by Phil Montgomery
Salutacions a tots! It’s been a busy year on and off the pitch, and it’s been some time since I last contributed an article to the site. The last time I wrote was September – and since then I’ve been about as productive as a Real Mallorca board meeting. But I’m back, and fully intend to cast a keen eye over Mallorca’s summer proceedings, as well as the upcoming season!
So with that, let’s take a look at what’s changed since September, and what might change between now and the kickoff of the 2012/13 season.
The short answer to the first question, of course, is a lot. If you recall (though it may take a quick glance through the archives) the last article I wrote concerned the departure of our old boss Michael Laudrup, who was thereafter replaced by Joaquín Caparrós – and the rest is history. It’s amazing to think how far we’ve come since those dismal early days of the season, where it seemed like nothing was going right – and the change all stemmed from that one decision. Who knew – the Mallorca board can get things right after all!
Caparrós’ appointment, though, didn’t coincide with an immediate change of fortunes. Los Bermellones continued to languish in the lower reaches of mid-table, and though we steadily remained above the relegation zone, we were always within touching distance of the drop. Given our early season form, it didn’t look pretty. Many tipped the club to be relegation fodder at the season’s outset; even with Caparrós’ track record, it looked a tricky job to pull off.
And yet, nobody was really worried – not after the new manager’s impact on the team began to shine through. If there is one thing Caparrós is famous for, it is his mentality. It is the intensity he breeds into players; the desire and belief he draws out of them. Even though the club remained close to the relegation dogfight, and even though some disappointing results ensued, the air of despondency had lifted. Slowly but surely, results began to level out: a series of impressive draws, fuelled by the newfound intensity and work-rate drilled into the squad, told of a team brimming with untapped potential. Players who looked lost before now had a purpose. Game by game, the team grew into a fierce unit.
Make no mistake: the solitary points earned against the likes of Valencia, Atlético and Sevilla were worth their weight in gold, and in all likelihood would have spilled into narrow defeats in times gone by. Instead, they were subtle illustrations of progress. Under Caparrós, all the necessary components were slotting into place: Mallorca were building an aggressive, intense foundation that would enable them to spar with the best. All that was missing was a little more ruthlessness, the clinical finishing that could see the team turn these tight, even contests into victories.
And at the end of the season, in emphatic style, we witnessed the fruit of Caparrós’ labour: the payoff to the foundations he had so expertly laid.
In the combination of Víctor Casadesús and Tomer Hemed, we finally found strikers who could, like Midas, turn stone into gold, turning one point into three. And so, it seemed like game after game Mallorca would pinch 1-0 victories that propelled us almost into Europe. Whilst it would be an exaggeration to say Los Bermellones truly belong in that area of the table, it’s evidence that the club aren’t too far off. 8th place is the very least Mallorca, and its players, deserve; a remarkable achievement, given the circumstances of a modest club engaged in a major boardroom struggle.
In Víctor, especially, Mallorca has a success story: the home-grown player has enjoyed his best season for Los Bermellones, with Caparrós electing to make him the consistent first-choice striker. The forward’s 9 goals make him the club’s top scorer for the year, and whilst a modest total in the grand scheme of things, many of them came at important times (though, it must be said, he doesn’t half miss some sitters – imagine how many he’d score if he coupled his excellent positioning and work rate with a decent pair of finishing boots!). Getting to that next level would, of course, require a much more prolific centre forward – remember Samuel Eto’o, Dani Güiza or, to a lesser extent, Aritz Aduriz – but the importance having someone like this in the squad cannot be overstated, not least for the fact that he’s a Mallorquinista.
Indeed, in an age of increasing foreign influence on squads, it’s both astounding and encouraging to see how many local players slot in and out of the first team, albeit with varying degrees of success. In the more senior bracket are players like Víctor, Iván Ramís and Pep Martí; further down the scale are young names like Emilio Nsue, Pedro Bigas and Kevin García. Add to this players like Álvaro and Tomás Pina– who came through the ranks of Mallorca’s B team – and the club’s wealth of local talent amounts to almost half of the squad, an impressive feat. It’s not quite Bilbao, but it’s something – and given Los Bermellones’ agreement with other local clubs, it provides a positive foundation for the future.
What’s even more positive, of course, is the fact that Caparrós recently signed a one year extension with the club, which hints at another good season to come. Certainly, his is the most important contract at the club in the current climate. Nothing can be taken for granted, but with the level of performance he has brought out of the current crop of players, one would hope that few reinforcements will be necessary, beyond replacing those who will inevitably depart – after all, we’re unlikely to see a mass influx of players.
But the details of our upcoming transfer dealings can be saved for another day. As always, there’s a lot to talk about – and we’re not even into June yet!
To finish, allow me to consider, for a moment, Real Madrid. We succumbed to two very different defeats against the champions this year, but in many ways these games tell the story of our season. Take the first match against Mourinho’s side, a close 2-1 home defeat where the scoreline doesn’t even begin to reflect the truth of the game. Indeed, depending on your allegiances, there are multiple ways to read this match: was it a tactical masterstroke by Mourinho, or an incredible slice of poor fortune for the islanders? Mallorca took the fight to a team that had been utterly dominant up and down the league; Los Bermellones were rewarded with the opening goal, and should have been granted more. Madrid’s pressure eventually told and they stole all three points, but all the signs were there: the intensity, the desire, the belief. On that day, most would contend that the better team lost. More importantly, though, Mallorca proved that they were better than their position in the table let on; that there was much, much more to come from the squad.
Then to the final day. In truth, Mallorca were resolutely beaten by the champions, in much changed circumstances, with vastly different things on the line. But regardless of the result, the very fact that we entered the Bernabéu on the final day with a shred of optimism – and with something to fight for – speaks volumes about the turnaround Caparrós has engineered. When the fixture list was announced last summer, some may have looked to this as a day of reckoning: a trip to the Bernabéu with our La Liga future on the line, in desperate search of a miracle just to stay afloat. Instead, we were three points away from mixing it with the continent’s elite.
This simple change tells us everything we need to know about the success of our season. Let’s hope for more of the same next year.