Season Preview: 2011/12
For Real Mallorca, the upcoming season presents an extreme challenge – one that will test the true spirit and worth of the club and its playing staff. At the end of last year, Mallorca found themselves clawing their way out of a late relegation battle, finishing the season just a solitary point above the drop. Indeed, at one moment on the final day, Los Bermellones, as the club are known, were just a goal away from relegation.
The main fear coming out of the island, then, is that we can only expect more of the same this season.
In truth, such a lowly position doesn’t tell the entire story of Mallorca’s season; the lower half of the table was packed so tightly that three more points would have seen the islanders up to ninth. They were the only team able to make it through the first half of the fixture list unscathed by Real Madrid and Barcelona, and highlights came in the form of dramatic away victories against Valencia and Sevilla. But it was a season of two halves, and Mallorca’s good early start gave way to a dismal second half, which saw their comfortable niche in mid-table slip out of their grasp.
And what a difference a year makes – this time last year, Mallorca were optimistically prepping for a season in the Europa League after finishing the preceding campaign in fifth. But their fall from grace was completed when UEFA expelled them from Europe due to their financial issues – a blow that still reverberates around the island to this day.
Indeed, Mallorca’s financial troubles have had a knock-on effect to this summer’s transfer policy, which has involved little spending and somewhat of a sell-before-we-buy system. Last season’s top-scorer, temperamental striker Pierre Webó, has headed through the exit door to ply his trade in Turkey. Fortunately, his replacement, Israeli international Tomer Hemed, looks like a promising addition.
Others who have departed include left-back Ayoze, goalkeeper German Lux and centre-back Ruben. But Palma airport has been extremely busy, and has seen right-back Gianni Zuiverloon, left-back Pablo Caceres, centre-back Chico and goalkeeper Juan Catalayud head through arrivals – many on free transfers. Perhaps the most promising signing, however, was wrapped up just a few days ago, as Mallorca confirmed the arrival of Alejandro Alfaro from Sevilla in a deal thought to be worth €700,000. Big money, as far as Mallorca are concerned!
But Mallorca’s squad at present is like a minefield, riddled with further problems. Not only are there doubts about the capabilities of certain players – and the skills of manager Michael Laudrup, who seemed helpless to stop the team’s decline in the second half of last year – and not only are the team’s striking options thinner than the budget, but the futures of some integral members of the team still remain up in the air. There have long been rumours linking star winger Gonzalo ‘Chori’ Castro with a move, and this has been complicated further by an amateurish administrative error that set his release clause at just €18,000 instead of €18 million. Though he is on the record as saying he won’t honour this, one can never be too certain.
Most worryingly, however, is the transfer saga currently embroiling Jonathan de Guzman, perhaps the club’s most promising and important player. At various times de Guzman has stated that his future remains on the island, whilst alternately mentioning that he is close to a move to Villarreal – with whom the club have no intention whatsoever of dealing, after they eagerly replaced Mallorca in last season’s Europa League. However, with a release clause of €12 million, there is no guarantee that de Guzman will stay on the island, so Mallorca fans must simply sit and watch, reluctantly, as this one unfolds.
On a more positive note, Mallorca have brought in a few promising new faces, and, in contrast to the last few years, the management at the helm of the club seem to have brought a little more stability to the financial department. But the club’s aims for the season are modest, and with a squad that is, on paper, perhaps a little weaker than it was this time last season, the challenge is obvious.
The hope for Laudrup and the fans is that the team will have gelled a little more than last year, and will be ready for the problems lying in wait when the season finally commences. With solid players like Ivan Ramis and captain Jose Nunes at the back, and exciting talents like Emilio Nsue and Michael Pereira flirting between midfield and attack, there is still every reason to be optimistic for Los Bermellones fans.
One thing’s for sure, though – Real Mallorca need to stay as far away from the drop as possible, and this will be their ultimate aim. The club’s finances, whilst now stable, are delicately balanced and rely upon the additional income garnered by playing in La Liga. If Mallorca were to succumb to the drop, it may well take a miracle just to stay afloat.
by Phil Montgomery