What a difference a week makes! After a decent display against Real Sociedad at the weekend, Mallorca came away with their second victory of the season – though it was a little fortuitous, given the amount of times the away side were denied not by Mallorca’s defence, but by the woodwork – and three valuable points looked to have given Laudrup’s position some breathing room.
It was just the result everyone wanted to see – and that the club desperately needed. The importance of a positive performance and result cannot be understated on the back of three successive defeats (and abysmal performances), which undermined any of the confidence Los Bermellones brought into the new season.
Before the match, Emilio Nsue claimed that the team felt they had to win to save Laudrup’s job; to protect the man with whom they shared a strong camaraderie. Indeed, on the basis of those comments and their reaction on the pitch, it is undeniable that the players have a lot of respect and admiration for the Dane.
After the match, they would have felt that their mission was accomplished. Laudrup was out of the woods – for now.
So they wouldn’t have been expecting what came next. Unable to progress any further in what he perceived to be hostile, frustrating working conditions, Laudrup began a process of resignation with the club, working out a compensatory deal that would suit both his and the club’s needs.
Few would argue against the fact that Laudrup’s dismissal would have come much sooner had the club been in a more luxurious financial position; Serra Ferrer and the board’s agenda has long appeared in favour of removing him from the situation. They, of course, will have wanted him to walk away from the job in order to save themselves some money.
In the end, the reality is in the middle of those two extremes. Laudrup has walked – but the deal arranged means that he will be compensated for his work, albeit less than if he had been outright sacked. Does this mean that everyone’s a winner?
Given the history between the two parties, this seemed to be the inevitable conclusion, one way or another. But the way it has unfolded, I have a lot of sympathy for Laudrup, and one wonders whether it was a case of Serra Ferrer working from behind the scenes to undermine his position over a long period of time – not by interfering with his day-to-day tasks, but by making small decisions that would increase Laudrup’s frustration in the hopes of making him call it a day. Certainly, the dismissal of Laudrup’s assistant Erik Larsen seems to fit into this pattern – it could be that this was a specifically manipulated act, with Serra Ferrer knowing it would push Laudrup over the edge.
So was Larsen’s dismissal an unexpected catalyst that forced Laudrup to show his hand, or was it just the last in a long-running saga of actions intended to force Laudrup out? It’s extremely hard to tell – only the parties involved know.
Like Laudrup’s ultimate decision, the truth probably lies between either extreme. On the flip-side, the Spanish media reported that Larsen’s inappropriate words against Serra Ferrer came not because of hostile working conditions, but because he was denied a bonus in the wake of the de Guzman transfer saga. Dig long enough and, like virtually any political situation, you can uncover dirt on everyone.
The bottom line is that a hugely important victory for the team has been completely overshadowed – not for the first time in this fledgling season – by events off the pitch. Many would point to the political unrest behind the scenes as the reason for Mallorca’s woeful form in the first few games, and in many ways it’s hard to disagree, because as the game against Sociedad proved, the team does have the ability to perform better when called upon. Hopefully the club can sort out Laudrup’s replacement as quickly as possible so as to eliminate all of this uncertainty and unrest – and hopefully stability behind the scenes, in addition to the boost of momentum a managerial change often affords a group of players, will be enough to return the team to the best of its form.
And there are some brilliant names being tossed around at the moment to fill the vacancy. Luis Aragonés is a legend of the Spanish game – and of Mallorca – and he would be welcomed back to the club with open arms, should the gulf between his and Mallorca’s financial expectations be resolved. Joaquín Caparrós is another fantastic manager who is proven in La Liga and did a wonderful job at Athletic Bilbao over the course of a few seasons; he, too, would be welcomed. Other long-shots such as Quique Sánchez Flores, formerly of Valencia, have had their names tossed into the mix, and I for one would be ecstatic to witness his arrival.
In the meantime, the best of luck to Miguel Ángel Nadal, who will in all likelihood be taking charge of the team for the trip to Osasuna this weekend.
So, lastly, how to remember Michael Laudrup? First impressions of him as the manager of Los Bermellones were fantastic. In the wake of our European expulsion, Laudrup led the team to a fantastic run in the first half of last season, with the team at one point pushing on towards the European spots, momentarily proving the doubters wrong. His tactical acumen saw us record some unbelievable victories and gain points against the likes of Barcelona and Madrid. At first, it seemed like a match made in heaven.
Unfortunately, at that halfway point of the season, things very much unravelled for Laudrup and Los Bermellones. That good early season form was the team’s only saving grace, as an utterly abysmal second half of the season saw the team drop further and further in the standings as the weeks ticked by, eventually avoiding relegation on the final day. Maybe the young squad simply ran out of steam, or maybe it had to do with Laudrup alienating some key players and all but refusing to play them – somewhat ironic now, given his annoyance at the lack of options in the transfer market.
But at the end of the day, he led the club to survival, even if it was by the skin of our teeth – and with the resources he had to work with, that’s an admirable task. But form doesn’t lie, and Mallorca simply haven’t been the same team they were at the start of last season – early defeats this time around seem to echo the wrong half of last year. Laudrup seemed to lose control of the team as that season drew on; maybe it’s true that he never really regained that control heading into the new one.
All in all, a managerial change is, as Laudrup put it on his way out, “the best solution for the good of the team”. But despite things going sour towards the end, just like his players, I have a lot of respect and admiration for him. Some questionable managerial decisions aside, he was always a gentleman on the touchline, and he certainly inspired a degree of respect wherever he went. The very best of luck to him at his next club; I, for one, wish him well.