The Student News Site of Tenafly High School

The Echo

The Student News Site of Tenafly High School

The Echo

The Student News Site of Tenafly High School

The Echo

Girona FC: The Fairytale Continues

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For the entire existence of the Spanish First Division for soccer, known as LaLiga, there have been two dominant teams with rich soccer heritage throughout every era. These two teams, of course, make up one of the biggest rivalries in sports history: El Clasico. They have won over twice the LaLiga titles than every other Spanish club combined. And if you still can’t name the teams in question, maybe due to a lack of soccer knowledge, they are FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF. The prominence of these two teams was boosted even further in the modern era of soccer, with the rivalry between two of the greatest soccer players ever: Messi and Ronaldo. Many soccer fans consider this era—Messi with Barcelona, and Ronaldo with Madrid—to be the peak of Spanish soccer.

Today, LaLiga is still a top five league in the world and attracted over 300,000 viewers per game in the 2021-22 season, according to Sportcal. This year, amidst all the die-hard Barcelona and Real Madrid fans, a relatively small team—just an hour’s worth of driving from Barcelona—is making headlines. Girona FC, as of December 20, 2023, is at the top of LaLiga; they’re above Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Atletico Madrid (the only other team to have won LaLiga in the past decade). Its namesake town, Girona, Spain, has a population of just over 100,000. For reference, the whole population of Girona could fit into the Camp Nou, FC Barcelona’s notorious stadium. So how is Girona taking over Spain by storm, and is it just a fluke?

Girona Futbol Club, S.A.D. (or just Girona) was founded on July 23, 1930, about 30 years after Barcelona and Real Madrid were founded. Girona plays at the Estadi Montilivi in Girona, a town in the Catalonia region of Spain. Throughout all of its history, Girona played in the second, third, and fourth divisions of Spanish soccer, never quite reaching the coveted LaLiga. That is, until the 2016-17 season where Girona was finally promoted to the first division after years of losing in the promotion playoffs. This caught the eye of many people, including City Football Group, a rich company that operates different association soccer teams such as reigning Premier League champions Manchester City. On August 23, 2017, City Football Group bought a majority stake in Girona FC, claiming a 44.3% majority stake in the club. Although Girona got relegated back to the second league after the 2018-19 season, they would get back to LaLiga in the 2022-23 season, with a solid campaign to finish 10th out of 20 teams in the league.

This year, though, Girona feels like a completely different team. Almost midway through the season, Girona stands at the peak of Spain: two points above Real Madrid, and nine above Catalonian rivals Barcelona (whom Girona beat 4-2). Yet with their limited resources—such as the stadium with the least capacity in LaLiga and a budget of over ten times less than that of Real Madrid and Barcelona—Girona has managed to achieve every small club’s dream to gain global recognition and kickstart a mini “renaissance.” In the center of it all is the team itself: the cohesive unit of players and the coach, Michel Sanchez.

Miguel Ángel Sánchez Muñoz, commonly known as just Michel, was a former soccer player for Rayo Vallecano. As a coach, he helped Rayo and SD Huesca win promotions to LaLiga, but was sacked from both teams. He started his journey with Girona in the summer of 2021, leading them to promotion in just his first season. Unfortunately, his attack-oriented tactics did not work well during his spells at Rayo and Huesca, resulting in his dismissal from both teams. Somewhat inspiringly, he never lost faith in his unconventional—yet beautiful—style of play, and it’s finally paying off. Naturally, the players themselves have also been playing commendably. The attack, led by Ukrainian duo Artem Dovbyk and Viktor Tsyhankov, along with Brazilian youngster Savio, is potent and clinical in their finishing. The midfield and defensive core is made up of the Garcias, along with Miguel Gutierrez and superstar Daley Blind. The team is individually solid, but there are no superstars that make hundreds of millions of dollars like the players in Barcelona and Real Madrid.

On matchday seven, when Girona beat Villarreal, people started taking Girona somewhat seriously. That game, they found themselves down to Villarreal 1-0 in the 50th minute, yet found the vigor to comeback to win 2-1. Even the opponents couldn’t help but appreciate the state of Girona. After the game, Villarreal’s coach admitted to finding Girona’s style of play to be admirable. “They’re the team that plays the best football in primera division,” said Villarreal midfielder Ramon Terrats. “It’s lovely to see them play. It’s hard when you’re against them but they’re nice to watch.”

The question that looms for Girona is the question that every team asks of themselves: is Girona’s current success a fluke? The most comparable example that comes to mind is Leicester City’s Premier League title run in the 2015-16 season, seemingly out of nowhere. Through their 5000-1 odds of winning the title, Leicester City prevailed through their core of players, and their impressive coach Nigel Pearson. Unfortunately, Leicester was relegated in the 2022-23 season, too soon after winning the league. Girona has all the elements of the 2015-16 Leicester team, and an impressive 4-2 win over Barcelona on Matchday 16. Still, the season is only halfway through and the challenge of winning a league is the requirement to be consistently excellent. It’s Girona’s time to shine and represent all the small clubs in the world.

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About the Contributor
Davin Shin, Staff Writer
Davin Shin ('26) is a Staff Writer for The Echo. He loves exploring controversial topics and sports. His hobbies include playing soccer, watching sports, reading, and hanging out with friends.