Barcelona may have signed Alexis Sanchez and Madrid might still move for Neymar, but this summer’s most significant La Liga transfer will surely be Málaga’s snapping up of Santi Cazorla. The former Villarreal schemer’s arrival is a very clever signing for Málaga. He’s played an impressive leading role in Villarreal’s more than decent recent La Liga and European campaigns and has 34 Spanish caps and a European Championship winners’ medal at only 26 years old. He’s also already shown he can improve under the tutelage of Málaga manager Manuel Pellegrini, and should now be approaching the best years of his career.
Even more importantly though, making Cazorla their signature new arrival of the summer shows that Málaga, just 12 months after being taken over by Qatari billionaire Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nasser Al-Thani, are maybe not following the usual path taken by small clubs which got rich quick. Cazorla is an excellent player, but he’s not really box office. You could say that his name doesn’t easily roll off the tongue in Beijing. Even in Spain, he’s generally seen as a competent and reliable understudy within the national squad. Málaga did not have to outbid Madrid or Barcelona, offer stratospheric wages, or use media allies to launch a destabilising press campaign to smooth the move. Instead they calmly picked out the player they needed that would best improve their team, and brought him in relatively quickly and quietly. This contrasts pretty significantly with the approach taken by others suddenly blessed with seemingly unlimited budgets.
Málaga’s transfer dealings are overseen by Antonio Fernandez, former number two to Sevilla’s experienced sporting director Monchi. Fernandez clearly knows what he’s doing. He has avoided getting drawn into long drawn out negotiations for players that the club might be able to afford but would not be able to persuade to play for them. No other teams have been accused of bottling deals that were unlikely to ever happen in the real world. It seems that the agents of Ronaldo, Messi, Iniesta et al have not been hassled. Málaga could probably have afforded to move for the actually available likes of Pastore, Sneijder, Agüero or Tevez this summer. It looks from here though that they chose not to, and instead have calmly and surely added to the squad in an understated and intelligent manner.
Ruud van Nistelrooy and Joris Mathijsen from Hamburg and Jeremy Toulalan from Lyon will bring plenty of top-level know-how to the dressing room. Nacho Monreal from Osasuna looks likely to be Spain’s next first choice left back. Joaquín from Valencia should be good for morale. There’s also some very promising attacking talent to develop in the shape of Isco from Valencia and Diego Buonanotte from River Plate. All these players have arrived for relatively sane prices. Less than €60 million on nine players seems positively restrained for a club with great wealth to play with. €6 million for Monreal and €19 million for Cazorla looks especially good value when compared to the money spent in recent years on (just to choose two names totally at random) Joleon Lescott and James Milner.
The new arrivals are joining a team which finished last season in fine fettle, organised by a manager who has shown plenty of team-building nous and tactical acumen over a long career. Although Málaga were hovering just above the relegation zone at Christmas, Pellegrini got his act together in the new year. Winter window signings Julio Baptista, Martin Demichelis and young midfielder Nacho Camacho settled in quickly alongside existing talent including José Rondón and Eliseu. A real sense of team spirit was soon evident and a decent run of results saw Los Boquerones end the season comfortably in mid-table. The new additions make Málaga’s squad look just as good if not better than anyone else in La Liga, outside of Barcelona and Madrid of course.
Meanwhile, off the pitch, things have been humming along nicely too. There’s believable plans in place for a new 65,000 seater stadium and a high-tech training and youth development facility. Earlier this summer former Madrid and Spain centre-back Fernando Hierro was lured from his previous post at the Spanish Football Federation to manage the club’s longer term strategic development off the field and provide some important pull (what the Spanish call enchufe) with the authorities, should that be required. The infrastructure to support a title challenging and Champions league qualifying team is quickly being put together.
Of course there’s no guarantee that everything will now fall perfectly into place and Málaga will immediately start winning trophies. Or that Fernandez and Pellegrini won’t launch a €70 million bid for Neymar just as soon as this blog is published. And I’ve chosen to ignore certain facts which don’t fit my argument - such as Jesualdo Ferreira only lasting nine games as manager last season and some reported quotes from the owners about putting Madrid and Barcelona in their place. The general gist holds true though. Just because you have the cash doesn’t mean you must immediately splash it as noisily as possible. The signing of Santi Cazorla will prove just that.
Dermot Corrigan is an Irish freelance writer living in Madrid and writing about football at Sport 360, Fox Soccer, When Saturday Comes and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter here.