Girona’s success could soon become a big problem for Manchester City

Manchester City U19 captain Shay Facey shakes hands with Girona captain Richy in their 2016 pre-season friendly
Manchester City U19 captain Shay Facey shakes hands with Girona captain Richy in their 2016 pre-season friendly

Positioned between the Pyrenees mountains and the beaches of Costa Brava is a small Catalonian town called Girona. It’s a settlement which feels left behind by the hustle and bustle of modern life, in stark contract with the city of Barcelona just over 100km away. It’s certainly not the most obvious destination for football’s biggest conglomerate to take root.

The town’s football team was bought last year by City Football Group and Pep Guardiola’s agent brother, Pere Guardiola, with the club enjoying a meteoric rise in the time since. With nearly two thirds of their first season in the top flight now complete, Girona find themselves in eighth place. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that the Catalans could qualify for the Europa League in their first season as a La Liga club.

That possibility should be of great concern to City Football Group, and by extension to Manchester City. There’s a feasible scenario in which Man City are denied their place in Europe due to their links with a tiny club in Spain, Girona. They should be concerned by Girona’s success. It could become a very big problem to them.

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Should Girona qualify for European competition, then UEFA’s rules over dual ownership would come into play. The FA only restricts dual ownership when the clubs in question both play in England, while there are no such rules at all in Spain. But UEFA takes a dimmer view of clubs participating in its competitions having fingers in many pies.

If Girona were to qualify for next season’s Europa League, then they would be barred from participating, assuming City qualify for the Champions League, with UEFA favouring the club that finishes highest in their respective league. The same would apply should both clubs qualify for the Champions League, with UEFA permitting entry to whoever had the better league season.

At present, that poses no real threat to Man City. They are the runaway Premier League leaders, with Girona merely scrapping for a place in La Liga’s top six. But Spain’s footballing landscape could present Girona with an opportunity and City with a problem. Consider that there is often a ‘free spot’ up for grabs in La Liga’s top four, with the likes of Malaga and Real Sociedad exploiting that in recent years. Also consider how Girona have already become a top-eight side with very little investment. They could, with City Football Group’s backing, become a Champions League side in the not-so-distant future.

City cannot count on their Premier League supremacy, either. After all, Guardiola’s side finished third as recently as last season. Despite their current position, it wouldn’t take much for them to fall a few places to such a level again. Couple that with a potential Girona rise, and the Sky Blues could be in trouble.

Manchester City’s tie-up with Girona throws up a few red flags
Manchester City’s tie-up with Girona throws up a few red flags

City Football Group might point out that they are not majority shareholders in Girona, owning only 44% of the club. But UEFA’s dual ownership regulations are also applicable when it is deemed that the majority shareholder of one club can be influenced by the ownership of another. In Girona’s case, their majority shareholder is the brother of Pep Guardiola. Man City’s defence would be a difficult one to maintain.

Girona have already beaten Real Madrid this season and this weekend they will face Barcelona at the Camp Nou. A victory there would underline just how far Girona have come in a very short space of time. Much of that success is down to their links with Manchester City, which were formalised last summer. At present, there are five players on loan from the Etihad Stadium and therein lies the appeal of Girona to City Football Group.

Manchester City spent £200 million on the construction of their state-of-the-art youth academy, with the club’s hierarchy keen to start rolling a conveyor-belt of young talent. The problem is that there is no pathway for that young talent to play first-team football. This is where City Football Group want Girona to play a role, presenting many of their young players with the chance to make an impression at a competitive level.

Of course, this isn’t a new concept. Manchester United had an arrangement with Royal Antwerp in Belgium, which saw many young players sent there on loan, with Chelsea’s relationship with Vitesse Arnhem well-documented. But City have taken this model and removed any protection for themselves. One day, that could backfire.