27. Javi Ontiveros
In June 2010, when Sheikh Abdullah bought Málaga CF from Lorenzo Sanz for a reported price of €36 million, enthusiasm and belief began to spread through Andalucia like wildfire. For years, Málaga languished under dire economic conditions, culminating in the sheer embarrassment of two years spent laboring in the Segunda, including a 15th place finish in their first season there. Slowly, the club got back on its feet and would scratch and claw their way back to La Liga. With the Sheikh’s arrival, Qatari money would soon come pouring in, leading to the eventual rain shower that would bring in players such as Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Isco, Santi Cazorla, Joaquín and Jeremy Toulalan. The club would go on to have their most impressive season to date as they finished 4th in the table, effectively qualifying for the Champions League for the first time in the club’s history. Two highly controversial goals in added time against Dortmund in the quarter-finals would see Málaga get eliminated, gradually setting the table for the side’s ultimate destruction. A mass exodus of star players would ensue that summer, in addition to UEFA placing a ban on Málaga for outstanding debts owed.
Since that point, the Andalusians have failed to recapture the magic that had for a brief time seen them respected as a top 5 side in Spain. Despite this, they have finished no worse than 11th over the past seven years, all the while remaining a respected threat to the upper echelon of the table, especially at home. Unfortunately for Los Albicelestes, that respectable mid-table consistency seems like it’s reached the end of its road.
If there were ever a manual that could vividly detail exactly how not to conduct your transfer window, this summer’s Málaga edition would stand alone as its poster boy. After an 11th place finish a season ago and an obvious need to reinforce its ranks, the club have decided that decimation of the core is the cure to all its ills. The dearly departed consists of a who’s who of names: Sandro Ramírez, Ignacio Camacho, Pablo Fornals, Carlos Kameni, Charles, and two retirees, Martín Demichelis and Weligton. Nearly all creativity in the midfield is gone, while balls finding the back of net may become about as common as a solar eclipse. Luckily, there is one youngster still roaming the touchline of La Rosaleda who is providing a faint glimmer of hope from his burgeoning talent.
Javi Ontiveros was born about 62 km away in the coastal enclave of Marbella. Although it would seem like a logical choice for the Spaniard to latch on with Málaga’s youth academy, Ontiveros would see his journey begin at Vazquez Cultural and then Real Betis. From a young age, Ontiveros flashed the type of talent that could hardly be taught. Scouts were intrigued by a player with such obvious attacking gifts, but were let down by an attitude that would oftentimes come off as indifference. After two years, Betis had finally grown tired of his nonchalance, making the hard decision of releasing Ontiveros from within their youth ranks. Now with a cloud over his name and a reputation in dire need of repair, Javi would need someone who would be willing to believe in him again. With new ownership and an ambition to be the very best, not only from the heights of the first team but all the way down, Málaga’s youth manager, Manel Casanova, would be the first to reach out. Reciprocating that interest, Ontiveros would soon be snatched up and given a new lease on life. Back around his family and with an aunt who would take him to practice each and every day, Ontiveros’ attitude would soon turn for the better. The 13-year-old would face a long and sometimes uncertain road, however, the light at the end of the tunnel steadily began to flicker just a little bit brighter. Now at the age of 18, manager Javi Gracia would finally call him up for the senior side and he hasn’t looked back since.
Although right footed, Ontiveros prefers to play on the left side. For what he lacks in pace, he more than makes up for with an excellent ability to cross and a superb shot from distance. 1 on 1 take-ons are not only common, but embraced, as the Spaniard is happy to cut inside and provide the killer pass for awe-bound teammates. Although still extremely raw, Ontiveros has already garnered a trust at Málaga that is rare for a player his age. This is exhibited even further when you look at all of the departures that have come to fruition this summer. The 19-year-old has now featured 5 times for the Spanish U-19 side and has impressed there as well, bagging two goals for his country. Genuine comparisons have been made to another Spanish winger, Gerard Deulofeu. Although some may view this as problematic, Málaga would not blink twice if it were in possession of such a talent. Stability is something that the player has lacked in his short time with the senior side, having already played under three different managers: Javi Gracia, Juande Ramos and Michel. This uncertainty has at times hindered Ontiveros’ sense of accountability, as his ball retention has at times put his backline in uncompromising positions. Unfortunately, this upcoming season promises to be more challenging than ever. With a roster that is bordering on relegation level and five losses already from as many matches, Javi Ontiveros provides Los Boquerones with their best chance for salvation.
By: Justin Sherman/@JShermOfficial