Real Mallorca hero Abdón Prats: ‘I’m so proud of this love story’

<span>Abdón Prats celebrates after scoring in <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Mallorca;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Mallorca</a>’s 3-2 win over <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Girona;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Girona</a> in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals.</span><span>Photograph: Quality Sport Images/Getty Images</span>

Abdón Prats has a magnificent moustache and a pottery class at half past, more cups and plates and history to make. The unassuming everyman and smiley superman possessed by some power he can’t explain, the footballer from another era followed about by magic moments, he is Real Mallorca’s ultimate cult hero, an icon on the island. The forward who took the team he supported from the third division to the first and has now led them to within reach of their first Copa del Rey final in 20 years. He’s the one everyone wants to be here. Which is lucky, because emulating him is easy.

On the face of it, anyway. “We’ve just had carnival here and people went as me,” Prats says, laughing. “They get one of those stick-on moustaches or just paint them on. It’s funny, and very nice.” The Magnum PI look began as a bit of an experiment, but there’s no way back now; given a little trim weekly, perfectly kept, more than a hint of Kenny Burns in the Scottish series Guilt about him, he reckons he would feel naked without it now. It has become a “trademark”, he says: a symbol of his story, who he is.

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He calls it a love story. On Tuesday evening, Mallorca face Real Sociedad in the semi-final second leg, with the score 0-0, seeking only the second trophy in their 107-year history. The last time they got this far, they won it, champions in 2003. Prats was 11. Born and raised on the island, he was a Mallorca fan whose uncle Toni had played in goal for them and who says Samuel Eto’o, goalscorer that day, marked his childhood. Nothing though quite marked it like the games played in the streets of Arta, a town of 7,671 people about an hour across the island from the Son Moix stadium where he dreamed of playing one day and where now, at 31, he does.

Not that he took the most direct route. Raised in the academy, Prats made his first-team debut in April 2012, aged 17, but it was just one day. It would take him seven years to return to La Liga and by then he was in his third spell at the club. In the meantime he had suffered relegation with Mallorca B, been to Burgos and back, lasting just six months before going to Tenerife, Mirandés and Racing in the second division. When in 2017 the chance came to join his boyhood club again, properly this time, it wasn’t that he had climbed to their level but that they had dropped all the way into the Segunda B. So he went down to meet them, taking their hand and climbing back to the top together.

Segunda B was Spain’s third tier made up of four groups and 80 teams, the same division Prats had played in for the B team, and Mallorca had not been so low in 40 years. They call it the well because it’s easy enough to fall into but hard to get out of, yet Prats pulled them clear in the first season, top scorer as they won promotion.

The following year he scored a sensational playoff final goal to take them back to the first. Although they were relegated in 2019-20, he did it all over again, top scorer once more as Mallorca returned to Primera in 2021. The following May, he scored the injury-time goal against Rayo that kept them there, bawling his eyes out at the end. “Without that goal it would have been very, very, very difficult. We’d be talking about [now] a different situation,” he says.

It’s magnificent that Mallorca are in the semi-finals. The excitement is tremendous

Instead, we’re talking about a team on the verge of the final, closing in on what could be the biggest moment in their history, taken there by their very own superhero and the competition’s top scorer. All of which makes it sound like destiny. It also makes it sound easy, which it wasn’t. Just being here, staying when others might have walked, is a herculean feat, another reason he is the player they love most: one of their own.

Prats made just 11 starts when they were promoted from the second division, but scored the decisive goal against Deportivo de La Coruña to take them up. In his first top-flight season, he didn’t start any games, playing just 258 minutes. He had only started six when he came on as a sub and scored the goal that gave them a lifeline and ultimately survival in added time of the penultimate week of 2021-22. Last season he started just twice in La Liga. Yet, when they needed him most, somehow there he was.

Had it not been home, he might not have been. Fans did their bit; fate did the rest. “If I said differently I would be lying,” he admits. “I stayed because of my feeling for the club and the people. Whether I have played more or less, the fans have always given me their love and trust, and that’s what has made me continue. Footballers want to play every weekend and I didn’t have that. At 27, 28, 29, there are moments you think: ‘Bloody hell, I have to take a decision [to leave].’ But they supported me and there was always a magical moment, a goal, or something happened that fed me again, that filled me with strength and hope.

“On those magic nights, I had some feeling inside. I’m a very emotional person, sentimentally strong. There is some connection there, conviction too. I stop to think about it sometimes and I can’t quite grasp it. Maybe I will in a few years. It’s something I feel inside: this strength, an incredible force, and ... well, here I am today.”

Preparing for a cup semi-final, taken there by his six goals. It is a competition that reconnects him to his experiences and the essence of it all, his kind of place: muddy pitches and little grounds are good, the way he talks about it saying a lot about him. This is huge, no matter what they say. In 2019 Javier Tebas, La Liga’s president, cited the final Prats had watched as a kid as evidence of a failing competition, precisely on the basis that it pitted Mallorca against Recreativo de Huelva. Reminded of that line now, Prats’ response is eloquent in its simplicity. “Bloody hell,” he says, pausing to ask: “And how long ago was this?

“That’s a gigantic lack of respect towards fans of Mallorca and Recre, the oldest club in Spain. I don’t know why he would say that, but everyone’s free to say what they want, so long as it’s with a little more respect. And, no: it’s magnificent that Mallorca are here. You look at Barcelona, Madrid, Atlético, and only Atlético are left. We’re among the four best in Spain in this competition and the excitement is tremendous.

“The cup is a lovely competition. It’s nice for teams from [the lower leagues] preferente, tercera, segunda RFEF, to be part of it. We started against CD Boiro from the Galician preferente and I like that. Playing in the first division doesn’t mean I’ll look down my nose at footballers who work eight hours in the morning then train in the evening. I try to help, be nice: I want them to feel respected. Maybe then they see me in a first division ground and say: ‘What a good bloke Abdón is.’ That human thing is what you take with you. You ask for their shirt; sometimes they say ‘Mine? Really?’ Sometimes they can’t. But you want a memento because those games are part of your career.

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“I’ve met people who have played in Segunda B, Segunda and Primera and the change is huge. For me, my emotional stability, my life, has been the same in all those divisions. That’s key to living life calmly.”

Pottery helps, Prats says. So it’s not an urban legend, then? “No. In fact, I have a class now at 3.30,” he adds. “I have to finish off a couple of projects. In two hours there, I forget everything else. It’s like a therapy I discovered four or five years ago. I make plates, candelabras, bowls, mugs.” Could you make a Real Mallorca one? There’s a smile; there’s always a smile. “I don’t know about the badge, but I could paint one red and black for you,” he says. “I like having things at home I’ve made myself. It’s nice to have a coffee in the morning in a cup you made.”

What better way to start a historic day? “It’s hard to reach the first division – being a football professional in any division is hard – and hard to stay there too,” Prats says, and he knows. “It’s special to have been able to do the things we’ve done together, to live those magical moments, to play a game of this magnitude. I came back home seven years ago. We went from Segunda B to Segunda, Segunda to Primera, there was a relegation, another promotion, and now this. I would never have imagined it. When I arrived the club was in the worst situation in its history and look what we have achieved. I’m so proud of this love story with Mallorca.”