Ahead of Girona’s inaugural top-flight match in La Liga against Atlético Madrid way back on the 19th August 2017, the club’s supporters labelled themselves as ‘a club, a fanbase and city of Primera’.
Less than twelve months later with a staggering 11 games remaining, the Catalan outfit have done what many believed was the unthinkable back in pre-season and secured survival in the first division at least for another season – impressive stuff I am sure you can agree.
As speculation developed regarding the involvement of Manchester City in the club, an official announcement of Girona’s entry to the now well-known and ever-expanding City Football Group soon followed. With it came an influx of talent from the English side including Aleix Garcia, Marlos Moreno and Douglas Luiz.
With such talent at their disposal, this whole staying in the first division would therefore be a piece of cake, right?
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Instead while survival has perhaps proved much easier than many would have expected, for both the neutral and lifelong Girona supporters it has been somewhat refreshing – rewarding even – to see them defy expectation, using largely what was the core of their Segunda promotion-winning squad from 2016/17.
The arrival of five City players has benefitted the club in terms of squad depth but apart from Garcia and Maffeo, the Catalan side have stuck true to their word and managed to excel with a group of players that have seamlessly made the transition between the second and first tier.
This solidified the unity of the squad and showed they could bring relative success together, rather than relying on talented individuals.
Experienced heads at Girona
The arrivals of the experienced Cristhian Stuani and Bernardo Espinoza helped the club establish themselves in La Liga but many will point to the old guard, most notably Borja Garcia and Portu who have looked at home this season in the top-flight.
While such players quite rightly get the public praise they do, as somebody who has watched near enough each and every Girona game this season with an analytical eye, it is only fair Ipay a much-needed and incredibly overdue tribute to the three of the club’s unsung heroes in this campaign.
Stuani and Portu’s goal-scoring exploits and superb statistics point to their best form of defence being attack, but the capabilities at the back are often overlooked, as Machín’s men have been dangerous down either wing thanks to Johan Mojica and Aday Benitez.
After making his way into the side following injury to Carles Planas earlier in the season, Mojica truly made the most of his opportunity and proved he was more than capable of cutting it both in defence as well as going forward in La Liga.
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With the pace to track back and forth combined with the engine to do that for ninety minutes straight, the Colombian left-back has been one of Girona’s most dangerous outlets going forward and has provided four assists already this season.
As well as being one of their fastest and talented players, Mojica always plays with a smile on his face capped off by his signature dance moves during near enough each and every goal celebration. And who knows? His successful season may even see the Colombian earn a call up for the 2018 World Cup.
Catalonia’s own Aday
Aday meanwhile epitomises everything that Girona has, does and will always stand for.
An unrivalled determination to perform to his very best, an undeniable enthusiasm and passion to pull on the White and Reds shirt each and every time he is picked in Machín’s starting XI, and an unparalleled commitment to the cause.
Unafraid of both flying in for a defensive tackle or conversely charging forward as Girona look to break on the attack, displacing the highly talented Maffeo was always going to be a difficult task for Aday but when called upon, whether that be through injury or squad rotation, he has always excelled making him a firm favourite amongst Girona fans.
Youth product Pons
Finally we couldn’t pay tribute to the club’s three biggest unsung heroes without mentioning the incredibly likeable Pere Pons, who is as much at the heart of the pitch as he is at the very heart of the club.
Making his way through the ranks, midfielder Pons, like Aday, illustrates all the assets which have helped Girona be where they are today.
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What often strikes me however about the 25-year-old is that like the very best defensive midfield anchormen in the modern game, he quietly gets on with his job without very much attention. He sweeps up at the back, plays the simple passes and always offers an outlet to a defence looking to clear the ball.
Pons is very much a players’ player and one that I truly believe is underappreciated not just at Girona but in the Spanish game itself.
So as the Catalan outfit gear up for their first La Liga game this Friday, since confirming their survival, the stars may well shine brightly on Montilivi but make sure to look out for these three unsung heroes who have kept Girona from languishing much further down in the table.