Back on the right track

What a difference a year can make. This time last year, Malaga had just been comprehensively beaten at La Rosaleda by Betis in the derby and were second bottom of La Liga.

In a bid to remedy the chaotic summer overseen by then sporting director Francesc Arnau, club owner Sheikh Abdullah Al-Thani brought back Mario Husillos to orchestrate the Great Escape.

It started well when he brought in Ignasi Miquel on a cut-price deal from Lugo to plug a gap in the side's leaky defence, but the sacking of coach Míchel, who had saved the team from the drop the previous season, plus his scattergun spending spree and the uninspiring appointment of José González, saw Malaga headed down a one-way path to relegation.

Besides Miquel, none of the eight January recruits made any discernible impact, with Maxime Lestienne the only one to really get up to speed before the end of the campaign. Alberto Bueno, Isaac Success, Samuel, Manuel Iturra, Mehdi Lacen and Brown Ideye all arrived on the back of little game time but the fact that none were able to get match sharpness before the end of the season pointed either at bad coaching or a bad attitude from the players - or both. Whichever case it was, it reflected badly on González and Husillos, both of whom paid with their jobs.

All this meant that within the space of five years, Malaga had gone from Champions League quarter-finalists to relegation as early as mid-April. Discontent was voiced in the stands with the baying mob telling Al-Thani, Husillos, González and the "mercenary players" that they could "¡vete ya!"

Unsurprisingly, morale was incredibly low when the summer arrived. And when months passed without the appointment of a sporting director or coach, many feared the worst. But then came the turning point. Segunda specialist and two-time Malaga boss Juan Ramón Muñiz, whom the club had been pursuing since Míchel left, finally got on board. As did former Atlético Madrid director of football, José Luis Caminero. Between them, what had been a disastrous summer quickly became a good one with players of pedigree, including Argentinian forward Gustavo Blanco Leschuk and Senegalese midfielder Alfred N'Diaye, coming through the door.

The average age of the team also came down with the return of some of Malaga's top young players who had bafflingly been sent out on loan in January, such as Javi Ontiveros and Álex Mula. However, the biggest revelation was undoubtedly the promotion of Jack Harper to the first team.

Few could have imagined the turn-around that followed. Three months into the season and Malaga were top, a position they had held since the second matchday. Their seven-game home winning streak was the best in the division.

The inevitable loss of form followed, though, when long-term injuries to Luis Hernández and Juankar and suspensions started to take their toll. But after Saturday's draw with Osasuna, Malaga are still within touching distance of the top spot and go into the break in third, just two points off leaders Granada.

With January fast approaching, Caminero, undoubtedly the signing of the summer, will have a few tricks up his sleeve to strengthen the squad even further. Time was against him in the last window, but with a few additions to add depth to the squad, Malaga could well be back in La Liga when we review things again this time next year.

But come what may, Malaga are in much better health now than just a year ago and credit where credit's due - the club today is unrecognisable from the one that dropped out of the top flight without fight. The deadwood is gone and the side is competitive once again. The minimum fans expect.