PALMA, Spain (Reuters) - Real Mallorca made a dream return to La Liga with a 2-1 victory over Eibar at the Estadi Son Moix on Saturday, less than two months after sealing back-to-back promotions to rejoin Spain’s soccer elite.
It is holiday season on the Ballaeric island but fans clad in the club’s red colours flocked to the stadium on a sultry evening in Palma in large numbers and were handsomely rewarded.
Eibar had threatened to ruin the script when Paulo Oliveira cancelled out a superb early effort by Dani Rodriguez but the Portuguese defender then sliced into his own goal in the 74th minute as Mallorca got the win their stylish football deserved.
It is six seasons since Mallorca’s 16-year stay in the top flight ended during a period of financial meltdown.
They went close to going out of business and three seasons ago suffered the ignominy of relegation to the third tier.
With American former professional tennis player Andy Kohlberg and Robert Sarver, owner of NBA team Phoenix Suns, the majority owners in a consortium that paid 21 million euros ($23.87 million) for the ailing club in 2016, the good times appear to be on the way back for the 100-year-old club.
The board also includes Canadian NBA Hall of Famer Steve Nash, former England and Chelsea full back Graeme Le Saux and American former Bolton Wanderers player Stuart Holden.
Sport lawyer Maheta Molango, Mallorca’s CEO and the man who orchestrated the American rescue mission back in 2016, said the club’s rise has been startling.
“I remember Robert (Sarver) coming to watch a match when we were in Segunda B (third tier) and the team we played had no real stadium and the ball kept ending in a swimming pool,” Molango, a former Brighton and Hove Albion striker, told Reuters. “He said it was like American college soccer.”
A solid structure, though, is now in place off the pitch. Ticket sales are soaring and Mallorca will net around 45 million euros in TV revenues as part of the lucrative La Liga deal.
And in Vicente Moreno, hired in 2017, they have a coach with a burgeoning reputation.
He has remained loyal to the players who helped Mallorca to promotion via a dramatic playoff win over Deportivo La Coruna in June and they produced a vibrant display on Saturday.
Midfielder Rodriguez accelerated clear in the fourth minute and produced a clinical finish to put the hosts ahead.
Croatian striker Ante Budimir should have extended the lead and when Oliveira slid home the equaliser early in the second half the ‘Los Bermellones’ fans fell quiet.
Lago Junior had chances to restore the lead but in the end it was Oliveira, the party-spoiler a few minutes earlier, who inadvertently sent the fans off into the night full of hope for the daunting task of survival.
“Obviously it’s been a fast ascent for us,” Le Saux told Reuters from Mallorca’s pitch-side VIP section, complete with pizza oven, where well-heeled fans will be able to get a close-up view of Lionel Messi later this season.
“We will have to fight with everything we have to stay in the league and maintain the things that have got us this far.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar and Tony Lawrence