Soccer

Demichelis critical of Malaga's Qatari ownership

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP)

For Malaga defender Martin Demichelis, the decision by the club's Qatari owners to sell valuable players this season has created a ''sense of uncertainty'' among the squad amid its maiden Champions League campaign.

Demichelis said on Thursday it was ''a bad sign'' when the club transferred defender Nacho Monreal to Arsenal in January, adding that he fears young forward Francisco ''Isco'' Alarcon will be next to go.

''The politics of the club are not my business, but in the locker room, the sale of Monreal was a bad sign,'' Demichelis said. ''Instead of improving or keeping the same team, they just sold at the first chance. I think the next player to be sold will be Isco.

''I hope that the group is kept together and strengthened.''

Qatari investor Sheik Abdullah Bin Nasser Al-Thani spent ?120 million (then $158 million) to overhaul the squad in 2011, but this season made a drastic change of strategy and has since sold players such as midfielder Santi Cazorla and striker Jose Rondon.

Since buying the club in 2010, Abdullah Bin Nasser Al-Thani has rarely been seen in Malaga, instead leaving it under the direction of a representative.

''At the end of the season, the club's higher-ups need to show signs of life and let us see what they want to do with this squad,'' Demichelis said. ''For me it is important to know what the club is going to do from here on. There is some uncertainty. It would be a sin if Malaga didn't try to keep a project going that was supposed to be important.''

Malaga faces a decisive Champions League game against Porto in the last 16 on Wednesday when it must overturn a 1-0 loss.

''I hope we can get by Porto and continue showing that we want to stay at the top,'' Demichelis said. ''We hope we can keep advancing in the Champions League and stay in the top four spots in Spain. That would surely motivate the owners a little more.''

Besides its radical change in direction regarding its transfer policies, Malaga's players have also been at odds with ownership over back wages.

Despite all the strife, coach Manuel Pellegrini has kept his team outperforming expectations as they made it through the Champions League group phase while maintaining a hold on fourth place in the Spanish league.

Demichelis is one of Pellegrini's most trusted players and anchors a defense that is tied for second-fewest goals conceded this season in Spain. The 32-year-old Argentina international joined the club as part of its makeover in the 2010-11 season from Bayern Munich.

''It would be a shame if the project didn't continue,'' he said. ''We players placed our trust in the club when we came here and we have seen how in two years we have gone from fighting off relegation to fighting for important things.''

In December, UEFA banned Malaga from European club competitions - the Champions League and Europa League - for one upcoming season for failing to pay player wages and tax bills on time.

The Andalucian club, which was a modest club before the Qatari takeover, faces an additional season-long ban if it misses a March 21 deadline to pay its debts.

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