Robert Croll. | Humphrey Carter


Robert Croll grew up in Brighton in the shadow of his foster brother, Russell Martin, former captain of Norwich City and a Scottish international, so even though he loved football, he decided to take up coaching. And now, after having coached for the best part of 15 years in the UK and the United States, his Mallorcan football academy is about to enter its fourth season.

Robert first came to Mallorca on holiday as a child. “We came to Palmanova and I loved it and I guess at the back of my mind Mallorca was always there. Growing up I always fancied the idea of living in Spain and when I decided to go for it, I opted for Mallorca. I love it here. It’s paradise and to be able to be doing what I love in such a wonderful location is a dream come true.”

That said, it has not been easy. “At first I was coaching at various schools in Calvia but I needed something more serious, as I had the family to look after. So I decided to set up a football academy, but I didn’t really know how to go about it to be honest.

“Fortunately, I had my foster brother to turn to. Russell has always been a great help and since he retired from professional football, he has been running the Russell Martin Academy in Brighton.

“So, I went back to Brighton and spent some time at his academy watching and learning. Not long after I returned to Mallorca, Russell called me and offered me the chance to open up a Mallorcan wing of his academy. He said he trusted me enough!

“That gave me a strong foundation to launch the project nearly four years ago and now, with the season coming to an end, we’re getting ready for the summer camps and looking ahead to the new season, which is going to be very different and exciting.

“I started with just two kids. Now we’ve got 140 on our books aged four to early 20s and it’s really international. I honestly thought that it would be predominantly British, but we’ve got players from over 20 different nationalities. The language at the academy is English, although I do have some excellent Spanish-speaking professional coaches on the team.

RMA Mallorca is all about football for all and the academy is here to help youngsters play the sport we love - players who for whatever reason weren’t involved in football in Mallorca.

“Something that has really taken off is girls football. We have different age ranges, different ability levels and girls and boys. It is amazing. RMA Mallorca appeared out of nowhere and is now here for all to enjoy without the pressures you see in some local teams.

“Not all of the players who join want to play competitive football, they simply want to enjoy the game and the experience of being part of a club. Apart from improving their game, they also learn about respect, responsibility and teamwork. This helps them off the pitch in all aspects of life and it is something that the parents really appreciate.

“They see that we’re not just about football and trying to find the next Ronaldo, it’s a whole personal building process. At first, RMA Mallorca was not federated. We played, and still play, against local schools and clubs so that we can see how our youngsters are developing. It’s also an invaluable experience for them, one that you just don’t obtain through training alone. But last summer, I was offered a great opportunity - one that would create a player pathway from a kickabout to fully federated football.

“It was a no-brainer and so suddenly I found myself as president of Sporting Son Ferrer. What this has allowed us to do is take the players who are ready and enter them into the Spanish league. It also gives the players who are not quite ready something to look forward to and a measurable goal to work towards.

“It’s been hard work, very hard work getting the paperwork organised but so far our youngsters have played more football than ever before. Our Sporting Falcons girls team are a shining example of how the transition can be made, and next season we expect to have four or five teams ready to play league football.

“We have a 17-year-old girl taking her UEFA coaching badge with us, we also offer coaching courses, so it is pretty full-on, as is being president of Sporting Son Ferrer. I am still getting to grips with that but, like I said, the club gives the players all sorts of opportunities, although it means a lot more driving for the parents who have to take the players to matches all over the island.

“However, unlike the other local clubs, we don’t pile the pressure on the players. The competitive teams train twice a week for the weekend games, and the youngsters - the four to seven-year-olds in the “Little Ballers” club - play a six-a-side tournament every weekend. We hand out trophies to the winners and they love that.

“The camps are great fun. We don’t only hold them during the summer but at half term as well, and we do get people coming from overseas, mainly the UK. The parents come down, bring their kids to the academy and get on with their holiday while the kids have fun playing football.

“We’ve also had some great guest speakers come down to hold question and answer sessions - the likes of Craig Bellamy and Andy Carroll - and the players really enjoy meeting former professionals. So we’re pretty well set up now and looking to go from strength to strength.

“And we’re in such a great location. HQ is in Palmanova but we’ve got access to Sporting Son Ferrer’s ground for training, plus there are so many municipal pitches in the area to use as well. Calvia council has made a real effort in pushing sports tourism and it’s paying off. The island is perfect for outdoor sports of all kinds and at all levels and pretty much all year round and that’s a real bonus for us,” Robert said.

“I have to admit that we have lost a few players to the pandemic. I guess during the lockdowns and all that they took up more individual sports and activities because team and contact sports were banned. Getting back into the groove as we emerged was challenging.

“During lockdown I was doing a lot of online coaching and keeping in touch with the parents and then, once we were allowed out, it was very much one-on-one coaching. We still offer that to those players who want to really step up their game.

“However, on the whole, once we were allowed to get back to normal, the majority of the kids came rushing back and they were all guns blazing. After being locked away and restricted for so long, they couldn’t wait to get back out on the pitch again.

“But I could not have done it all without the excellent coaching team I have. I am very careful who I hire and I have the kids’ best interests at heart more than anything else. I don’t look at CVs too much, I focus on the person and how I see them working with the kids

“I think that is very important, especially when we have kids coming to us from abroad during their holidays. That is something I am looking to expand and promote more as we move forward as a federated club - I just need some coaching on my social media skills!”

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