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Third time lucky: Juan Ramón Muñiz completes Malaga CF return

Muñiz (centre), between (from left to right) Caminero, Barek, Benítez and Águilar.
Muñiz (centre), between (from left to right) Caminero, Barek, Benítez and Águilar. / Salvador Salas
  • This is the Asturian's third spell as head coach, having earned the team promotion to La Liga back in 2008

Almost 110 days have passed since then sporting director Mario Husillos sat down for a meeting in Valencia to gauge the interest of Juan Ramón Muñiz in taking over as Malaga head coach. Muñiz, who had just been sacked as Levante boss, had his reservations, but now, almost four months later, the vacancy has been filled by the man who had been the favourite all along.

Muñiz signed a two-year contract on Wednesday morning to lead Malaga CF, albeit only as a head coach, not in the general manager role mooted (and then discarded by owner Sheikh Abdullah Al-Thani) some weeks ago - the second time Malaga approached the 49-year-old.

While it looked like the move would never come to fruition and the club's new sporting director José Luis Caminero started to shortlist new candidates, Muñiz's name returned to the table after his family made it clear that their hearts were set on a return to the city and that they were devastated when it fell through. What's more, Muñiz was the first choice of Husillos, club consultants Abdallah Ben Barek, Francisco Martín Aguilar and Antonio Benítez, Al-Thani and now Caminero.

"The future has been clarified"

Speaking at his presentation on Wednesday afternoon, Muñiz thanked Caminero for the opportunity, and explained why the job was a better fit now than it was in March. "The first contact took place many months ago. There were 10 or 12 Liga games still to be played; now there's a new situation, the project is very defined, and the future has been clarified. Being here is a pleasure [...] I thank everyone who contacted me to be part of this project."

He also made it clear that collective responsibility would be the key to success. "Everyone always has responsibility at work, and you have to respond to that expectation. It's about maintaining enthusiasm and being willing to improve every day, starting with me," he said.

"It's not about just one person accomplishing a goal, it's about a group of people. If one of those parts fails, the project will begin to experience problems."

Despite talk of unity and hard work, one word, however, was not mentioned: promotion. While this is clearly the objective for the club, Muñiz was reluctant to talk about it. When asked, he said: "The most important thing is to take it step by step and to ensure that by March, we are near the top of the table."

This will be no easy task, said the 49-year-old: "The [second] division is getting better all the time; there are better stadiums, better players and a higher level of skill.

"There are no favourites in any match... When you see the table it can be scary. There are teams that competed in Europe not long ago, teams that believe that their badge is enough to win matches. But we know that that only thing that matters is what happens between now and June 2019. If you're not up to scratch, the division is most unforgiving."

Familiar surroundings

This is the Asturian's third spell in charge of the team. Muñiz was first at the club as assistant to Juande Ramos in 2003, before taking up a role as head coach with neighbours Marbella. However, he returned to Malaga as coach in 2006 and earned promotion to La Liga for the Blue and Whites in the 2007/08 season.

Shortly after, he joined Racing Santander but was released at the end of the season and returned to Malaga for a short-lived second spell in late 2010. He led them to safety but was not kept on after a last-gasp 17th-place finish just before Al-Thani's arrival at the club heralded a new era and the appointment of Jesualdo Ferreira.

Muñiz then travelled to Ukraine to be reunited with Juande Ramos at Dnipro, where he acquired a detailed knowledge of the European market.

In 2015, he was appointed Alcorcón boss, earning a move to Levante the following season with whom he gained promotion back to La Liga in his first season. Their return didn't go to plan, however, and Muñiz was relieved of his duties this May.

However, it is his experience of twice earning promotion back to the big time, as well as his close ties with the club, which attracted Malaga.

Even though fans were calling for his head at the end of his second spell in charge, his work in getting Malaga to La Liga in 2008 has not gone unnoticed. During a time in which he was also acting as sporting director, Muñiz restructured the squad completely and turned the side, which narrowly escaped relegation to the third tier the year before, into one that finished second, an automatic promotion spot.