What has gone wrong for Girona in La Liga?
Background Image: Auledas, CC BY-SA 4.0
Last season, Girona stormed the Primera Division at full throttle. Cristhian Stuani boots bit into the pitch like spinning tires on a Ferrari running through the gears. Juanpe was a bulldozer blocking the road for opponents. This season, however, the Blanquivermells were more pedestrian. La Liga is passing them by.
Spain's elite league usually offers an extremely hostile initiation for new members. Debutants are consumed in its maelstrom. Survival is a milestone. Europe is a mere fantasy. Somehow, Los Gironistes broke that age-long ritual. They secured another year in the top in style.
They finished the 2017/18 campaign in 10th with 51 points. The Catalan minnows made the intrepid chase for continental football interesting, eventually finishing seven points short. Girona’s 6-0 whitewash of Las Palmas at the Montilivi indicated they were hurricane-proof.
Pablo Machin built a team fearless in the attack, rugged at the back. His personified 3-4-2-1 formation was difficult for Spain's established teams to break down. They shared the spoils over both legs with Atletico Madrid. Although trashed by Real at the Santiago Bernabeu, Manchin's men recorded a historic first-leg victory in their back yard.
Stuani opened the goals in that famous win. From wide left, the 32-year-old netted 20 others, the fifth best return in the division. He was better than Antoine Griezmann, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema. At the opposite end, though, Manchin was let down. Girona conceded 59 times.
The manager moved to Sevilla. Under Eusebio Sacristan, the squad find themselves muddled in relegation waters. With one round to play, Girona is 18th with 37 points. They are three points behind Celta Vigo who they played to a 4-4 deadlock in aggregate Liga play. The tiebreaker descends from there into goal difference then goals scored. Celta are six better in the former, nine in the latter as things stand. After failing to secure a result in their final home game, losing to Levante 1-2, Los Gironistes require a monumental victory away to Alaves while the Vigo club encounter catastrophe against visiting, already relegated Rayo Vallecano. Barring that improbable scenario, the Segunda Division awaits.
At first, Girona appeared headed for another comfortable mid-table finish in the top flight, especially after improbable wins at almighty Barcelona and Real. Then a run of six defeats sparked by Athletic Bilbao pulled the rug out from under.
Girona crashed to Atletico in the next game. The Montilivi was a fortress breached. Espanyol rode through the gates. So did Villarreal. Further woes awaited on the road against Celta and Real Valladolid. A home win over Sevilla birthed optimism that passed in its infancy with another reversal at the newly fashionable 'G' club, Getafe.
Rayo and Huesca's destinies are sealed. Only faint hope remains for Girona.
Machin's departure foretold the disaster. The 45-year-old signed a two-year deal to take over from Vincenzo Montella at Sevilla. He'd emerged as one of the most highly rated trainers in Europe, saving Girona from relegation in 2013/14 and leading them to three successive top-four finishes in the Segunda, culminating with promotion in 2017. Then he gave Catalonia another club to cheer for with his stunning work in the 2017/18 Liga season.
He built a cohesive bond with his players. They played with their hearts. A deeply analytical coach, his notes and smaller details charmed. He had a calm demeanour with a burning desire beneath for his players to constantly upgrade and adapt to his precise methods.
Eusebio Sacristan stepped in quite ideally but the players and fans missed their hero. Machin might be homesick. Sacked by the notoriously impatient Rojiblancos board, he can only watch his old side from afar. Will they invite him back this summer to work his magic again? If so, will he come? Pride and ambition can come before and after the fall.