Unbridled joy after Girona play-off win
The presenter of El Punt Avui TV’s The Week in Football, Barney Griffiths, analyses the situation at Catalonia’s leading clubs as we enter the close season
Well wouldn’t you just know it? Last season Girona threw away a chance of reaching the First Division of Spanish football by losing 2-0 at home to Rayo in the play-off final, having secured a first-leg away victory that seemed to all but assure them of a place in La Liga, making it a dismal play-off record of four failures in four separate attempts. Then, having crept into the play-offs on the last day of the regular season this year, they not only saw off promotion favourites Eibar with a miraculous 2-0 away win after losing the first leg 1-0 at home, but then went and won 3-1 away at Tenerife in the final game, having seemingly lost a great opportunity by only drawing the first leg 0-0 at Montilivi, to once again claim their place among the footballing elite.
And breathe. What a tense and yet rewarding end to the season it was for Michel’s men. Football, eh? So accustomed to disappointment, fans could barely contain themselves in the streets of Girona after a dominant performance in Tenerife saw their side march proudly into the top flight on June 19.
They didn’t make it easy for themselves. Three defeats in the last six league games to Cartagena, Tenerife and Sporting left Girona needing a point at Burgos on the last day to seal a play-off place. Although an edgy performance resulted in a 0-0 draw, no one was overly optimistic about Girona’s chances, especially given the aforementioned play-off record of recent times.
Girona were full value for their win in Tenerife, however, and Michel will receive well deserved praise for that. It was a victory that healed many old wounds. The three goals came from Stuani, the legend, who tucked away a first-half penalty awarded for handball, then there was a deflected own goal after Baena crossed to make it 1-2 after the hosts had equalised and we were headed for extra time. By the way, in line with new play-off rules introduced this season, Girona had to win here, having finished lower than Tenerife in the league. There would be no away goal rule and no penalty shoot out. And just as Tenerife looked like they might spoil the party with another equaliser, Arnau Martínez, the young right-back who plays like a veteran, completed the win by turning in a free kick from the left.
Far from Montilivi, far from the bulk of fans who had to huddle together around TVs to watch the game, the curse of the play-offs was finally buried. It now remains to be seen what Girona do in the summer transfer market to prepare their squad for another season in La Liga.
Regardless of the incessant rumours surrounding Barça players, at the time of writing the club had not yet made any summer signings, while Coutinho had officially left for Aston Villa, Luuk de Jong had returned to Sevilla (and subsequently signed for PSV) and Dani Alvés and Ousmane Dembélé had both been released at the end of their contracts. There were ongoing sagas, however: one surrounding Dembélé, as it remains unclear as to whether he will sign for another big club as a free agent, or actually re-sign for Barça, and the other Frenkie De Jong, who has been courted by Manchester United since the window opened.
The periquitos have appointed a new head coach since the last time of writing, having head hunted former Granada boss Diego Martinez. Martinez completed three campaigns with the Andalusian club before resigning at the end of the 2020-21 season. He reached the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey and Europa League and finished ninth in La Liga, without ever having been among the relegation places. He was not associated with any club at the time of his appointment, which is an exciting one for fans, given that Martinez is seen as being among the more promising and ambitious young Spanish coaches.