Girona bolstered by City links as they prepare for top flight debut
By Richard Martin
BARCELONA (Reuters) - La Liga newcomers Girona hope their links with Premier League Manchester City will help them in their bid to stay in Spain's top flight after an 87-year wait to get there.
The Catalan side begin their first campaign among Spain's elite on Saturday with 10-times Liga champions Atletico Madrid visiting their Montilivi stadium, which has been hastily expanded from a capacity of 9,000 to 13,500.
Girona earned automatic promotion last season after missing out in the playoffs in three of the previous four years, including two final defeats.
Coach Pablo Machin has been at the helm since 2014, avoiding relegation to the third tier in his first campaign before finally earning promotion at the third time of asking last season.
His side have been boosted by the arrival of four players from Manchester City for the upcoming season, renewing an existing deal for right back Pablo Maffeo and adding midfielders Aleix Garcia and Douglas Luiz as well as Colombia international Marlos Moreno.
Girona's alliance with City began in August 2015 with the loan of Spanish defender Ruben Sobrino and Frenchman Florian Lejeune, who has since returned to the Premier League with Newcastle United.
A total of nine players have moved between the two clubs in the ensuing time.
Girona held part of their pre-season training at City's Etihad Campus in July while City played a friendly at Girona on Tuesday, three days after beginning their Premier League campaign, which the Spanish side won 1-0.
Pere Guardiola, the brother of City coach Pep and a high-profile agent representing players including Barcelona's Luis Suarez and Andres Iniesta, is largely credited for fostering the ties with Girona.
The agent has been an adviser at Girona since overseeing their takeover by French media company TV Sports Events in 2015 when the club were in huge financial difficulty and had debts totalling 4.5 million euros ($5.28 million).
These links could be further strengthened with British and Spanish media reporting that City Football Group, the Premier League side's parent company, are finalising a takeover of the Catalan club.
The deal will expand the number of clubs under the City Football Group's umbrella to six with Girona joining MLS franchise New York City, Australian side Melbourne City, Japan's Yokohama F. Marinos and Uruguay's Club Atletico Torque in addition to the Manchester club.
Cross-border club alliances are not unprecedented in Spain.
Andalusian side Granada were taken over by the Udinese-owning Pozzo family in 2009 and won promotion to the top flight in 2011. They were relegated last season, exactly a year after cutting their Italian ties.
Girona coach Machin is wary of Granada's example but welcomes his side's links with City.
"It makes us proud to have this relationship with a big team like City, and the aim is for both clubs to make the most of it," he said.
"City have a great place for their young talents to grow and we hope we can give them the opportunity to be more competitive by giving them the chance to compete in one of the best leagues in the world.
"It's positive for us but this club is no testing ground. We are absolutely clear that we want to stay up and we only play the best players to achieve that objective," he added, stressing that the loanees would get no preferential treatment.
(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Toby Davis)