Adelaide United and Perth Glory will host Málaga CF in pre-season friendlies at the Adelaide Oval and nib Stadium on July 25 and 27 respectively.
Both Glory and United have been busy during this off-season and the Málaga friendly is arguably their best piece of business yet. For the Reds, they will make their debut at the new Oval on a weekend where there is no Aussie Rules being played in Adelaide, and with the fixture on a Friday night a healthy walk up crowd is to be expected. As for the Glory, it will be a great opportunity for a revamped squad to not only see how well they gel but to introduce themselves to the Perth public.
But just who are the Australian teams playing? Who are Málaga?
Known affectionately as Los Boquerones (The Anchovies), Málaga Club de Fútbol was founded in 1904. In June of 2010 the club was bought by Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser Al Thani of Qatar after it fell into financial difficulties.
Málaga’s only major trophy is the 2002 Intertoto Cup. They were UEFA Champions League quarter finalists in 2013 and finished the 2013/14 La Liga season in 11th place. One of five La Liga clubs based in the southern region of Andalucía, Málaga will be the southern-most top flight Spanish club in the 2014/15 season.
Despite finishing in 11th position last season Málaga were only six points clear of the relegation zone, and coach Bernd Schuster was relieved of his duties following the final game of the season. On May 30th the club announced that Javi Gracia would take over the role.
Gracia played over 400 games for six clubs in Spain, and represented Spain at youth level on four occasions. He has managed several clubs in Spain and Greece, and achieved promotion to La Liga with UD Almería during the 2012/13 season. The 44 year old Gracia then took over as CA Osasuna coach after they struggled at the start of last season, but a final day win was not enough and saw them relegated by a single point.
Gracia was heavily linked with the Southampton job before taking charge at Málaga, who along with Los Boquerones, were fans of his preferred style of play and tactical approach. At Gracia’s unveiling as Málaga boss, sporting director Mario Husillos revealed that this was a key factor in their decision.
“We were looking for a coach with the ‘Málaga style’, someone who knows the Spanish League and has a certain line of play.”
At the same press conference Gracia revealed that he could give an opportunity to some of Málaga’s young starlets.
“We’ve got some promising stars of the future, and some of them will be included in our pre-season training.”
Perhaps we will see a future world beater lighting up nib Stadium or the Adelaide Oval?
Osasuna were a defensively minded team before Gracia’s arrival and looked to hurt teams on the counter attack, but he adapted their game plan maintaining their solid base while also allowing the team to attack with previously unseen variety. Balance is the word that comes to mind when describing Gracia’s Osasuna.
Just how he sets up his new team will make for very interesting viewing. With more attacking talent at his disposal Gracia may well develop Málaga into an vibrant and successful side that are easy on the eye, just as Los Boquerones were under now Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini.
Málaga have been working diligently to improve their squad before the start of the La Liga season, bringing in Côte d’Ivoire international left back Arthur Boka and Venezuelan international right back Roberto Rosales, from VFB Stuttgart and FC Twente respectively. They have also added highly rated 19 year old winger Ricardo Horta who is a Portuguese youth international, and secured a season-long loan deal for Liverpool’s Spanish born creative talent Luis Alberto.
Young Polish attacker Bartłomiej Pawłowski has returned to his homeland to sign with Lechia Gdańsk, and stalwart goalkeeper and cult hero Willy Caballero has joined Pellegrini at Manchester City for a reported sum of £4.4 million, rising to a total of £6 million if bonus targets are met.
So who can we expect to see put on a show?
Caballero’s departure leaves a hole in goal that is likely to be filled by Cameroon international Carlos Idriss Kameni, who was left out of the Indomitable Lions World Cup squad due to his lack of playing time. A Gold medal winner in the 2000 Olympics, this will not be Kameni’s first time on Australian soil. Now aged 30, he is the youngest football Gold medallist in Olympic Games history.
Winger-cum-fullback Eliseu will be one to watch if he features during the matches, with plenty of pace and a knack for scoring spectacular goals from range. Spanish midfielders Francisco Portillo and Ignacio Camacho, both 24, have been integral to Málaga in recent years and could feature. Portillo is a clever, creative and probing midfielder, while Camacho is a holding midfielder with a solid passing range.
Ivoirian attacking midfielder Bobley Anderson is an inconsistent yet explosive talent. Blessed with power and pace he also packs a fierce shot, and may well be given game time after a spell on loan in Belgium with Zulte Waregem during the latter half of last season.
Perhaps the biggest draw card in terms of talent is Málaga’s number nine, Paraguayan international Roque Santa Cruz. A veteran of 99 Paraguayan caps, he played for the likes of Bayern Munich, Blackburn Rovers and Manchester City before moving to the Andalucían club in 2013 on loan, before signing a three year contract with Los Boquerones at the start of the following season.
The match is set to be an exciting test for the HAL clubs and a great opportunity to build on the growing Spanish influence on the game in Australia.