Girona FC: They were never supposed to be here

Girona FC played their very first match in Spain’s top flight at the weekend, drawing 2-2 with Atletico Madrid. In what will have been a surprise to everyone involved with both teams, they won’t be entirely pleased with it – they did lead 2-0 after all. But this is a tiny team with a complicated boardroom – they’re hoping to go places, and likely not alone.

The concept of a small club has admittedly been undone after a certain Premier League season tore up any thought of a set rule. Even the smallest of clubs can achieve something special now if the landscape is set.

But then Girona are a little smaller than we’re used to seeing. They’ve never featured in the top flight before (in fact they represent the last Catalan province to have a team in La Liga – the province of Girona, easily enough) and their stadium, Montilivi, has to use to temporary stands to push it up to the lofty heights of a 13,500-seater.

This is a team who celebrated promotion to the Segunda Division in 2009 as their greatest achievement in 50 years. Now, obviously, there are teams in all major leagues who have improbably made it to the top level. Girona are the latest in Spain, following in the footsteps of Eibar and Leganes, hoping to establish themselves for at least a few years.

They’re not the only team hoping that, either. A glance at Girona’s squad list will immediately bring something to your attention.

Image Source: Wikipedia

Five of their first team squad are on loan from Manchester City – Douglas Luiz (19) and Olarenwaju Kayode (24) only signed for City this summer, immediately being loaned out to the Catalonians.

Of course, mentioning Catalonia and Manchester City will spark an obvious connection – Pep Guardiola. And, indeed, there is one: Girona FC are part owned by Pere Guardiola, Pep’s brother.

Pere led a consortium in 2015 that bought out the small side, aiming to take them to La Liga. It wasn’t long after that at all that City began to loan players to them, with it even being suggested that City did so in order to build a reputation with Guardiola and to re-establish the relationship between him and their directors. More evidence of the motives can arguably be seen in the deal for Rubén Sobrino. Girona reportedly wanted the player but couldn’t afford him. Manchester City promptly paid SD Ponferradina €250,000 for him and loaned him to Girona for that season.

All of that was quite clearly very successful for everyone all round – Pere got his promotion, City got their Pep. And now things are reportedly moving even further as City Group, who own Manchester City, New York City, and Melbourne City, appear to close in on a 50% ownership deal for Girona – along with Pere Guardiola.

It might not leave the greatest taste in the mouth to see a small team like this being effectively used by a much larger side for ulterior motives, but then the people of Girona likely don’t mind. They were never supposed to be where they are, going to see the local team host Atletico Madrid – let alone match them. And it’s certainly doing a disservice to the people at Girona FC to put their success solely down to a relationship with Manchester City.

They’ve pushed for promotion over the previous five years – finishing 4th, 16th, 3rd, and 4th, before finally winning promotion last season. They lost in playoffs three times, and in 2015 missed out on automatic promotion thanks to a last minute goal. Their manager, Pablo Machín, has achieved something that few managers could, and Girona will be ready for the next test of establishing themselves.

Now they’ll be waiting for the Champions of Europe to show up on October 29th, and a local derby against Barcelona on September 24th. These are incredible heights for any team.