philosophy with the team. Once we decided to take over we were ready to expect anything. And that includes relegation. For us this is all new.

"Imagine you have a newborn baby and it has some problems. You can't just walk away and say 'no this is not mine'.

"We will remain with the team. But from what we see I think we will be fine this season."

The challenge that Ghubn faces is a huge one, but it is one he relishes. He is constantly by Sheikh Abdullah's side but now plans to be in Malaga until the end of the season.

While he admits he hates the eight-hour flights, he loves the chance to live in the city and follow his passion for football at such close quarters.

He says it is the reason why the Al Thani family decided to buy the club.

"We have always loved this part of Spain. We come here all the time for holidays and so it was a natural move for us," Ghubn said.

"For me it's now very busy, because I always have to be by Sheikh Abdullah's side with all the other business interests.

"But that I am here now for a while tells you that Malaga is an important part of our business idea."

Ghubn is already racing ahead at full speed with the plans for the future

"We are looking at ways of developing the stadium and are interested in matters to do with television revenue because it's very important here in Spain and a real source of economic revenue."

When asked when he thinks the club will be playing in Europe. Ghubn breaks into a comfortable easy smile.

"Make sure you come back in three years time, and ask me this question again," he said.