Malaga coach Pelligrini praises team for 'staying focused' in tough times
Agence France-Presse in Malaga
Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini praised his players for keeping their focus through a turbulent period for the Qatari-owned club after they eliminated Porto to advance to the Champions League last eight on their debut in the competition.
Malaga's long-suffering fans have endured a roller-coaster ride since Sheikh Abdullah al-Thani, a member of the Qatar royal family, bought the Costa del Sol club in 2010 after they narrowly avoided relegation.
Hefty investment in players and the hiring of former Real Madrid and Villarreal coach Pellegrini yielded a top-four finish last term and a place in Europe's elite club competition.
But things apparently began to unravel over the summer and while rumours al-Thani was looking to bail out went unanswered, top players like Santi Cazorla were sold off to raise cash.
Al-Thani's lieutenant eventually announced Malaga were undergoing an "internal restructuring" to bring them into line with Uefa's Financial Fair Play rules. Debts to players, staff and other clubs began to be settled and a measure of calm returned.
The season began in mid-August and Pellegrini and his squad showed they were not distracted by institutional woes with a series of impressive performances that lifted them to first place in Champions League group C ahead of AC Milan.
Their dream run looked to be ending after 2004 winners Porto beat them 1-0 in last month's last 16 first leg in Portugal.
But inspired by highly-rated playmaker Isco and playing with a man extra after Porto midfielder Steven Defour was sent off just after half-time, Malaga stormed back on Wednesday to win 2-0 on the night and advance 2-1 on aggregate.
"The atmosphere in the stadium was incredible and the fans deserved a victory like this," Pellegrini said.
"It has been an unusual year," added the Chilean when questioned about Malaga's financial difficulties.
"The team deserves a lot of credit for what they have done both in the domestic league and the Champions League. They maintained kept their focus on the sporting side and had the capacity to get and got to grips with all the other problems."
"Then there was a positive atmosphere coming from a desire to help the club and the players deserve huge praise for that."