The European football leagues have passed the first quarter of the season and their rankings are taking shape more and more. Among the continent’s major tournaments, only the Spanish La Liga has an unusual presence in the top places. After 14 games at the top of a championship won by the same three teams for twenty years, there is Girona, a small club founded in the 1930s which until 2017 had never played in La Liga, football’s top division national.
Monday evening, during the postponement of the fourteenth day of the championship, Girona drew 1-1 Athletic Bilbao returning first with Real Madrid the only other team in the league to win 11 matches so far. The points that separate Girona from the two other big teams in the championship, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, tied for second, are four in number.
Girona is a Catalan city of around 100 thousand inhabitants a few kilometers from France and the first major city across the border, Perpignan. He has never been a famous football center and, indeed, in recent years, it is his basketball team that has been talked about, notably after being bought by Marc Gasol, NBA champion with the Raptors of Toronto and who today ends his career as a player on his own team.
But the same year that Girona first arrived in La Liga, its football team was bought by the City Football Group, a company run by the royal family of the United Arab Emirates and which includes the properties of ten teams spread across all the domains. across the world, starting with Manchester City (plus two others in which it is a minority shareholder). Girona were the fifth team in the group, after Manchester City, New York City, Melbourne City and Atletico Torque in Uruguay, and before the bottom five: Mumbai, Lommel, Troyes, Palermo and Bahia.
Girona represented the group’s first European expansion, and it was obviously not a random choice: the operation resulted in the purchase of 44 percent of the club’s shares and a smaller percentage of shares was allocated to a company owned by Pere Guardiola, brother of Manchester City. manager Pep Guardiola, both from a Catalan town halfway between Barcelona and Girona.
Given the involvement of the City Football Group, one might think that Girona has been the subject of significant investment, but in reality so far the growth has been gradual and without excess: four years ago, l The team was also relegated to the second division, where it remained until two seasons ago.
The club underwent the “treatment” of the group, which redesigned its coat of arms to make it similar to the others and has the same technical sponsor as supplier of sports equipment. The team itself can benefit from the player network and knowledge made available by the ownership group, but in the current championship, the team’s value is only one-tenth.
What makes the team work so well is the way it was built and made to play. There is a good quality Spanish player base, reinforced both by investments in the market and by loans received from teams in the group, such as left winger Savio, who arrived from Troyes, right back Yan Couto and midfielder Yangel Herrera, both from Manchester City. The biggest investments have been made in the attack, and in particular in the Ukrainians Viktor Tsygankov and Artem Dovbyk, authors of 10 goals in total so far at a cost of around fifteen million euros.
The group was then completed with more experienced players, such as Dutch central defender Daley Blind, taken for free from Bayern Munich, and Italian-Argentinian goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga. The captain is the Italian-Uruguayan Christian Stuani, who has been at Girona for five years and previously belonged to Reggina.
Together, they play clearly offensive football through a 4-3-3 which in the offensive phase becomes a 3-4-3 in which verticality is always sought in passing. In this way, and thanks to a defense that has held up well so far, 32 goals have already been scored, an average of more than two per game and more than any other team in the championship. The coach is Michel, a historic Real Madrid player from the 80s with a long series of experiences, both in Spain and abroad, having coached in Greece, Mexico, France and Saudi Arabia.
For the rest, Girona retains the appearance of a provincial team. He plays in a small stadium of just over 10,000 seats inside the local university campus and his second jersey features the Catalan flag, also known as senyera. The relationship with the territory remains very close, as demonstrated several times in recent years. Last season, for example, the sponsor space on the team’s jerseys was given to Open Arms, the Catalan humanitarian organization engaged for years in rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean, financially supported by the team and publicly by Pep and Pere Guardiola. .