Mixed fortunes: Zenit continue expensive quest for world domination as Malaga balance the books

These two teams meet in the Champions League group stages on Tuesday night, but only one of them continues to spend big in the pursuit of perfection and glory
By Ben Hayward & Jose David Lopez

Malaga and Zenit meet in the Champions League at La Rosaleda on Tuesday as curious eyes cast their gaze on two of the continent's big-spending sides of the last few years. Two of the latest inductees to football's nouveau-riche, the pair's recent realities, however, could not be more different.

For Malaga it has been a new adventure. Following several seasons spent striving to avoid the drop in the Primera Division, investment arrived in the summer of 2010, with the arrival of Qatari sheik Abdullah Ben Nasser Al Thani. Manuel Pellegrini was brought in as coach and the transformation began. Suddenly, the Andalusians were shopping at the high end of the market.

Malaga grew quickly and following a transitional season in 2010-11, really made their mark with a string of big buys in the summer of last year, when Santi Cazorla, Jeremy Toulalan and Isco were all brought in amid a wave of excitement and expectation. Could Malaga challenge the duopoly in Spain? That was the aim, their owner said. It sounded promising.

The star signing and cornerstone of Malaga's new project, Cazorla impressed in 2011-12 but has since been sold to Arsenal
The France midfielder came in from Lyon in another exciting deal and was one of the club's most consistent performers last term
The young forward was brought in from Valencia and was a revelation in his debut season. He is now close to a senior Spain call-up
A different mentality. Nine players have arrived but the club haven't spent a single euro in a summer of cost-cutting to reduce debts

But it wasn't to last. Despite the team's impressive performances last term and the clinching of fourth place in La Liga, Malaga's owners disappeared from public view and uncertainty reigned. In the end, Al Thani failed to cough up further funds and the club were forced to dispense with several stars. Cazorla, who had been the pillar of the project, joined Arsenal in a deal worth around €19 million, while striker Salomon Rondon was sold to Rubin Kazan and others, such as Joris Mathijsen and Enzo Maresca, were shifted from the wage bill to cut costs.

Balancing the books is now the priority and the club insist they will learn from their mistakes, with self-sufficiency apparently always the plan. Malaga will not receive any appearance money from Uefa until they have settled their debts with other clubs and employees, but a summer of austerity has helped. The club also look set to rescind their contract with Unesco which sees them pay the organisation around €1.5m per year, while a lucrative television deal with Al Jazeera is being sought for the club's Champions League campaign.

Meanwhile, results have been positive at the beginning of the current campaign. Pessimism over the summer was quickly replaced by optimism as Malaga beat Panathinaikos over two legs to make the group stages of the Champions League and 10 points from their opening four league matches prove Pellegrini's side remain a force to be reckoned with in 2012-13.


A year after signing for Malaga and impressing as they finished fourth, the Asturian's sale to Arsenal set the alarm bells ringing
The Venezuelan striker was a point of reference for the Andalusians in 2011-12, but was also sold to raise much-needed funds
Local boy Apono was another player on the way out as he made his loan spell to Zaragoza permanent in the summer
Mathijsen, Maresca and Van Nistelrooy all left the club as Malaga desperately sought to reduce their wage bill

Zenit's story, meanwhile, changed in 2005 when the club was acquired by Gazprom, one of the world's largest companies and the planet's biggest extractor of natural gas. Gazprom bankrolled the revolution at Zenit and the club has grown impressively since then, claiming two Russian Premier League titles, as well as the Uefa Cup in 2008 and the Uefa Super Cup that same year by beating Champions League holders Manchester United in Monaco.

Gazprom's investment has raised the bar in Russia, forcing other sides to raise significant sums of their own in order to compete. Meanwhile, the company's president, Dmitry Medvedev, was named by Vladimir Putin as the man who should succeed him as Russia's leader, giving him a significant sway when it comes to football matters, too.

The club have brought in high-profile players and coaches ever since the arrival of Anatoliy Tymoshchuk in 2007. The midfielder, now at Bayern Munich, was the first big star to make the move to the St. Petersburg side, paving the way for further attractive acquisitions in the following years, including coaches Dick Advocaat and Luciano Spalletti, the current boss.

The Ukrainian midfielder, now at Bayern Munich, was the first major signing in the club's exciting new project
The Portuguese became the most expensive signing ever in Russian football, but has struggled with injuries ever since
With the market already closed in the rest of Europe, Zenit swooped to sign two of the biggest stars from the Portuguese league in a huge deal
A string of medium to high-profile players have been brought in to the St. Petersburg side as part of a solid investment in recent years

Big names currently on the club's playing staff include Domenico Criscito, Bruno Alves and Portuguese winger Danny, who became the Russian league's most expensive signing when he joined in a €30m deal in 2008. And having already spent the spectacular sum of €241m on new players since 2005, Zenit looked to Portugal again this summer in a huge double deal which saw the club sign Brazil striker Hulk and Belgium midfielder Alex Witsel for a combined fee of €95m. How about that for a statement of intent?

So while Malaga continue to cut costs, Zenit carry on in their pursuit of world domination. Both have bought big in recent seasons, but only the Russians are still spending. Mixed fortunes.