How I chuckled when those who follow the Premier League whinged when they saw the fixture list! Here in Spain, we don’t even know for certain when La Liga will reconvene nor the identity of all the promoted teams just yet.
The two clubs who have made it so far are welcome additions. Old friends Levante, the second club from the city of Valencia and Girona, who are completely new to the top division.
Girona’s timing couldn’t have been more perfect with Catalonia seeking independence. Most of the signs at the humble Estadi Montilivi are written in the local lingo. It’s like heading to Wales or Ireland and suddenly seeing everything in Welsh or Gaelic. Whereas Barcelona are a global phenomenon, Girona are a Catalan club hitting it big for the first time.
Girona is Catalonia’s second city and has a population of 100,000. Before returning to the Segunda after a 49-year absence, they dropped into the regional divisions and almost went out of existence. It’s folklore that the club was sold for one euro in 2012 and almost made it to the Promised Land in 2015, only to fail on the last day.
They almost blew it this year when they lost their penultimate game to Nastic but were lucky to be playing Zaragoza on the final day when a 0-0 draw suited both clubs.
The club also has some influential friends. Pere Guardiola, the agent and brother of Pep, clearly has the ear of decision-makers at Manchester City who have sent a number of their starlets to Girona in the past. Pablo Maffeo was influential late last season and it’s expected he will return with Aleix García in a bid to further their footballing education.
The champions of the second division were Levante who made a quick return after one season away.
Their fans always create an atmosphere and the club has previously punched above its weight by reaching the Europa League and two Copa del Rey quarter finals. When they were last promoted, they took on free agents who were desperate to play top-flight football and they bought into the club. The ‘Journeymen’s Eleven’ set a record for the oldest team to play in La Liga in October 2011 when they took on Malaga with an average age over 31.
Contrast their ethos with Granada, the club they replace. Granada’s new Chinese owner was persuaded by agents to loan young talent from bigger clubs. It was a disaster, the Andalusians were relegated, the kids returned to the arms of their parent clubs, and I guess the agent(s) claimed a finders’ fee.
Of course we still await the winners of the play-offs and the actual start of the season but it’s all taking shape.