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Friday September 28 2018
Can RCD Mallorca rise again?

Following demotion to the third tier, the Islanders hopes have risen of a return to former glories under American ownership, writes Rob Hemingway.

It is perhaps apt that the American owners of RCD Mallorca also oversee the running of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns. Fans of the once lofty Balearic team saw them first sink into the flames of bankruptcy and then the Segunda B division, but after last season’s promotion campaign they believe once again – after a potted history of spectacular peaks and troughs – that a sustainable, long hoped-for renaissance may lie ahead.

Native Majorcan Arnau Riera recently pithily observed “we have a beach”, alluding to the laid-back focus of his compatriots. However, the island’s passion for sport has always burned strong and it has produced luminaries such as Rafael Nadal, Marco Asensio and this year’s Vuelta a Espana breakout star Enric Mas.

With football as the leading pursuit, RCD have traditionally acted as a beacon displaying the broader Balearic region’s abilities to the rest of Spain and Europe. None more so was this evident in their late 1990s and early 2000s heyday when Los Bermellones – containing at that time the likes of Samuel Eto’o and Miguel Angel Nadal – twice finished third in La Liga and won the Copa del Rey. It wasn’t just on the pitch that the club attracted star names either; their managerial roster during that period included Hector Cuper and future European Championship-winning coach Luis Aragones.

Never however was there a feeling of stability and consistency. In the decade from 1994–2004, the dugout at Estadi Son Moix bore witness to an extraordinary 21 managers – some such as Cuper, Aragones and Tomeu Lompart were lured back for repeat, often rescue spells – and the playing staff underwent just as much churn. Notable departures in consecutive seasons were Ivan Campo and Marcelinho, who had been central pillars to Cuper’s miserly defensive unit.

The inability to hold onto their top stars, despite offering European football, and the hire-fire nature of their management hinted at problems, and even during this period of success, the warning signs were there with 16th and 17th-placed finishes in 2001/02 and 2004/05 respectively.

It was then perhaps unsurprising that the upheaval took its toll and in 2012/13, relegation to the Segunda was confirmed. What couldn’t have been expected was the disastrous – even for Mallorca – 2016/17 season, where they dropped further down the pyramid to Segunda B.

For Barralets used to supremacy over their smaller Palma rivals CD Atletico Baleares – who they joined in Segunda B – this was a climb-down of monumental proportions and gave way to some poisonous rhetoric between the two sides over the course of the season, particularly around the derby encounters.

From this nadir and a division that is called ‘the well’, RCD managed to achieve immediate promotion back to the Segunda, and from here a genuine hope has grown that the club can climb back to what they feel is their rightful place in the Primera.

The role their owners, led by Robert Sarver, have in this process still remains to be seen. Interviewed in 2016 shortly after the acquisition, the Arizonan stated that “this is a long-term project to get back to the Primera Liga” and that alongside CEO Maheta Molango “we want to create a winning culture”.

Despite this upbeat rhetoric, fans of the Suns could be forgiven for pointing out their recent history under the same ownership. This analysis would highlight one of the worst recent win-loss records in the NBA, regular and vehement ‘Sarver Out’ fan protests, key players departing in messy circumstances and most tellingly, being voted by ESPN the worst franchise in the NBA in 2016 (and indeed 120th out of all 122 American sports franchises).

In addition to the Suns’ history, Majorcans may well have concerns that Sarver’s affiliation to their club – given he tried to buy Getafe and Levante prior to Los Bermellones – is purely financial rather than emotional and that he will cut and run when he’s made a buck, rather than deliver the stability needed.

They might also – legitimately – question the former banker’s knowledge of football. Perhaps recognising this, he has appointed to the board Steve Nash, former NBA hall of famer and part-owner of MLS outfit the Vancouver Whitecaps, as well as Graeme Le Saux, the former England international and a Majorca resident for the last 13 years.

Since the takeover in 2016, Sarver has promised investment in the team as well as off the pitch where a new stadium build is being pursued, but an assessment of his overall tenure will take some time. For impatient RCD fans, a return to past successes can’t come soon enough.

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