This weekend is the weekend of important decisions. Most importantly, the municipal elections here in Spain. I am writing this article after having fulfilled my duty in the voting office by making my vote for the party I am member of, the EUiA. Most important job done, and now it is waiting with fingers crossed for the results, hoping for a good outcome. Keeping fingers crossed for a good outcome was also the task yesterday evening as the final weekend of the Spanish Liga BBVA (the highest tier of Spanish football) was played. My favourite team, Real Mallorca, was not entirely safe from relegation yet and knowing Mallorca a bit, one knows that doesn’t predict much good.
In fact it was amazingly disturbing that we were in this position: halfway the season we were in a safe mid-table position. Draws to Barcelona and Real Madrid and away wins in Valencia and Sevilla were great results, and if it wasn’t for some loss of points against less big teams such as Zaragoza, Gijon, Getafe etc we were thinking about European football again. But anyway, knowing the club was in administration and coach Laudrup had to work with limited means, the mid-table position felt comfortable halfway with some amazing results against the big teams as extra pleasure. With our local penya mallorquista we saw Real Mallorca get a point in the Camp Nou versus Barça and witnessed our team win in the Cornellà-El Prat Stadium of Espanyol. In the metro back home after that game I told "we are close to being safe from relegation now" while some others said "no way we will get in trouble with all those teams behind us". We were looking up, feeling safe from any relegation worries.
Then the big collapse came. The team suddenly started to underperform, maybe with the exception of striker Pierre Webó and newcomer Aki, every player suddenly started making the type of mistakes they were not making before. Suddenly the team could not win any game anymore, a few exceptions against the likes of Getafe at home aside. But in the second "vuelta", we were one of the worst teams and hardly collected any points. Week after week the bunch of teams below us came closer in the table. After the win vs Getafe at home, we said "one more point, or ideally two more, and we’re mathematically safe". Sure, but getting those points became a mission impossible with the whole team underperforming. We even lost 3-0 against Malaga (at that point at a relegation spot) and the second last game of the season we lost against already-relegated Almeria. Away to Hercules, a crucial game in the battle for staying in the Primera División, we only grasped a 2-2 draw with much luck (and with that mathematically condemned Hercules Alicante to drop to the Segunda División). Those points surprisingly collected in the beginning of the season against the giants of Spanish football suddenly became extremely important because without those unexpected points we would have been relegated already.
The last game of the season was yesterday. I was actually planning to cross the seas to the island of Mallorca to attend the game, but the poetry bar that I was supposed to perform in when visiting the island did not confirm the performance date yet. Hence it will be a summer performance in combination with a visit to the training center of the club probably. Instead I was in the always pleasant company of the other members of our local penya mallorquista, watching the game versus Atletico Madrid on TV.
The mission was simple: one point and we were ALWAYS sure to stay up. If not getting points, the situation depended on the performances of the teams below us. The gap with Zaragoza (the nr 18, a relegation spot) was just 2 points. Zaragoza made the trip to Valencia to face Levante. Also below us, Deportivo faced the other Valencian team (Valencia CF) at home with just one point below us. Osasuna faced Villarreal (already sure of the 4th spot) at home. Finally, Real Sociedad and Getafe faced each other in San Sebastian. One of both had to drop points, but in case of a draw Sociedad (equal with us) would leapfrog us if we would lose ourselves, while Getafe (one point below us) would come on equal points but they have a better head-to-head result with us.
Of course, to avoid the nerve-wrecking dependency on other clubs, a point against Atletico Madrid would be sufficient. However, again the team underperformed (or collapsed under the stress) and before we realised it it was already 0-2 for Atletico due to Kün Aguero and Juanfran. The mood in our penya became very sad ; luckily I am the type of person who knows that football is just a game and that life goes on no matter what, but some others had more problems to control emotions. Then the news came that Osasuna and Zaragoza were both winning their games, and also Getafe. This was good because this way, even if we would lose, Sociedad would remain below us. Also, Deportivo-Valencia became 0-1, this would also leave Depor below us. Still, the margin was small and we didn’t dare to be optimistic anymore.
Just after the break, it looked like –despite our good first half of the season– we indeed would depend on the other results: De Gea stopped every single shot in his direction, whereas our visitors from Madrid were very efficient. Aguero made another shot on goal, and again Dudu Aouate was chanceless: 0-3. The skies above the island turned ink-black. It became even worse when Zaragoza made it 0-2 in Levante and Sociedad equalised versus Getafe. With these results and keeping in mind the head-to-head scores, only Deportivo was below us now (0-1 behind versus Valencia). One Depor goal however could send us down to Segunda División. How on earth did it ever come this far when halfway the season we were in a comfortable mid-table place? (It says a lot how poorly we performed after the short new year’s break).
We got a glimpse of hope again meanwhile as De Guzman converted a penalty kick and, after De Gea once again blocked several of our attempts, Pierre Webó made it 2-3. One more goal for us and we would be safe regardless of the other results. Meanwhile we kept an eye on the scores of the other games. Zaragoza had one goal against them but were still leading 1-2 in Levante. Osasuna were holding on to their 1-0 win over Villarreal. Sociedad and Getafe were both comfortable with their 1-1 draw, securing that both would stay in the highest level if the scores all remained like this. Unless Mallorca equalised, the only team still virtually behind us was Deportivo, who were not managing yet to equalise against Valencia.
The tension in our penya’s local was rarely so intense, some people could not control their emotions very well anymore. I am the type of person who can no longer feel like the world crashes down if my team loses or even relegates, for me football is just a hobby. But with the tension of yesterday, it was for sure a huge distraction from my usual depressions and anxiety disorders, because the scoreline indeed kept my thoughts very far away from all other things.
The hopes for our team securing salvation ourselves were gone when Aguero made it 2-4. Even when in injury time, Pierre Webó again headed in a ball to make it 3-4, it was idle hope and when the referee finished the game our 3-4 loss was a fact. Meanwhile Zaragoza and Osasuna had secured their wins, and Sociedad-Getafe had finished in a 1-1 draw. All of those teams who, halfway the season, were once so many points below us, now passed us in the table. Only Deportivo was now still below us (and already relegated Hercules and Almeria of course, but I don’t count those in as they were already relegated before the final day of the league season). One single goal in injury time against Valencia would give them a draw and make them finish on equal points with us, sending us down to second division due to a bad head-to-head record against Deportivo.
A goal in Deportivo indeed was scored … by Valencia. Saldado scored the 0-2 and sealed the fate of Deportivo. Their loss meant that they remained below us. In the Iberostar Stadium of Mallorca suddenly the players started celebrating as if they had won the league. Players started falling in each other’s arms out of joy, the mascott jumping on the field out of celebration, the crowd in a trance of joy. It almost looked as if we won the league. After such a bad second half of the season, the relief that we were not relegating was so huge that it was more intense than winning a trophy. Dudu Aouate, my personal favourite, threw his shirt and goalkeeper gloves in the stands as a gift for the fans. Some other players couldn’t control their tears anymore, tears of joy. Similar sights could be seen in our penya’s local. The relief was extremely big.
We were saved in the most dramatic possible way. Halfway the season and after great results against the "big 4" of last season, we looked closer to Europe than to ever getting in relegation troubles. Months of bad results later we found ourselves almost relegated, having to wait until the final whistle to be safe. Had Deportivo equalised, then we had been relegated. All other candidates for that third and last ticket to the second level, had won points and passed us in the table. The results in the other games could not have been worse because Osasuna, Real Sociedad, Getafe, Zaragoza all grabbed 1 or 3 points. The hope was with Valencia keeping La Coruña at bay. It is frustrating to depend on that, but it made the outcome only more dramatic. Hitchcock himself could not have written a more tense scenario.
The difference in the table between the nr 9 (Osasuna) and the nr 18 (Deportivo, who relegate after 20 years at the highest level) is 4 points only. It was the tightest relegation battle in years in Spain. That Mallorca was part of this is simply unacceptable given our position halfway the season, but nobody of us cared anymore. We were safe, we remain in the Primera División! The unlucky of the bunch of teams that were candidate to join Hercules Alicante and Almeria to the second level, is Deportivo La Coruña. We (Mallorca) finished on the lowest possible spot of the teams not relegating. One single point more than La Coruña … Talking of an unlikely escape…
Our penya members fell into each other’s arms of joy, and we were running through the Barcelona streets singing Mallorca songs. The locals, who obviously all supported Barça, must have wondered what were doing, but who cares. The relief and joy was huge, and we continued celebrating the escape for another few hours in a local pub. I cannot imagine how sad people have to feel in La Coruña now. Personally I would have rather seen another team relegate, but in the end, in this position the only thing you pay attention to is that your own team is saved.
The contrast with last season’s final day could not have been bigger. Last season we were a few seconds away from the 4th spot with Champions League entry (at that point it was not clear yet that UEFA would suspend us because of our financial problems). In the last seconds of the season Sevilla grabbed a 2-3 winner versus Almeria and took over our 4th place, Mallorca finishing 5th. We had won our own game and played a great season, but losing a Champions League ticket in such dramatic way made us feel as bad as if we had relegated.
Now we played a terrible second half of the season, lost our last game, but were jumping and singing out of joy because we narrowly avoided relegation to second division. What a contrast with last season.
It is a question mark what will happen now. We stay in the highest level and will need a stronger squad to make sure we don’t end up in this situation again next year. It is unlikely Webó will stay (apparently, although I am unsure if this is a rumour or not, he has an autistic son and would fancy a transfer to England where schools are better adapted to children with this condition). Weither De Guzman and Nsue (who both played a very strong first half of the season) will stay is a question mark, although I surely hope so. Laudrup, our coach, is another question mark. I have high hopes my favourite, Aouate, will stay as he indicated he feels at home in Mallorca in wishes to finish his career on the island. Anyways, hopefully our board gets together a team –despite the financial troubles– that will not end up in trouble next year.
Last but not least I cannot finish without a huge "GRACIAS" towards Valencia CF. Thanks to their sportmanship and playing the game fair by going for the win versus La Coruña (despite already being sure of their 3rd place), not Mallorca but La Coruña is now making the drop to the second level. Thank you Valencia!
And now on to next season where hopefully we won’t need to wait in anxiety until the last second before finally knowing we will stay a Primera División club.
Oh, by the way, Cristiano Ronaldo broke the record of goalscoring in a season, but for us Mallorca fans that was not exactly important and –given the relief of not relegating ourselves– the scores of Barça and Real were nothing but sidenotes.
Final sidenote: despite their financial problems, we already know two of the replacements at the highest level for Depor, Hercules and Almeria: Rayo Vallecano and Betis Sevilla secured promotion to the highest level. A promotion play-off will decide about the third and last team to promote. On to next season, 2011-2012. ¡Visca Mallorca!