GENEVA – Champions League contender Malaga was banned from European club competitions for an upcoming season by UEFA on Friday for failing to pay players wages and tax bills on time.
UEFA said 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 immediately published a statement criticizing "disproportionate and unjustified" actions by UEFA, which wants clubs to pay debts and attempt to break even on soccer business to meet "Financial Fair Play" rules.
UEFA announced the sanctions a day after Malaga was drawn to play FC Porto in the Champions League final 16. The team 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 $396,000.
The club can appeal the sanctions direct to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and Malaga spokesman Vicente Casado said that the club would do so when it "receives documentation from UEFA about the decision."
Casado said late Friday that the club "did not know why" it had been banned, adding that "as of today all our players have been paid their wages for this year and previous years." He added that Malaga had paid off all its pending debts for transfers and was suffering a "campaign of harassment" from European soccer's governing body.
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.
Associate Press writer Joseph Wilson in Barcelona, Spain, contributed to this report.