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Off-the-radar: Francisco Javier López Bravo - malagueño through and through

Sarthak Kumar narrates the story a legend who would be instrumental in taking CD Málaga from the four tier to the first within seven years

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images
In light of Barcelona's upcoming fixture against Málaga...

Málaga had a reserve club, founded on May 25, 1948 when CD Málaga took over a junior club, CD Santo Tomás, with the purpose of establishing a reserve team. The club was renamed Club Atlético Malagueño, reviving the name of one of the two clubs that had merged to form CD Málaga in 1933.

During the 1959-60 season CA Malagueño and CD Málaga found themselves together in the third level. As a reserve team, the former should have been relegated. To avoid this, they separated from their parent club and registered as an independent club with the Royal Spanish Football Federation.

In 1992 when CD Málaga dissolved after financial difficulties, CA Malagueño continued playing. The 1992-93 season saw them playing in Tercera Division Group 9. After a successful campaign, the club was promoted to Segunda División B However, the following season the club was relegated again and, facing financial difficulties, also seriously faced closure. On December 19, 1993, in a referendum, the club’s members voted in favour of changing names and, on June 29, 1994 CA Malagueño changed their name to Málaga Club de Fútbol S.A.D., becoming from then an official succession to what was previously called Club Deportivo Málaga.

In the midst of that institutional chaos, a legend was born.

A legend who would be instrumental in taking CD Málaga from the four tier to the first within seven years - from 1992 to 1999 Málaga pushed to reach back to their rightful place in the first division. A legend who would stay until, under Joaquín Peiró, the club won its only title - the Intertoto - in 2002, and went on a dream run in the 2003 UEFA Cup, bowing out on penalties in the quarterfinals.

A legend was born. And better - he was from Málaga.

Francisco Javier López Bravo, aka Bravo, was born and bred in the El Palo neighborhood of Málaga. A center-back, he would make his debut at the age of just 18 with CA Malagueño in 1992 in the Tercera, a season that ended with promotion.

Bravo played the majority of matches with Málaga with the no. 3 shirt. While usually reserved for the player in charge of covering the left side in a defense of four, Bravo was used as a right-sided center-back or right back. At less than 180 centimeters tall, he was strong but not tall, in divisions (Segunda B and Tercera) where height is fundamental. He would play diagonal balls on the floor and initiate attacks in divisions where the long ball was prominent.

He was surprisingly quick for someone so strong. He was surprisingly technically sound for an all-action defender. He was surprisingly calm for someone so young - for which credit goes to veteran center-back Juan Carlos Añón (who played for CA Malagueño from 1981-84, CD Málaga from 1984-91 and Málaga CF from 1994-96) for guiding Bravo.

It took the Costa del Sol based club a promotion to Segunda B in 1993, a relegation back to the Tercera in 1994, another promotion in 1995 and three long years in the Segunda B to reach the Segunda in 1998.

It was then when Bravo underwent a transformation that propelled the club to new heights.

It had already begun under Ismael Díaz, under whom the club went up to the Segunda, but it was a mainstay under Joaquín Peiró. The transformation - from right center-back to right-back - led to a second successive promotion, with Málaga wrapping it up on the 39th jornada with a 3-2 home win against Albacete. Bravo scored in that match, a match that is as important in the club's history as the years of success that followed.

The coach, Joaquin Peiró, brought Bravo back into central defense to play mainly with Mikel Roteta, to make space for new signing Roberto Rojas and to provide experience in the center of the park. Bravo played a total of 27 matches in his first season as a La Liga player, with performances that led to rumors of a departure to a bigger club.

But he stayed, and played three more seasons in the First Division with the club. His second season was also very successful, but knee injuries drastically curtailed his progress, in his final two seasons - in Málaga's first ever ventures in Europe.

A new transformation followed - one that took advantage of his technical ability as his pace deteriorated.

Joaquin Peiró transformed him into a defensive midfielder becoming the perfect foil to the aggressive physicality of Sandro (aka Carlos Alejandro Sierra Fumero), and admirably taking on a role previously filled by the more heralded Gonzalo de los Santos and José María Movilla.

He was able to take on this role and work his magic because of his vision of play and excellent ball control, as well as his intelligence to occupy spaces and to read the game. His versatility meant that when the occasion demanded it he could come onto the pitch for any one of those three positions, making him a perfect backup.

After completing his time with Málaga CF, Bravo played for Rayo Vallecano, where he failed to play a game, and so he looked for a new opportunity in UD Almería, in the Segunda División, playing eight games in the red and white jersey .

After that stage, Bravo began a tour of different teams of the Segunda B and Tercera - Racing Portuense (2004-05), Melilla (2005-07), CD La Unión (2007), Oviedo (2008), Vélez (2008-10) and retired at Rincón de la Victoria (2010-11), whose technical staff he would then join.

Currently, Bravo is focused on his training as a football coach, and once said he would like to, one day, coach Málaga.

Every malaguista would like that too.

This article is reproduced from a series on the faces of Spanish football. You can read it here.

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