There aren't too many club legends to talk of in the history of Malaga CF, most notably because of their chaotic rise to the top of Spanish football. Since adopting their current name, however, their fans have seen a gradual improvement at La Rosaleda and this year was no exception. A lucrative Champions League quarterfinal tie and a 6th place finish was more than fans could have dreamed of 20 years ago when the club was formed, and they know whom to thank for their success: the dream pairing of playmaker Isco and manager Manuel Pellegrini.
Since his introduction to first team football at Valencia where he bagged a brace on his debut in the Copa del Rey, Isco has been on the radar of every scout in Europe. His sublime technique and ability to trick his way past players caught the eye of clubs across the continent after leading Valencia's 'B' team to promotion and contributing 15 goals to the cause. Malaga acted quickly by activating the youngsters buyout clause of €6m, fending off interest from the likes of Real Madrid and Arsenal, but even they couldn't have foreseen the impact the youngster would have on the club.
This signing was only part of a €90m binge by Malaga's new owners who were looking to take the club to new heights, and boy did they. Under former Real Madrid and Villarreal boss, Pellegrini, the seaside club played free-flowing attacking football in 2011/12, attracting praise from many of the clubs peers. At the heart of this attack was the young starlet, Isco, making a name for himself in a revolutionary team that gave him the freedom to roam and create. Even though he only contributed 5 goals in his 32 league appearances for Lose Boquerones, or The Anchovies in reference to their coastal location, Isco proved to be a roaring success in his first season, entertaining the crowd with jinxing runs and deft touches.
Isco's abilities were plain to the eye: he liked the ball into feet as he could turn on a sixpence, bamboozling defenders even when in the tightest of spots, and this fit perfectly into Pellegrini's style of play. With Joaquin and Santi Cazorla on either side of him, they formed a devilish interchanging attack that would confuse opposition defences, dismantling their tactics and creating opening for frontman Soloman Rondon. Most impressive, though, was his relationship with Spanish international Santi Cazorla who played on the left of Malaga's attack. The two created chance after chance and were lethal on the counter attack throughout the clubs historic season.
Helping Malaga finish fourth in La Liga - a club record - and finishing with the club's Young Player of the Year award in his debut season sparked interest from across Europe, with clubs gagging for the next big thing and seeing this young Spaniard as just that. However, Isco's head was not turned and is quoted as saying Pellegrini is just one of the reasons why he chose to stay and make his mark the following season. He said of Pellegrini, "He's been my footballing father and I know that he likes me. Of course I'd like to continue with him."
This decision proved to be an astute one and in the 2012/13 La Liga season Isco became Malaga's key player after financial irregularities forced the club to sell many of its star players, including play of the season, Santi Cazorla. Regardless of these troubles Malaga, and Isco, battled on and topped their Champions League group in their debut campaign, with Isco turning in several key performances when it mattered, showing maturity beyond his years. These performances triggered a normally reserved Pellegrini to speak highly of Isco, stating, "If he tries, Isco can play anywhere. He has a tremendous future."
Although the club managed to sustain its success from the previous season things started to turn sour for the club from Andalucía in December, 2012. Still sitting in one of La Liga's Champions League spots at the time, UEFA announced that the club would face a four-year ban from European competition for failing to pay their bills.
UEFA released a statement reading, "UEFA's club financial control body has taken its first decision due to the presence of significant overdue payables.
"Malaga is excluded from participating in the next UEFA club competition for which it would otherwise qualify for in the next four seasons."
Although Pellegrini dismissed the theory that this was affecting the teams play, Malaga eventually slipped to sixth place in La Liga, scraping into Europe on the last day of the season with a 3-1 victory at relegation contenders Deportivo La Coruna. Their good Champions League form continued, however, confidently defeating FC Porto in the last-16 before controversially losing to eventual finalists Borussia Dortmund thanks to two last gasp goals from the German champions. Isco was once again in inspiring form, curling home the opening goal against FC Porto and grabbing an assist in the away leg in Dortmund. These performances coupled with Malaga's financial woes led to intense rumours that both himself and Pellegrini would be leaving the club come the summer.
After successfully appealing UEFA's proposed ban, Malaga now faced only a one-year ban from European competition, but this was no longer their main problem. Their manager had left for pastures new and looked set to be taking his key player, and the person who refers to him as a father figure, along for the ride. Winner of the European Golden Boy award, Isco knows he must continue to compete at the highest level to reach, but from his reaction on Twitter to UEFA's ban you can see the anguish in being forced to make this decision rather than having the option to stay at Malaga and continue to develop.
Isco wrote on his Twitter account: "It is embarrassing and shabby. It is completely unfair that they have treated Malaga different than many other teams with many more irregularities and debts.
"They have taken away what we have earned on the field. Neither the players nor fans deserve this. I have no more to say."
Both Manchester City and Real Madrid have been heavily linked with the boy from Benalmadena, but the prospect of playing under Pellegrini in Manchester may be too tempting to turn down. It is a crying shame for Malaga fans, who when taken over by Sheikh Abdullah Al Thani in 2011 were promised the best players in the world, yet are now faced with seeing another set of players leaving their beloved club. As the old proverb says, though, there are plenty more fish in the sea, and no set of fans know this more than The Anchovies.