Girona won their first ever promotion to La Liga in 2017. Two years later, they close their first chapter in the division after slumbering to relegation while their rivals around them fought tooth and nail to retain their top-flight status. On paper, they are far from the worst team in the division, nor do they play poor football, instead falling somewhat victim to circumstance – only four points separated them from safety at the close of the campaign.
Costs will need to be cut, top performers will need to be appeased and a re-think may be needed with regard to their manager Eusebio Sacristan, but large building blocks from their past Segunda success still lie in place. Not to mention Manchester City’s wide-ranging support of their project, promising help with recruitment, sponsorship and marketing.
In August 2017, Pep Guardiola’s brother Pere helped to facilitate the purchase of Girona, bringing the Catalan club into the City Football Group network that includes New York City FC, Yokohama F. Marinos, Melbourne City FC, Club Atletico Torque and Sichaun Jiuniu FC.
Estimated to cost less than an €10 million, that takeover, which involved the City Football Group and Pere Guardiola buying equal 44.3% stakes, allowed for the likes of Pablo Maffeo, Marlos Moreno, Douglas Luiz, Aleix Garcia, Larry Kayode and Patrick Roberts to cut their teeth in Spain over various campaigns.
Ex-Girona coach Pablo Machin on Man City loanees:
“They are coming here to serve their apprenticeship, become more competitive and to make this a stopping-off point between their former club and Manchester City”
The broader aim would be to help City-owned talents gain experience, while also trying to snap up players for Girona’s own academy – who in turn would theoretically be at Pep Guardiola’s first refusal in England. “Maybe you don’t need to go to Barcelona anymore,” Girona executive Ignacio Mas-Baga told Bloomberg in an interview back in August 2018.
How have Girona been relegated?
Girona’s promotion in 2017 was off the back of the phenomenal work of then-manager Pablo Machin. His system laid the bedrock for two terrific years in particular, seeing the club promoted before finishing in 10th in La Liga. Cristhian Stuani and Portu scored a combined 32 goals for the club, who took several scalps and out-performed expectations.
Machin focused on having solid defensive foundations, deploying three central defenders while allowing the offensive trio of Stuani, Portu and Borja Garcia plenty of license to get forward at pace with support from quick wing-backs. Girona stabilised themselves in the top half from Matchday 19 onwards.
Leaving Girona for Sevilla in the summer of 2018, following unsuccessful negotiations to extend his stay in Catalonia, Machin deservedly moved up the managerial ladder. Eusebio Sacristan, former Barcelona B, Celta Vigo and Real Sociedad boss, took his place.
Known for trying to play attractive football, while able to set his side up to compete against some of the division’s bigger clubs, his appointment had some logic behind it – but a criticism often levelled at Eusebio’s past sides is their soft mentality and inconsistency. Just last week, with teary eyes, Girona’s coach apologised for failing those who had put their trust in him.
Girona’s 2019 has been appalling. Taking just four wins from 20 games, Eusebio has seen his team take a nosedive from ninth at the midway point, before plunging to one win and nine defeats in their last 10 matches of the season to seal relegation. While the likes of Celta Vigo, Villarreal, Levante, Real Valladolid and Leganes found their feet, dug in and ground out points, there was no such resurgence from Girona.
How will Girona fare in the Segunda Division?
After scoring goals for fun over their two seasons in Primera, Stuani and Portu are extremely likely to leave the club this summer – the latter’s release clause even halves to just €10m. Aside from that, however, the club could be left with a very similar core of players to the one which earned them promotion two years ago. City’s loanees could also shoulder further responsibility at a lower level.
With economic analyst Roberto Bayon predicting that Girona should be given around €9.5m in parachute payments for next season, in tandem with the fees taken in and the wages being offloaded for Stuani and Portu, the club should be able to cover wages that will drop from a grand total of €36.8m in La Liga.
In Spain, players have regularly been plucked from Segunda and ground out impressive careers for themselves. Portu, Jaime Mata and Florian Lejeune are some of the most impressive of recent years. City still have the chance to send some younger, less refined players to a competitive division. Though the budgets are minuscule compared to La Liga, it forces smarter recruitment.
If Girona wanted to boost their profile by helping young, local players to forget about Barcelona, giving them minutes and further opportunities than La Masia would afford them, spending a season below top deck might be the one step back needed to take two forward. Getting out of Segunda, however, is tough. Not that the bulk of Girona’s squad need reminding. City’s financiers will be watching closely.
This post first appeared here
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