PETE JENSON: Durable Girona’s rise to the top of LaLiga is STAGGERING… the unfancied Spanish outfit – backed by Man City – are a feeder team no more after outscoring their rivals, staying calm and playing great football
- Girona have been a huge surprise packages this season after going top of LaLiga
- The Spanish side have scored 29 goals and look like they believe in themselves
- Can Liverpool challenge for the title? Listen to the debate on It’s All Kicking Off
No one is surprised to see Manchester City top of the Premier League but the fact that another City Group club leads another top European League with almost a third of the season gone is little short of staggering.
These satellite teams are supposed to be feeder clubs, small operations where players can be developed, not European rivals, which is what Girona will be if they keep this up. They’ll finish the season with 98 points if current form continues.
It’s highly entertaining too. Girona have scored 29 goals, more than any other side. And they are durable – they’ve been 2-1 and 2-0 down in their last two league games and still ran out comfortable winners. They don’t panic, they just keep playing their football and the goals come.
One headline in Spain on Monday suggested they were ‘dreaming of doing a Leicester’. Their points haul after a third of the season is better than Claudio Ranieri’s team in that famous title-winning campaign.
The Catalan club’s ambitions are a little more grounded but European football is seen as a genuine target. They went into the last game of last season with a chance of squeezing into the Europa Conference only to lose to Osasuna who took their place.
Girona have incredibly soared to the top of LaLiga despite their reputation as a ‘feeder club’
The Catalan side have scored 29 goals – the most in the league – and are on course for 98 points if they maintain their trajectory
Coach Michel is a foundation of their success – giving players belief and an attractive style
Girona are backed by the City Football Group – led by Sheikh Mansour (L) and Khaldoon Al Mubarak (R). The fact that another club owned by the firm is topping the table is staggering
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It was Osasuna they beat on Saturday – they are a better side than last season having already won 10 games, just three short of their tally of victories last season.
Mutli-club ownership has its work cut out winning hearts and minds but there is something about City Group-owned Girona’s rise to the top of LaLiga that does capture the imagination. Perhaps it’s because of the league they are doing it in.
No one has a chance in Spain of competing with the big three. Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid have the best stadiums (albeit Barca’s temporarily being renovated) they have the most fans and they have the most money.
Real Madrid spent more last summer than the rest of the clubs put together. Barcelona still managed to bring in Joao Felix, Joao Cancelo and Ilkay Gundogan despite their financial problems and Atletico Madrid barely moved a financial muscle but only because they already had most people’s pick for most complete squad.
Club’s with the size and history of Valencia, Sevilla and Betis just cannot compete so the fact that Girona are managing to is all the more impressive.
Their City Group status undeniably gives them an advantage. They signed 19-year-old Brazilian winger Savio from fellow City Group-enterprise Troyes on loan when the French side were relegated to Ligue II last summer. And the fact that he could end up at Manchester City will help Girona fend off January enquiries from interested clubs.
But it isn’t just about favours from City. They have a talented Sporting Director in Quique Carcel and he has worked the market of Ukrainian players brilliantly signing centre-forward Artem Dovbyk who has six goals and four assists in 12 games.
He scored 29 goals in 39 games last season for Dnipro and Girona spent a club record £7million on 70 per cent of the 26-year-old’s rights. Dnipro and the Danish side Midtjylland control the rest.
Delirious Girona fans are in disbelief that a club like theirs is competing with Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid
The club have stuck with Michel even after going through tough times in recent seasons
They have invested well with the signing of Artem Dobvyk – who has six goals and four assists
Pep Guardiola – whose brother Pere (R) is chairman – has visited the club’s training ground and he has had an influence on the way the team play
Six months before Dovbyk arrived his international team-mate Viktor Tsyhankov was signed. The latter set the former up for his first goal for Girona and both help each other off the pitch.
Coach Michel is another of the foundations of the success. He was signed in 2019 because he played the way they wanted to play, and they have stuck with him despite a difficult start.
Michel’s insistence on attractive attacking football had seen him get two teams promoted to the top flight but both times be unable to keep them up. Sixteen games into to his first season at Girona the team was 13th in the second division 18 points from the top.
But they kept him in charge and he got them up via the play-offs. Last season was impressive but this campaign has seen them find another level still.
Pep Guardiola has been a visitor at the training ground – his brother Pere is chairman of the club’s board of directors (the club also has a president, Delfi Geli) – and it’s not an exaggeration to see his influence in the way Michel’s side play.
There is a similar tactical flexibility, there is often a ball-playing midfielder in central defence, or full-backs whose heat maps are bright red in central midfield areas. Midfielder Aleix Garcia, who joined from Manchester City in 2019, is one of LaLiga’s best players of the last 12 months and many people’s tip for a Spain call-up.
Girona are not on Man City’s level but they are moving up a few notches as they dream of an incredible finish to their LaLiga season
They have also cultivated a mutually beneficial relationship with Barcelona signing highly-rated 20-year-old midfielder Pablo Torre and Spain international Eric Garcia on loan while selling 31-year-old former Southampton midfielder Oriol Romeu the other way for £3m.
Girona are not Manchester City, but there is a sense that they are emerging as City’s little brother a notch or two higher than the City Group’s other clubs.
In 2025 work will be finished on a new training ground that will be the second biggest training facility in the City Group. The plan is to grow the support base and make the club the second biggest in Catalonia ahead of Espanyol, who are currently in the second tier and on their 10th coach in five years.
The municipal stadium has an 11,500 capacity but it’s full and it’s notable that the kids growing up in the town now wear the Girona shirt and not the Barca one as they would have done in the past.
The question all those supporters are asking now is: how high can we finish. They don’t have the European commitments of some of their rivals for a top-six finish, so it should be within their grasp. And top four?
Aleksander Ceferin has relaxed rules on club that share owners competing in the same European competition so they will be allowed into the draw with Manchester City if they make the Champions League. Right now, as fellow top European-league leaders, they wouldn’t be out of place competing with them.
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