Mallorca's jet-setting owners have taken them out of the Spanish third tier to one game from the Europa League – but the Graeme Le Saux-backed side don't plan on stopping yet as midfielder Dani Rodriguez opens up on the feel-good story
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Mallorca's jet-setting owners have taken them out of the Spanish third tier to one game from the Europa League – but the Graeme Le Saux-backed side don't plan on stopping yet as midfielder Dani Rodriguez opens up on the feel-good story

Apr 30, 2024

Football clubs owned or run by wealthy retired sports legends don’t always thrive, but with Andy Kohlberg, Steve Nash, Steve Kerr and Graeme Le Saux watching them on Saturday night Mallorca are 90 minutes from winning the Spanish Cup and getting themselves into next season’s Europa League.

Former US tennis pro Kohlberg is majority shareholder. Nash and Kerr, legendary names from the world of Basketball, are both co-owners. And former England defender Le Saux is a director and advisor. All have played a big part in the story.

But just a year after the glamorous US-based ownership got involved in 2016, the club were relegated to the tumbleweed of Spain’s third tier. 

The journey back to the top flight, down again, back up again, and into Saturday’s Copa del Rey final has been a rollercoaster and the big names the make up that ownership consortium would be the first to point to individuals like Dani Rodriguez as having been the real motor behind the incredible journey.

‘Those of us who have been here for some time have seen a little bit of everything,’ the midfielder tells Mail Sport as the biggest day in the club’s history in the last two decades looms.

Dani Rodriguez has spoken to Mail Sport about the rise of Mallorca ahead of the Cup Final

Dani Rodriguez has spoken to Mail Sport about the rise of Mallorca ahead of the Cup Final 

Former US tennis pro Andy Kohlberg (left) is a majority shareholder in the Spanish club

Former US tennis pro Andy Kohlberg (left) is a majority shareholder in the Spanish club 

Former Chelsea, Blackburn and England defender Graeme Le Saux is a director and advisor

Former Chelsea, Blackburn and England defender Graeme Le Saux is a director and advisor

He was one of the key members of the team that won promotion back to the Primera Liga in 2019. The following season he scored their first goal back in the top flight after just four minutes of the opening game.

He is still thriving, now under the wily leadership of Mexican coach Javier Aguirre, and can reflect on what a journey it has been.

‘There have been good times, and some not so good, but in the main it’s been great and now to have Mallorca in a cup final, well it would have been unthinkable for many, especially those of us who have been here a long time.

‘We can make history on Saturday and we know we’ll make a lot of people happy in the process if we do.’

The owners, who have been on the island in the build-up to the big game,’ will be delighted and feel vindicated for never losing faith in the project.

‘‘It’s always good to see them, they bring a good vibe with them and they have been with us in the good times and the bad,’ says Rodriguez. 

‘What they have done during these years has been fantastic. The club has grown enormously. To go from Segunda B (third tier) to Primera and to play a cup final it means you must have done a lot right.’

Perhaps one of their wisest calls was to stick with 65-year-old coach Aguirre when most people believed he had only been parachuted into to save the club from relegation in the 2021-22 season before being replaced by a younger man.

Aguirre arrived in Spain after starring for Mexico in the 1986 World Cup. He was the player who flicked the ball up for Manuel Negrete to score what was one of the goals of that tournament.

Osasuna signed him but injury cut short his playing career and it was in 2002 that he returned to the club as coach leading them to a fourth-place finish and earning himself a move to Atletico Madrid.

‘His reputation after that was for saving teams from relegation as he did for both Zaragoza and Espanyol before repeating the trick at Mallorca.

It’s not just the Mallorca fans who don’t want him to leave. His press conferences are box office.

‘He should be upset because you can’t miss those goals, Playing against us last season the b*stard put them in the top corner didn’t he,’ he said when asked about his striker Cyle Larin looking glum after missing a sitter earlier this season

Mallorca's Mexican coach Javier Aguirre has been in charge of the Spanish since 2022

Mallorca’s Mexican coach Javier Aguirre has been in charge of the Spanish since 2022 

Mallorca celebrate beat Real Sociedad on penalties to reach the Copa del Rey Final

Mallorca celebrate beat Real Sociedad on penalties to reach the Copa del Rey Final 

Mallorca are currently 15th in LaLiga and in their third consecutive top flight campaign

Mallorca are currently 15th in LaLiga and in their third consecutive top flight campaign 

‘His press conferences are real shows,’ says Rodriguez. ‘But what he says to the media he says to us too. He is a very authentic person. There is nothing two-faced about him; he is the way he is. He hides nothing.

So what about the squad that Aguirre has to work with? Who is the joker, the hard-man, the ‘baller?

‘I like to make people laugh and Pablo Maffeo is the same, he’s a real joker who enjoys winding people up,’ says Rodriguez.

He says characters like centre-back Martin Valjent and giant Kosovo centre-forward Vedat Muriqi inspire the most fear. ‘He has a big heart but the way he looks, it’s a bit more frightening,’ he says of Muriqi.

Asked for the most talented of the group with the ball at his feet, he agrees that it would have been Kang-In Lee last season (now at Paris Saint Germain) and now picks out Nemanja Radonjic who arrived from Torino in January.

And then he shoots down Mail Sport’s suggestion that goalkeeper Dominik Grief would be the serious one. Coach Aguirre has spoken about how the Slovakian seemed lost when he arrived. ‘He surprises you eh! He’s seems introverted but he has a good sense of humour,’ he says.

Dani Rodriguez has been the real motor behind the incredible journey of Mallorca

Dani Rodriguez has been the real motor behind the incredible journey of Mallorca 

Athletic Bilbao are Mallorca’s rivals in the final and there is little doubt about their favourites’ status. They have won the competition 23 times. Only Barcelona have lifted the trophy more often. But none of this seems to bother Rodriguez and his team-mates.

‘They have all the pressure. We just have to enjoy it. We will go out to win the game of course but they have the pressure to win it,’ he says.

All the talk in Spain is of how Athletic celebrate trophies on ‘La Gabarra’ the barge moored on the river that runs past their San Mames stadium. They have no used it since they did the cup and league double in 1984.

At Mallorca there is no talk of what they will do if they win. ‘In Mallorca nobody is talking about that. We want to go and win it and then we will see what we do next. When you plan these things it usually turns out badly,’ says Rodriguez.

What everyone wants is for the big day to arrive although the 35-year-old has been around long enough to speak some truth to the impatience of youth.

Athletic Bilbao stand in the way of Mallorca and Copa del Rey success this weekend

Athletic Bilbao stand in the way of Mallorca and Copa del Rey success this weekend 

‘It does seem that time stands still in the week leading up to the game and some of the players were saying how they just wanted the day to come,’ he says.

‘But I tell them: enjoy the day to day. Time flies in football and you don’t appreciate it so enjoy this beautiful week when the whole island is so excited about the final.

‘It is the most beautiful match in Spanish football. There’s no doubt about it. It’s the game where you see both sets of supporters inside a full stadium right behind their team. And since they changed the format to single leg ties (until the semi-finals) it’s more like the FA Cup now. It’s magic.’

Before that change Barcelona or Real Madrid invariably reached the final because it was so difficult for smaller teams to beat them over two legs. Now the fairytales are a little easier to make happen.

And with their jet-set ownership and squad of battle-worn honest professionals like Rodriguez this is a fairytale as worthy as any.

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