By Humphrey Carter

PALMA

LANCE Armstrong was the first cyclist to win the Tour de France seven consecutive times, Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon and Gerry Armstrong was the first British footballer to play for Real Mallorca and is a legend in Northern Irish football history for scoring the winning goal against Spain in Valencia in the 1982 World Cup.

Striker Armstrong moved from Watford to Real Mallorca after catching the club's eye during the 1982 World Cup, which he finished as the fourth top goal scorer in the competition, in 1983 and played for two seasons during which he made 31 appearances and scored eight goals. Unfortunately, the first season was marred by an accident at the old Luis Sitjar stadium and his second season was spent in the Second Division. “We were in a fight to avoid relegation and were coming to the final run of the season. We were playing a crucial game at home against Valladolid, if we had beaten them we would moved have leapfrogged over them in the league and away from the drop zone - so the pressure was on. We had enjoyed a real good run for eight and nine games and clawed ourselves up off the bottom and a win would have shot us over fourth from bottom with five or six games to go. We went out with a lot of determination and I cracked one in from about 20, 25 yards. The fans went crazy. They all surged forward and, as I was celebrating, I could see the barrier collapsing and all the fans piling in to the dry moat. It was a heartbreaking moment watching part of the stadium come down. I thought people were going to be killed. The game was stopped for 20-25 minutes while they sorted it all out and I think the worst injury was just a broken wrist. It looked horrific. After that, they closed the ground. We had to play the rest of the games away with little or no support and got relegated,” he said during an interview at the Santa Ponsa Country Club.

But, despite Armstrong's second season in the Second division being a tough one with some hard games at rough grounds, he has fond memories of his Mallorca years and still keeps in touch with some of his former team-mates like Damia Amer and Pep Bonet. Serra Ferrar was coach of the reserve team and Barcelona and Mallorca legend Miguel Nadal was in the youth reserve team.

Armstrong, arrived from Watford, after previously playing for Spurs in “super fit” condition but found the old training set up somewhat unusual and limited and the heat was one of his biggest challenges. After two great years living in Portals watching the port being built, he left to join West Bromwich Albion, who played Real Mallorca yesterday, Chesterfield and Brighton before retiring at Millwall in 1987, a year after retiring from international football with Northern Ireland. He represented his country for nine years during which time he made 63 appearances and scored 12 goals. Four of them were in the 1982 World Cup in Spain.

On hanging up his boots he had two stints as assistant Northern Ireland manager and during his most recent turn under Lawrie Sanchez, helped guide Northern Ireland to wins over Spain and England.

He has also established himself as one of the best football commentators and analysts and this season will be his 13th covering Spanish football. He covers six or seven games per week, Liga and Premier League, for Sky and ESPN in Asia - he has an audience of around 500 million per week.

With so much experience in the Spanish league, both on and off the pitch, he has also become the Spanish soccer guru for top Premier League managers who sound him out on Spanish players which have caught their eye.

And over the past week, during his summer holiday in Majorca, which is “home from home” for Armstrong, the retired striker caught the eye of the British businessman Paul Davidson who is expected to buy a controlling stake in Real Mallorca over the next ten days.

Over the past few weeks Davidson has been holding talks with a number of people with experience in Spanish football. He has been sounding out the former Real Madrid and England star Steve McManaman and he has also been keen to hear what Armstrong has to say. Armstrong was equally keen to listen to Davidson's plans for the club and he says that he likes what he has heard. “I told him that we need to get some new players and new faces in quick with the season just around the corner and I think he knows that he can't hang around too much longer. He's taken Keith Wyness (former Chief Executive at Everton) and it looks like he's going to take over the whole show from a a marketing point of view. “He made it clear that he doesn't know anything about running a football club, but he loves the island, loves the place and wants to do the right thing. He said he's got Keith coming in and has a lot of faith and belief in what Grande's done with the football side of things at the club. Why change things and it all makes sense to me,” Armstrong admitted. “Grande and his team are good at picking players so all he's going to do is generate the funds. He sounds very, very positive, very determined and I have heard nothing to tell me other than that,” he added. “Everything he said to me I thought was exciting. It's now a question of making it happen over the next few months. From a playing point of view the season's coming in very quickly and you have to up and running in the first week in September. Otherwise you start off at a deficit. “Any new players coming in should arrive in the next two to three weeks so there's time to get then bedded in and ready for the start of the season. “I'm very happy with the way Manzano (coach) has handled things and I filled Davidson in on his record with the team and how good he's been, why he got a long term contract from the club and why he's still the right man for the job. “So I don't see a problem with all of that. The playing side's not a problem it's just a question of sorting out the takeover and getting it sorted as soon as possible. I know that's what Davidson wants to do, he wants to show the fans that he means business and generate the funds through his various schemes for the football club.” Armstrong says that Davidson's business plan “seems plausible” and that it is now just a question of implementing it.
The former Real Mallorca striker also approves of Davidson's plans for the supporters' clubs and creating a large English and German fan base.
Armstrong revealed that he is expecting to have a meeting with Wyness once he arrives on the island and that Grande is due to sit down with Wyness at the end of this coming week to look over a list of players.

A British player will be good for the club, Armstrong says. It will be good for the fans and help to generate extra attraction. “It was great for us as pundits when Beckham, Owen and Woodgate were all playing in Spain. It created a link between us all and generated a load of interest in the UK. I think a similar kind of thing would happen if a British player was signed by Real Mallorca,” he said.

Northern Ireland striker David Healy, top scorer during the Euro 2008 qualifiers with a total of 13, is one player Armstrong believes is well suited to come to Mallorca. “There are four or five gaps in the squad but it all depends on the financing and also getting the right balance. There's no point bringing in a British or German player just for the sake of it, for PR and marketing reasons” he warned. “We need a centre forward, there's a gap in the midfield and at the back. We've lost Guiza, Jonas and Ibagaza, top players. “Getting the balance right is crucial for any manager and over the years Real Mallorac has found that balance and produced some top European football and footballers. “Mallorca's known for being a club which gives players from some of the top squads like Barcelona and Real Madrid an opportunity - Samuel Eto'o being the prime example - and I've seen some great young talent in Spain over the past few years. Giovanni dos Santos who has gone to Spurs is one. “I would not mind seeing us move for Sergio Garcia who went down with Zaragoza at the end of last season, but we've got to make sure these players fit the bill and come for the right price. “I know the fans don't like seeing all the top players being sold, but on the other hand, it's good business for the club,” he added. “But, like I say, they've got to reinforce the squad.” “Arango's a good finisher, he's more of a striker for me than Webo whose an attacking right side midfield player. “If I'm playing strikers or players who get forward, I want them to either score or create goals and that's perhaps where Mallorca's lacking right now. “Ibagaza was clever and creative, his legs were going a bit but bring him on for 20 minutes and he could change the game. So we need another creative midfield player as well,” said Armstrong who is going to be keeping an even closer eye on his favourite team this season and may have something more to say about its future in due course if Davidson “makes it happen” over the next week or so.

Wednesday could mark the start of a new chapter in Real Mallorca's history in which Armstrong already has his place.

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