Football: Ellis at home with his holiday Villa

Steve Tongue finds a genuine welcome awaits Real Mallorca
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PROUD AS he is that Villa Park has been chosen to stage the last- ever European Cup-Winners' Cup final, between Lazio and Real Mallorca on Wednesday, Doug Ellis admits that strict neutrality as chairman of the host club will be beyond him. "I'm officially unbiased, but in honesty I'll be supporting Mallorca because it's my second home," he said.

Second of several, if you include the odd yacht. Ellis has had a house at Son Vida in the Balearics for 19 years and has kept on one of the numerous hotels he used to own there. He first visited Mallorca in 1952, fell in love with it, and began running package tours there, so successfully that he could claim to be the largest tour operator in Britain, "for donkey's years".

Enthusiasm for football led to the first of many visits to Real Mallorca, the biggest club in the region, which at that time was rather like calling Gillingham the most successful club in Kent. Technically true, but...

"I've seen them rise from the second division to the first and now to Europe," said the man universally known as "Deadly"; a tribute, he has always insisted, to his skill in snaring salmon rather than shafting managers. (VIP visitors to Villa Park on Wednesday will discover that all salmon served there are caught by the chairman).

Confident enough in John Gregory's ability to pull Villa out of their mid-term slump, Ellis recently set off for Palma once more - again putting aside any attempt at neutrality - to see Real's steadfast defence defy Chelsea in the semi-final. The next day he made the front page of the local newspaper by offering a prize of two tickets to watch the final from one of Villa's executive boxes.

"I'm delighted for Mallorca," he said. "Lazio are favourites if you listen to the bookmakers, but Mallorca have some very, very good players. The goalkeeper Roa must be one of the the best in world and the centre- forward Dani I've seen play two or three times and spoken to - I know I shouldn't, as chairman of another club - he's a very modest boy and he can play a bit. And one or two English clubs are looking at him." Including Aston Villa? "I didn't say that."

Sheffield Wednesday and Newcastle are the two most commonly mentioned, though interest will have spread throughout the continent following the powerful striker's achievements this season, which included leaving Franck Leboeuf for dead to put his team ahead at Stamford Bridge, and scoring for Spain against Croatia two weeks ago.

Not unlike the injured Pierluigi Casiraghi - a man Chelsea must consider replacing - Dani's qualities have encouraged Real to start the bidding at pounds 5m. Despite their spectacular progress, they remain a selling club, and as well as some 9,000 supporters from each country, plus Spanish and Italian exiles and interested locals, there will be a vast number of scouts present on Wednesday.

Roa will be another target, as will the midfielder Vicente Engonga who, like Dani, respon-ded to be being given his international chance with a goal against Croatia. Ruud Gullit is an admirer of Marcelino, the impressive defender who Dennis Wise tried to put the bite on, and Jovan Stankovic, controlling the play from out wide on the left, is a Yugoslav who has not been distracted by the heartache in his homeland.

The Argentinian coach Hector Cuper surprisingly but successfully revamped the squad last summer after Real qualified for Europe for the first time by finishing runners-up to Barc-elona in the domestic cup. League leaders for much of the autumn, they are now second, unlikely to catch Barca, but confident of finishing higher than ever before, and virtually certain to be back in Europe.

With only 25 goals conceded in 33 games, they have much the best defensive record in Spain, though scoring only 43 times against Barcelona's 75 emphasises where their priorities lie. British spectators need therefore to hope that Lazio's extravagantly expensive strikers can bag an early goal on Wednesday and make the holiday islanders come out and play. The Spanish need Dani to be as deadly as Doug.

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