x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Manzano has Real's number

Mallorca will draw on 2003 Copa Del Rey win as they belie off-field chaos and are in Champions League position in the Primera Liga.

Real Mallorca players have punched above their weight this season.
Real Mallorca players have punched above their weight this season.

Real Mallorca are a team who should not be where they are. On average gates of just 12,000, the badly-run Palma-based club are in a Champions League position in the Primera Liga. With 14 wins from 17 games in their usually sparsely populated and soulless Son Moix stadium so far this season, they boast the third best home record in Spain after Barcelona and Real Madrid - who play there tonight.

The islanders were among the relegation favourites at the start of the season, though their form was impossible to predict as they had lurched between 20th and a final position of ninth in the 2008/09 term, a campaign in which they were bought and sold by an English plumber and appointed four club presidents in one week. A club whose managing director was caught using his company credit card in a bar at 5.30am and who paid for his dog to see a vet but did not buy any players.

By the start of 2009, the fans had deserted in droves. They missed out on seeing their team win 11 games in 18 - the third best record in Spain in the second half of last season. The chaos continued. Mallorca's players went unpaid and one threatened to throw the latest new owner's son out of a window. Exasperated, four of their best performers left and Gregorio Manzano, their coach, described it as the darkest period in the club's history.

A legend on the island and with six years at Mallorca (he has long since gone grey to prove it), Manzano is the longest serving manager in the Primera Liga. The former school teacher delivered Mallorca's only trophy, the Copa Del Rey in 2003, during a first season at the club. Well versed in the chaos, the 54-year-old Andalusian cobbled together a new side at the start of the campaign. With the season already underway, players came on free transfers and loan deals. Just ?400,000 (Dh2 million) was spent on new players - and most of that was for someone Manzano did not want and who has barely featured - Bruno China, the Portuguese midfielder.

Manzano is a master in creating a great team spirit. He has a degree in psychology and emits calmness in the dressing room and on the bench. Former players like Samuel Eto'o and Dani Guiza speak glowingly of him. He once turned to hypnosis before his side played Real Madrid in the Bernabeu in 2003 and quietly assured his players they would win 4-1. Mallorca actually triumphed 5-1. The fairy tale is continuing. Mallorca have been comfortable in fourth since Christmas and Sunday's 3-1 away win at Athletic Bilbao proved that they can perform on their travels too.

Athletic noticed that Mallorca's third was scored by Aritz Aduriz, their former player and proud Basque, who is the island team's top scorer with 12 league goals so far. Manzano gets the best from supposedly fallen stars. Real may have good form behind them, but they will be nervous and a failure to win would effectively cost them the league. Real lost the equivalent match 3-1 last season and despite the expectation ahead of tonight's game, the 23,000 Son Moix will not be full. Built in 1999 to host the world athletics' championship, the running track has always detracted from the atmosphere and made it unpopular with fans.

@Email:sports@thenational.ae Mallorca v Real Madrid, midnight, Aljazeera Sport + 2