Girona have dropped off in La Liga – but their Champions League dream is still alive

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This past week has been a hugely important one for Girona.

February had already brought two painful losses, denting their dream of an unlikely La Liga title challenge. At the Santiago Bernabeu on February 10, a 4-0 loss to Real Madrid provided a reality check and moved Los Blancos five points clear at the top of the table.

Then came another loss, a 3-2 defeat by Athletic Bilbao at San Mames, a result that sparked worries they might begin to slide out of the top four.

“Over the last week there was a feeling that we had to respond,” said a senior club source — who, like all those cited here, preferred to speak anonymously as they did not have permission to comment.

“But Monday ended up just being the day.”

Over last weekend, Barcelona and Real Madrid both won, but fourth-placed Atletico Madrid drew at Almeria and Athletic were defeated by Real Betis. Going into their Monday match at home to Rayo Vallecano, Girona were in a position to re-establish their strong position in the race for a Champions League spot.

Achieving this has been their target for months — and a 3-0 win over Rayo helped boost the mood around the club dramatically.

That victory consolidated Girona’s second place in La Liga. They are now six points behind leaders Madrid, but 10 points clear of fifth-placed Athletic, with 12 matches to play. With the Basque side set to embark on a tough run of fixtures, starting with Barcelona this Sunday, it seems likely Girona will break into Europe’s elite.

Achieving that would have been unthinkable not so long ago but now, within the dressing room, there is a feeling that the job is half done. Higher up in the club’s senior offices, no-one seems too worried about the team’s previous blip in form. Some recognised the 4-0 loss at the Bernabeu and Madrid’s clear superiority as something that should be expected.

“If I’m honest with you, we did not consider ourselves capable of winning the title,” a senior club source says.

“All the conversations inside the club during the last months were about having a look at Athletic Bilbao and checking our distance with them. We’re not even aiming for second place or qualifying for the Supercopa de Espana, which would be great of course. The top four is the real target, it has been for a while now. For us and our fans, securing Champions League football next season would feel like winning the title.”


Girona manager Michel signed a contract extension earlier this season (Pedro Salado/Getty Images)

There is still huge excitement around Girona and what they have already achieved.

They were playing in Spain’s fourth-tier as recently as 2006-07, in a division that only featured fellow teams from the Catalonia region. They were promoted to the third tier for 2007-08 and the following season made their return to the Segunda Division, ending a near-50-year absence from professional football.

The pace of change has been unrelenting in a city whose footballers were used to playing to attendances of around 200, with most locals supporting Barcelona, Real Madrid or Espanyol. It was a world away from where they are now.

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The surprise performers of 2023-24, Girona were outright La Liga leaders themselves across six matchdays, later also sharing top spot with Real Madrid. They soundly defeated Barcelona at Montjuic in December, beat Atletico Madrid at home with a last-minute winner in January and have gained admirers across the game for their impressive performances.

It all left many wondering: could they actually pull off Spanish football’s biggest fairy tale and beat the country’s giants to the league title?

“Apart from some sort of inside jokes among us earlier in the season when we were top of the league, at the club’s offices there was honestly no real talk about winning La Liga,” sources from Girona insist.

“We had been compared a lot with Leicester City and what they did (Premier League champions in 2015-16). The reality is that for that to happen you don’t only need to be absolutely outstanding. You also need the bigger teams to be below their expected level. With the points Leicester registered when they won the Premier League, they would have won none of the last seven titles.”

Defending La Liga champions Barcelona are certainly performing below expectations (they are two points behind Girona in third) but leaders Madrid have lost just once so far this season, away to Atletico in September.

Still, even if the league title might now look further out of reach than it did a month ago for Girona, qualifying for the Champions League would represent a huge achievement for a team with the fifth-smallest salary budget in Spain’s top flight.

It will also leave them with plenty of work to do.

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Girona would only be able to host 9,000 fans in the Champions League (David Ramos/Getty Images)

The first big task will be focused on their Montilivi stadium. It currently can host around 14,000 people, one of the smallest stadium capacities in La Liga. Around 5,000 are provided by supplementary stands attached to the stadium.

UEFA does not allow clubs to place fans in supplementary stands in Champions League football, which will push Girona to re-think their already planned investments (a new training centre and academy facilities are part of their long-term aims) and consider remodelling their stadium in the coming months.

Club sources state all scenarios have been considered, including the construction of an entirely new second tier of seats in each of the stadium’s stands. But it won’t be an easy decision to make. Girona want any investment they make to be in a sustainable improvement for the future of the club, rather than a quick fix.

Girona have been in discussions for months with the city council and multiple architects. Apart from the investment needed, they are aware the ground’s location comes with certain complicating factors. Montilivi is placed just next to a small hill which could also limit the room for enhancing the infrastructure.

Sources admit that, in the end, the time limit of what is feasible to build in barely a summer will dictate their final decision. But the club’s view is that Champions League revenue would provide an unmissable chance to capitalise and invest in their stadium. They are also aware there is the possibility of requesting La Liga arrange their first three fixtures of next season away from home, in order to gain some time for works to be completed.

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Girona winger Savio has scored seven La Liga goals this season (David Ramos/Getty Images)

The other key factor looking towards next season is their links to the City Football Group (CFG).

City first invested in Girona in August 2017, purchasing a 44.3 per cent stake after they won promotion to La Liga. An equal share was also held by a group ultimately chaired by Pere Guardiola — City manager Pep Guardiola’s brother — though in the years since, City’s share has now increased to 47 per cent, with Pere Guardiola selling around two-thirds of his stake to Bolivian businessman Marcelo Claure. Claure himself has links with CFG through Club Bolivar, a partner club he owns in his home country.

UEFA has rules that closely govern teams that are part of such multi-club ownership models. As well as monitoring player transfers between sister clubs, regulations also limit their ability to meet each other in any of its three continental competitions.

Senior figures at both clubs are confident they should both be able to compete in the Champions League next season if they qualify. Well-placed sources around both sides expect changes to take a similar form to what happened with RB Leipzig and Red Bull Salzburg in 2018.

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Changes in Girona and City’s relationship are also expected to have an impact on future signings — with 19-year-old winger Savio at the centre of this situation.

Savio, also known as Savinho, is currently on loan at Girona from another City Football Group club, Troyes, and has registered nine goals and seven assists across all competitions so far. Manchester City are very close to securing an agreement to sign him permanently from next summer. This proposed deal is perhaps an example of City seeking to finalise business early, in the context of expected changes to the CFG structure.

Meanwhile, despite the difficulties, it is no secret that Girona are working to find a way around to get Savio to stay at the club next season. Michel, the club’s manager himself, admitted it last Monday.

“I am quite sure that I will be here at Girona next season, and I hope Savinho can stay with us too,” he told TV broadcasters DAZN after the Rayo Vallecano game.

Keeping hold of Michel is another big positive for Girona. Earlier this season he signed a new contract extension up to the summer of 2026, but the club were still braced for interest in him from other teams, given this year’s success.

Michel and his team are now in the perfect position to convert an extraordinary season into a truly transformative body of work at Girona.

And right now, everyone at the tiny club offices currently housed in the basement of Girona’s Montilivi stadium is gearing up for the most exciting and busiest summer of their lives.

(Top photo: David Ramos/Getty Images)





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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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