Across Europe, you can see it everywhere. Not just fine football, expected theatrics and passionate club supporters, instead the underdogs that both neutrals and supporters of competing teams follow with a vested interest. And at this time of the footballing calendar, during the start of a brand new season, in the face of bookmakers and pundits alike traditionally writing off the lowest spenders or newly promoted sides before a ball is even kicked, a unique blend of an underdog’s optimism, passion and determination often proves the doubters wrong. With this in mind, you have Huddersfield Town joint-top in the English Premier League, new boys Troyes and Strasbourg establishing themselves in the French Ligue 1 and the likes of Hannover, SPAL and VVV-Venlo already achieving way above their expectations in their respective countries and divisions. This is where Girona come in.
Despite equally facing similar challenges to their fellow Segunda competitors promoted last season, the Blanquiavermell have also received much more in terms of both investment and support, as well as an incredibly warm relationship with Manchester City. Yet in spite of such public backing, for all the spending an summer recruitment that has gone at Montilivi in the past few months, Girona fans had no idea just what to expect and prepare mentally for as the club kicked off their first-ever season in La Liga against Atletico Madrid last Saturday. On paper, there is no doubting that an opening matchday against Atlético Madrid would definitely not have been Girona’s type. In reality, it was a very different affair.
Girona looked lively both on and off the pitch in the lead up to last Saturday’s kick-off with the energy, enthusiasm and excitement demonstrated amongst fans quickly spreading on to the pitch as Girona made their supporters’ long-standing dreams become reality, entering Montilivi for the first time as one of 20 teams in this season’s La Liga. Likewise, from the first whistle, any previous doubts and question marks over the type of approach the club would apply against a side as strong as Atletico were soon nullified as the home side came straight out from the blocks and gave an impressive account of themselves, even before Cristhian Stuani wrote his name into Girona’s history books as the scorer of the Catalans’ first and second top-flight goals – sending both their stadium and social media into overdrive.
Were we watching the start of something special and the dream start to life in La Liga? It certainly felt like it as Girona looked every bit the top-tier side, making a seamless transition between the second and first divisions with complete ease. Even as the club’s slender, two-goal lead was soon reduced by a 10-man Atleti following the sending-off of the usually clean-cut Antoine Griezmann, before all three points were eventually snatched away from the hosts with merely minutes left on the clock, Saturday’s performance should be viewed in much-wider circumstances as an incredibly positive sign for Girona’s Primera future.
Firstly, the club’s signings impressed without adhering to the modern-day cliché in football of needing time to adjust, settle in and get used to the style of a new footballing culture and division. With the exception of Pablo Maffeo, who is surely used to life at Girona after his spell with the Blanquiavermell last term, Marc Muniesa, Larry Kayode and Cristhian Stuani looked not only comfortable but also settled at such a level, and if Girona’s fellow recruits can go on to match their teammates’ performances against Atletico then they’ll have fantastic squad depth for the season ahead. Similarly, in looking at Girona’s possession, shots on goal and the number of these on target, Girona looked accomplished and capable of not only causing an upset against the League’s more established teams but up for the fight in taking points off their direct rivals.
Clearly time will tell over the course of the season just how well Girona fare. As many have suggested in the cases of Huddersfield or VVV, it may well have been a case of beginner’s luck. Nevertheless, and looking much further into Girona’s opening-day performance instead of their current League standing after only one game played, there are plenty of encouraging signs for the season ahead, which – should the club and their players realise their potential –help the Catalans enormously, not only in La Liga survival but also in their overall quest of establishing themselves in the Spanish top flight for many years to come.