Real Mallorca play their first game of 2016 away at Elche’s Manuel Martinez Valero stadium tomorrow at 8.15pm. The ground is where we won the Copa del Rey final in 2003 when, thanks to two cracking goals from Samuel Eto’o, we beat Recreativo Huelva 3-0.
Mallorca will be without their misfiring Italian striker Rolando Bianchi through suspension, so it’s likely Coro or Acuna will lead the line tonight. However, the massive news from the Son Moix broke late on Wednesday night when it was announced that Robert Sarver, owner of NBA (basketball) franchise Phoenix Suns, is set to claim a majority stake in the club. Current owner Utz Claassen had issued a share option campaign as he was keen to attract new investment in the Palma-based club.
Sarver is proposing a major overhaul at the club and has outlined a three-year strategy to secure a return to top-flight football for Mallorca. It’s anticipated that Claassen will continue as president for the remainder of the season.
The new chief shareholder has been looking to enter the world of European football for some time now and it appears that Mallorca may be his starting-point. He failed in a bid to buy the once-mighty Glasgow Rangers this time last year then made an even bigger 56 million euro offer for Valencia La Liga club Levante not long after. Sarver had an interest in purchasing the Scottish championship side at the turn of the year. However, he pulled out after his £20 million offer was rejected by the Rangers board which at the time was in total disarray. It seems that setback didn’t diminish Sarver’s appetite for the beautiful game, hence his interest in Levante when he offered their directors 56 million euros for a club that wasn’t even for sale and was going nowhere in La Primera.
Their directors hemmed and hawed, causing a major rift in their boardroom. Some of Levante’s directors resigned when Sarver’s succulent offer was out-voted. Just when they thought things were about to change for the better and a leap into the 21st century was on the agenda, they decided to carry on with the old Levante. Their vice-president walked out, claiming that Levante has lost 15 years of development in just one day. This weekend, Levante are three points adrift at the bottom of La Liga.
I got wind of this takeover story last Monday when fellow expat fan and countryman Tom Cummine said it was all over social media. As long as a month ago a local paper ran the story and nobody believed it to be true. So why is Robert Sarver about to become our chief shareholder? Utz Claassen said before he took over that the potential with Real Mallorca was enormous with regard to infrastructure and tourism: the whole club is geared for La Liga football. In addition, the fairer distribution of TV money recently agreed in Spain’s top two leagues also makes even the most modest clubs healthier prospects for serious financial investment and growth.
Sarver has reportedly said his idea is to have a longer-term plan of getting Mallorca into La Liga within three seasons. He enjoys watching soccer and sees long-term business opportunities in the sport. The strong dollar against the euro would make his offer (albeit small change to a man of his financial stature) a bit more affordable. Of course these big money guys want returns for their investments: winning leagues and trophies and playing regularly in European club football competitions is all to be anticipated. His associates have a strong background of financial investment in the NBA and have been involved in the most popular and lucrative arenas in the States.
Utz Claassen kept this deal very hush hush and took most people by surprise, but it appears that Real Mallorca’s future may rest largely in North American hands. At the expected press conference on Monday, Sarver is expected to introduce 41-year-old retired basketball star, British/Canadian Steve Nash, as the man who will be in charge of running Real Mallorca. Nash, a two-time NBA “most valuable player” is co-owner of the Vancouver Whitecaps in the MLS and tried to put together a subsequently failed bid for a minority share in Tottenham Hotspur in 2008.
There’s sure to be some negative flack from the dyed-in-the-wool Mallorquinistas. One website has already called the future regime a “total revolution.” Other locals are already calling for a “Majorcan only” set up at the Son Moix - how negative is that?
Top Irish chef from Palma’s popular fish restaurant Ca’n Eduardo, Johnny Maloney, just about summed the situation up: “I think it has to be good for Mallorca, Claassen has brought stability to the club but football-wise it hasn’t really got off the ground.”