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2009-2010

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The following article was written by Sid Lowe for the Guardian in December 2009 and encapsulates the 2009/2010 season and the trouble the club were in. Lowe, who is a must follow for any Spanish football fan, has also written a book on Spanish history.

Let’s face it, most hypnotists are rubbish. But then Gregorio Manzano is not most hypnotists. Some convince people to eat onions when they’re apples, to squawk like hens or to suddenly and unexpectedly fall asleep in front of the camera as if they were presenting Estudio Estadio. Others persuade a bunch of suggestible simpletons to talk in tongues, don hilarious plastic glasses, or perform like circus seals, honking and clapping and begging for fish. Not Manzano. The Real Mallorca coach has a unique and altogether more impressive act – convincing an entire football team that they are actually quite good, when they are not.

Because, make no mistake, Mallorca are rubbish. Or, at least, they should be – a football club with no fans and no hope, rattling around a soulless stadium while their old ground still stands abandoned a few kilometres away, goalposts slowly engulfed by the weeds. A financial, social and institutional wreck where the owner turned out not to be the owner at all, having failed to put any money in but succeeded in taking quite a lot of it out; a club where the owner-who- is-not-an-owner’s son, who is also the chief executive, decided it was a good idea to use the club credit card for a 5:30am drinking session and a (hopefully unrelated) trip to the vet with his dog but not for actually signing any players. Definitely not for signing any his coach might actually want.

As the Spanish phrase goes, this season Mallorca have really curled the curls – even by their own standards. Just when they thought they had got things sorted out too. . They had lost their best players, seen four presidents in a week and courted countless owners, among them Freddie Shepherd and an English plumber by the name of Paul Davidson – a man who, like all plumbers, turned up looked around, scratched his chin a bit and left, leaving Mallorca still up to their necks in sewage. In debt and in danger, they were second bottom having won three times and picked up 13 points at the halfway stage of the season. But then something miraculous happened; Mallorca won 11 in 18, earning 37 points, becoming the league’s third best club.

Relegation was postponed; better still, this summer they found a buyer, the president Mateu Alemany selling to Javier Martí Mingarro, the man one local newspaper said: “arrived with a big smile and exquisite politeness”. The shame was he did not arrive with any money. “I’ve left the club in the best possible hands,” Alemany said. He might as well have left his car with Karim Benzema.

More than €600,000 from the football club was transferred to a company owned by the Martí Mingarro family. Pretty much nothing was transferred to any other football clubs. Mallorca spent €400,000 – the lowest amount paid in transfers in the entire first division – and all of it on Bruno China, a player the coach did not want. Borja Valero, Paulo Pezzolano and Julio Alvarez also arrived – but not until the season had already started. And while they came, others went. Miguel Angel Moyá, Juan Arango, David Navarro and José Manuel Jurado all departed – goalkeeper, first choice centre-back, four of the five most-used midfielders, three of their top four goalscorers and their two top assist providers. Worse, salaries went unpaid, one player threatening to throw Martí Mingarro’s son and chief executive Javier Martí Asensio out the window.

Tensions surfaced; one insider describes a “terrible war” Hostilities escalated. The cheques the Mingarro family used in the takeover bounced; salaries were leaked in what looks suspiciously like a sabotage job that aimed at shifting the blame for the debt. “Martí Asensio is doing whatever the fuck he feels like. He thinks he’s football’s new God, up there in the directors’ box, chest puffed out,” Manzano complained. “He wanted to live off the club. Mallorca have written the darkest chapter in the history of the club”. There is, he added, “no squad in the world that could withstand these kind of troubles.”

Only there is: Mallorca’s squad. Manzano’s squad. Because while Mallorca, already a relegation candidate in August, should be doomed, they are not. Far from it. On Sunday night they defeated Real Zaragoza 4-1, with two from Artiz Aduriz (his 6th and 7th this season), to take them to within 3 points of the Champions League places and confirm them as the best home side in La Liga, with seven straight wins and a +17 goal difference. A club should provide the stability a team needs to function and survive. At Mallorca it has been the other way round; amid crises and conflict, the team has done more than just play football – the team has rescued the institution. At Mallorca the team is the club.

There is unity in adversity; the situation has been used to the team’s advantage. It is not the only advantage; although Aduriz, Gonzalo Castro and Borja have played well, they have been fortunate too. Mallorca were unbelievably lucky against Villarreal away and their seven home games have come against five of the bottom six, Xérez, Racing, Zaragoza, Almería and Valladolid, plus Tenerife and Getafe. But focusing solely on fixtures would be unfair: playing the same sides, Madrid have an inferior record.

Mallorca have been here before and so has Manzano. This is the coach who took Rayo Vallecano from bottom to within five points of the Uefa Cup, won Mallorca’s only ever major trophy and is ideally suited to difficult personalities and difficult situations. He is a former school teacher with a degree in psychology, a calm, taciturn technician who insists that a dressing room does not need to be a “war zone”, who builds unity and togetherness. It is no coincidence that he got the best out of Samuel Eto’o, Ariel Ibagaza, and Dani Guiza – Pichichi at Mallorca and a waster everywhere else, his self-esteem on the floor. A striker once asked Manzano not to play him against his former club. Many coaches would have ditched him permanently for lacking commitment; Manzano listened, left him out and recalled him a week later. He scored twice.

Manzano has proved impressively adept at getting through to players, building comfort and confidence. He first began to use techniques from hypnosis at Rayo. Before the Copa del Rey final, he made his team shut their eyes and talked them through the day, every step on the road to victory. He made players train blindfolded to improve trust and communication. At half-time against Barcelona once, he had his team lie on the floor in silence, legs in the air against the wall. Then he told them that, no matter what they did, Barcelona would score within five minutes of the restart. Barcelona did score; Manzano’s side scored two more.

Not that it always works. Before Mallorca visited Madrid in 2003, Manzano again turned to hypnosis, whisperingly walking his players through the match – the tunnel, the arena, the moves, the runs, the goals, the aftermath. It would, he assured them, finish 4-1 to Mallorca. He was wrong.

It was 5-1.

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