While an influx of summer signings has brought a whole host of familiar names to LaLiga, with the likes of Eden Hazard, Frenkie De Jong and Kieran Trippier making their maiden bows in the league, the most recognizable faces at one club, for North American fans at least, actually reside in the front office, not the locker room.
Newly promoted RCD Mallorca is partly owned by three former athletes: Stu Holden, Kyle Martino and Steve Nash. With the help of investment group Liga ACQ Partners, the trio became owners of the club in early 2016, and following a rollercoaster few years at the helm, will get to watch their team play in Spain's top division for the first time since the 2011/12 season.
what an incredible day... hard to put into words, but couldn’t be more proud this club @RCD_Mallorca . what an amazing season!! Congrats to the players, staff, and to the fans... you deserve this, thanks for believing! VAMOS ARRIBA - LA LIGA!!! pic.twitter.com/CZmPdX1fMV— Stu Holden (@stuholden) June 24, 2019
Over the course of the past two years, Mallorca have celebrated two promotions. Two seasons ago, the club from the Balearic Islands was gearing up for a season in Segunda B, Spain’s equivalent of the third division. Now, the Vermilions are counting down the hours before they face Eibar in their home field of the Son Moix Stadium.
While securing back-to-back promotions is no mean feat in itself, the manner with which Vicente Moreno’s charges returned to Spain’s topflight at the end of last season was nothing short of something out of a Hollywood script.
Mallorca finished the regular season in fifth place, clinching a spot in the promotion playoffs with three other hopefuls. After defeating Albacete 2-1 on aggregate in semi-finals, the islanders were set to face Deportivo La Coruna for the third and final spot in the 2019/20 LaLiga season.
After the first meeting ended 2-0 in the Gallicans’ favor, Mallorca left themselves with a mountain to climb and three goals to score ahead of the return leg at Son Moix. And in odds-defying fashion, that’s exactly what they did.
The miraculous fightback began with striker Ante Budimir nutmegging his way into a pocket of space on the edge box Depor’s box before unleashing a rocket past the goalkeeper. The aggregate score equalizer came on the 61-minute mark when Salva Sevilla struck a knuckle ball of free-kick into the back of the visitors’ net to send Rafael Nadal (a native son of Mallorca) and the rest of the Son Moix into raptures. Mallorca needed one more goal to seal the deal, and in the 82nd minute substitute striker Abdon Prats delivered the goods with a thunderous strike from distance.
On the final whistle, fans flooded the field as coach Moreno was embraced by his entire backroom staff. Signing on as Mallorca’s manager in July 2017, the 44-year-old has already secured his place in the club's folklore after guiding the team through two divisions and back to the promised land of LaLiga. Mallorca recently extended the one-time Valencia coach’s contract until 2022. It seems the face of Mallorca’s resurgence is in it for the long haul.
Going into this next chapter, Moreno will have plenty of talent at his disposal. At the center midfield position, Mallorca can count on Real Madrid youth product and loanee, Aleix Febas. The 23-year-old Spaniard has a highlight reel brimming with close ball control, speed, good decision making and technical majesty. Spanish soccer fans should also keep an eye on winger Lago Junior. The 28-year-old Ivorian is a handful for any full-back tasked with keeping tabs on him, as was evidenced last season’s Liga2 campaign when he tallied 11 goals and eight assists.
RCD Mallorca has travelled a long road to return to Spain’s top division. But the hard work has just begun as the newly promoted side looks to secure its status as a top-flight club in the unforgiving environment of the LaLiga Santander. There are worse ideas than following the blueprint laid out by Basque minnows Eibar, but Moreno might be setting his sights even higher than last season’s 12th placed side. Considering last season also saw Getafe qualifying for Champions League soccer, Mallorca might be looking to do more than merely finish above the drop zone.