After a week when Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil went into hiding – nothing new there then! – Real Mallorca play their first La Liga game in six years when they face Basque side Eibar in Son Moix tonight at 8 pm.
Two years ago, Real Mallorca played Peña Deportivo Ibiza in their first home fixture in Segunda B, which we won 1-0 in front of 7,000 diehard fans.
Fast forward a couple of seasons and we find ourselves competing in La Primera, the top level of Spanish football.
Seven of the team that beat Ibiza are still members of the present squad, and four of them (Reina, Raillo, Sastre and Lago Junior) are expected to start tonight, in front of a crowd which could be double the number who watched that game back in 2017.
Mallorca fans could be forgiven back then for having lost hope. For years we watched a team lacking in direction, organisation and any sort of medium to long term plan. We went down from La Liga by a single point in 2013 and spent much of the following seasons either fighting relegation to the third tier or sitting in mid-table obscurity.
Fans harboured aspirations far above what they saw on the pitch, born from dreams having seen their team play in the top category of Spanish football for the best part of two decades.
In our first couple of seasons in La Segunda, panic stations set in and we went through several managers with no clear vision of where the club were going. Then in June 2017 – disaster! We were relegated to the regionalised third tier.
From these dismal lows, Mallorca are back in La Liga and fans can’t wait to get going. There’s a huge buzz of excitement amongst Mallorquinistas.
How we completed this turnaround in fortunes is in large part thanks to the astute ownership of American businessman Robert Sarver, who also owns NBA outfit Phoenix Suns.
With little experience of European football before buying Mallorca, Sarver made the decision to surround himself with people who know the game, including former Chelsea and England defender Graham Le Saux and two-time NBA top player Steve Nash, both of them in advisory roles.
A chief executive/general manager to run the club here in Palma was brought in, 36-year-old, Swiss-born sports lawyer, Maheta Molango, who was working as an executive at At. Madrid. He also played football professionally, scoring Brighton and Hove Albion’s fastest ever goal after just 12 seconds!
At first the takeover was met with typical island scepticism by some dyed in the wool Mallorca fans, but hearts are won with results and winning two promotions in as many years was a good way to win over the faithful.
However, undoubtedly, our coach Vicente Moreno has been the prime reason we’re back in the big time.
He took lowly Gimnastic Tarragona from the third tier in 2015 to the cusp of the Primera, only losing narrowly to Osasuna in the play offs. Moreno has to be one of the best coaches we’ve ever had and recently signed a contract extension. It all came down to a memorable night in June, when we needed a miracle to turn round a 2-0 deficit in the second leg play-off game against Deportivo. Three wonderful goals saw one of the most special nights Spanish football has seen for years – Mallorca were back where they belong.
Tonight's game should see Moreno pick a 4-2-3-1 system with Reina (C), Lumor, Sastre, Raillo, Valjent, Baba, Salva Sevilla, Lago Junior (who’s just signed a new contract until 2023), Febas, Rodriguez and Budimir.
Our opponents are a replica of Real Mallorca having come up two divisions between 2012/2014. In 2014 they were relegated from La Liga but were then reprieved when Elche were demoted for financial issues.
In their squad are three ex Mallorca players who came through our academy : their captain Ivan Ramis (Sa Pobla), Pedro Bigas (Montuiri) and Sergi Enric (Ciutadella, Menorca). Eibar are a beacon of hope for all smaller clubs, proving that anything’s possible with effective organisation despite being run on a small budget. Eibar will be a tough nut to crack tonight (it’s where David Silva and Xavi Alonso once went to toughen them up) as they regularly punch above their weight and have recorded five mid table finishes in a row.
EXPECTATIONS: Our budget is the lowest in La Liga with none of the Spanish sports papers giving us much chance of staying up. But with our excellent home form and Vicente Moreno at the helm we’ll give it our best shot, especially with our competitive spirit. After successive promotions the rarefied air of La Liga will be a reality check and I’ll be happy with consolidation in lower mid-table.
One thing though, this season will undoubtedly be difficult as the excitement and anticipation finally arrives – Vamos Mallorca!
NEW RULES: (1) No attacking players allowed in a defensive wall at free kicks; (2) Players can now receive the ball from a goal kick inside the penalty area; (3) Players must leave the field at the nearest point when substituted; (4) Cautions and dismissals can be delayed to allow a quick free kick; (5) Keepers must have at least one foot on the goal line when facing a penalty; (6) A player can now be penalised if the ball strikes his arm while it is stretched away from him, making his body “unnaturally bigger” And, oh yes, (7) Something called VAR seen for the first time in Palma tonight!
AND FINALLY, two beggars are sitting side by side near the Trevi fountain in Rome. One has a cross in front of him, the other one the Star of David. Many people go by and look at both beggars but only put money into the hat of the beggar sitting behind the cross.
A priest comes by, stops and watches throngs of people giving money to the beggar behind the cross but none give to the beggar behind the Star of David. Finally the priest goes over to the beggar behind the Star of David and says “My poor fellow, don’t you understand? This is a Catholic country and this city is the seat of Catholicism.
“People aren’t going to give you money if you sit there with a Star of David in front of you, especially when you’re sitting beside a beggar who has a cross.
“In fact, they would probably give to him just out of spite.”
The beggar behind the Star of David listens to the priest, turns to the other beggar with the cross and says “Moishe, look who’s trying to teach the Goldstein brothers about marketing!”