By Graham Dunbar
Champions League contender Malaga was banned from European club competitions for one upcoming season by UEFA for failing to pay players wages and tax bills on time.
UEFA says the Qatari-owned Spanish club could be banned for a second season within the next four years if it misses a March 31 deadline to pay its debts, which are reported to include $11.6 million in unpaid player wages.
Malaga published a statement criticizing "disproportionate and unjustified" actions by UEFA, which wants clubs to pay debts and attempt to break even on football business to meet "Financial Fair Play" rules.
UEFA announced the sanctions, one day after Malaga was drawn to play FC Porto in the Champions League last-16 round. It will be barred from the first Champions League or Europa League it qualifies for in the next four seasons.
UEFA's club finance judicial body also fined Malaga ¤300,000 ($396,000).
The club can appeal the sanctions direct to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and Malaga says that it intends to fight the decision "energetically and without rest until justice is served by appealing to all the necessary institutions."
Malaga is set to collect around $33 million from UEFA in prize money and share of television revenues from playing in this season's Champions League.
Malaga qualified for world football's most prestigious club competition for the first time by finishing fourth in the Spanish league last season.
The club's rise was fuelled by a takeover by Qatari investor Sheik Abdullah Bin Nasser Al-Thani and a spending spree on players.
Malaga says that Sheik Abdullah Bin Nasser Al-Thani was still fully committed to the team, as shown in his "recent injection of $9.2 million into the entity."
Malaga is currently fourth in the league which - before the sanction - would have been enough to earn the right to play in the Champions League playoff round in August, needing to beat one opponent to enter the lucrative 32-team group stage.
Malaga plays Real Madrid next. Madrid coach Jose Mourinho says that he hopes a solution can be found for his team's rival.
"If a team wins the right (to play in European competitions) on the pitch, it would be sad that it is sanctioned for reasons that have nothing to do with its performance," Mourinho says.
Malaga says UEFA was using the club as a "scapegoat" in order to "set an example."
The club also said that the information regarding unpaid wages and transfer fees was incorrect.
"Contrary to all the information that has appeared regarding the unmet commitments with Osasuna and its very own players, Malaga affirms that said commitments have been met according to established agreements," the club says.
Osasuna club president Miguel Archano confirmed on Friday that Malaga had paid the $1.3 million it owed its fellow Spanish club for the transfer of Spain defender Nacho Monreal.
Clubs must pay their football and tax debts as a condition of getting a license from their national association to play in UEFA competitions.
UEFA has enforced a licensing system for almost a decade, but the rules and potential sanctions have gained a higher profile in the "Financial Fair Play" era.
Since 2011, UEFA has been monitoring clubs' finances more closely and now requires them to aim toward breaking even on their football-related business as a condition of entry for the Champions League and Europa League.
Eight other European clubs were also punished on Friday by UEFA's financial control body.
Five clubs - Bucharest clubs Dinamo and Rapid, Serbian club Partizan Belgrade, and Croatia's Hajduk Split and Osijek - face a one-year ban from European competition within the next three years if they miss the March 31 deadline to settle debts.
Four of the clubs were also fined $132,000 each, and Hajduk was ordered to pay ¤80,000 $105,000. Arsenal Kiev of Ukraine was fined $99,000, with $39,600 becoming due only if the club misses the March deadline to settle. Vojvodina of Serbia was fined $13,200.
The case against Lech Poznan of Poland was dropped.