Forget Barcelona and Real Madrid, Here Comes Malaga - La Liga's Answer To Manchester City

Their billionaire Arab owners have allowed Malaga CF to snap up a raft of European talent. Can they now emulate Manchester City's success and put the willies up Barcelona and Real Madrid?
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A look at last season's final La Liga table will have left many struggling to see a future where Barcelona or Real Madrid don't end up as Champions of the Spanish top-flight.

Barca won 30 of their 38 league games during 2010/11 - finishing 4 points ahead of Real - but there was a massive 21 points between Jose Mourinho's team and 3rd placed Valencia - and then a further 9 point gap to Villarreal in 4th.

With nearest challengers Valencia finding it difficult to hold on to some of their better players recently - a long running duopoly appears the only outcome.

Short of the Chuckle Brothers taking over at The Bernabeu or The Camp Nou - it's hard to envisage the level of mismanagement it would require for another club to genuinely and consistently challenge their superiority.

That's only likely to be reinforced by the way TV money is distributed among clubs in Spain - currently a source of much debate - it sees the league's two richest clubs given approximately half of the €600m pot - while sides at the opposite end of the table get a much smaller slice of the pie.

In these sort of circumstances surely only a staggering amount of investment can threaten the status quo - the sort of which the Premier League's seen with Manchester City.

Purchased by Abu Dhabi United Group in August 2008 they've spent in the region of £400m on new players in order to put City in the UEFA Champions League and within touching distance of a genuine challenge for the Premier League title.

It's arguable Malaga CF will need even deeper pockets to get near Barcelona and Real Madrid - but like City - they now boast a very ambitious Sheikh at the helm who's not afraid to flex his considerable financial muscle.

Abdullah Bin Nasser Al Thani is a Qatari billionaire who bought Malaga CF for a reported €36m just over a year ago and has big plans for the club that include a new 65,000-seater arena - to be called 'Qatar Stadium' - and a training academy covering 120,000 square metres.

All very ambitious when you consider Malaga CF have usually averaged crowds of 17,000 in the past - sometimes up to 3,000 of them British expats - but Malaga is Spain's sixth largest city with a population of 534,000 - so there's big potential for growth.

January saw the likes of Julio Baptista, Martin Demichelis and Ignacio Camacho brought to Andalusia - but their transfer dealings have moved to a whole new level this summer.

Abdullah Bin Nasser Al Thani saw the club achieve a respectable league position of 11th in his first season - this despite his first managerial appointment - Jesualdo Ferreira - parting company with the club in November 2010 after a very difficult six months in the job - which saw Malaga CF take just 7 points from their opening 10 games.

Ferreira's replacement - the Chilean Manuel Pellegrini - worked wonders to bring about a real turnaround in fortunes that saw Malaga win 7 of their final 11 league matches - although the former Real Madrid Head Coach - who's won league titles in Argentina and Ecuador - is by no means the only big name to arrive at La Rosaleda.

January saw the likes of Julio Baptista, Martin Demichelis and Ignacio Camacho brought to Andalusia - but their transfer dealings have moved to a whole new level this summer.

At the time of writing Pellegrini has made 9 new signings since the transfer window reopened - spending just under €60m in the process.

Three of the players brought in are defenders - Nacho Monreal from Osasuna (€6m) Sergio Sanchez from Sevilla (€2.8m) and Joris Mathijsen from Hamburger SV (€2.5m).

Five of the new arrivals will compete for places in Malaga's midfield - Isco from Valencia (€6m) Joaquin from Valencia (€4.2m) Jeremy Toulalan from Lyon (€11m) Diego Buonanotte from River Plate (€4.5m) and Santi Cazorla from Villarreal (€21m). Up front the only arrival so far is Ruud Van Nistelrooy on a free transfer from Hamburger SV.

There's every possibility the spending will continue too - with Malaga still being linked with a host of big names that - depending on which newspaper you read - may include Didier Drogba of Chelsea, Palermo's Javier Pastore and even Wesley Sneijder of Inter Milan.

Manchester City have become equally accustomed to speculation about their potential transfer targets - but the similarities certainly don't end there.

Both clubs wear the same colours home and away - each set of supporters has endured many trophy-less seasons and tough times in their respective nations lower divisions during the 90s - each has also had to watch local rivals enjoy greater success.

In fact the similarities are still continuing - the difference is they're positive now - inspired by two Sheikhs - who've this week broken their own clubs individual transfer records to sign two of the brightest talents in European football today in Santi Cazorla and Sergio Aguero.

Of course big spending never guarantees quick success - even Manchester City had to show patience - and a 7-0 defeat against Real Madrid back in March was a harsh reality check for Malaga - but the clever money suggests we're likely to hear a lot more about this team from from the Costa Del Sol - nicknamed 'Los Boquerones' (The Anchovies).

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