Spanish Club Girona FC touched down in India to be a part of the first-ever international pre-season tournament in the country - the Toyota Yaris La Liga World tournament and Sportskeeda managed to catch up with the players from the club in Kochi.
La Liga World is a first-of-its-kind pre-season tournament in India that aims to bring top-flight teams from across the globe to the country with the aim of projecting India as a top destination for future calendar events of similar stature during the pre-season.
Three-well renowned players, namely Aleix Garcia, Bernardo Espinosa, and Marc Muniesa, who'd enjoyed brief spells in the Engish Premier League were made available to the press for a media interaction.
The most experienced among them, Bernardo Espinosa, had moved to Catalonia after failing to make a mark in England with Middlesborough who eventually went down the season before last.
Another man who made the trip with him from North Yorkshire to Catalonia in the summer of 2017 was Uruguayan striker Cristhian Stuani.
Stuani was heavily criticised for his inability to find the back of the net for Middlesborough, which played a huge role in their relegation from England's top flight. He has found it 21 times since in a terrific campaign for Girona in 2017/18.
We asked Espinosa how important the turn-around in the striker's form has been for the Spanish side's top-half finish in La Liga last season. This is what he had to say:
"Well, it's been crucial. The most important thing in football is to score goals. And if you have a player who is able to score 21 goals in one season, it's going to make a lot of points for your team. It's been a great year for Cristhian."
Espinosa played alongside the striker at Middlesborough in an injury-plagued season after making the move from Sporting Gijon in Spain, where he spent four years - helping them gain promotion to the top division in Spain after a stellar season in 2014/15 in which he was named Liga Adelante Best Defender and made the division's team of the year.
A tragic cruciate ligament injury forced him to miss out on the second half of the campaign in 2015/16 but he was still the subject of a lot of interest from Premier League Clubs such as Everton, Bournemouth, and Watford. It was Middlesborough, though, who got his signature.
However, this wasn't the first time the two South Americans found themselves at the same club. Espinosa had spent a year on loan at Racing Santander - where he would go on to score his first goal in the top division - and would soon be joined by Stuani who similarly was sent on loan to Racing by his parent club at the time in 2012, Reggina.
The Girona defender was happy to acknowledge the brilliant form of his teammate and was delighted by his personal accomplishments for Girona last season:
"I've had the chance to play with him for three seasons at three different clubs. I've seen his work and it's an excellent opportunity for me to be satisfied for him because he's had an excellent season.. Lots of goals. Lots of personal acheivement."
The Colombian defender was, however, sure to clarify that Girona's success was not down to the actions of any one man:
"But at the end, football requires a collective team and is a collective sport. His job is to score the goals and for us, as a team, to try and get the ball into the area, as much as possible, for him to score them.."
Instead, he claimed that the fact that Stuani has been able to score so many goals is an indication of just how well the team functioned as a unit last season.
"We functioned very well as a team and were able to get a lot of points out of his goals - which are very determining (factor) in football.
"So I think, at the end, when a team has a player who scores so many goals it's perhaps an indication that the team is doing very well."
Girona were the surprise package in Spain last season and have defied expectations in their first-ever campaign in La Liga. They upset the reigning European champions, Real Madrid, and nicked points off Atletico Madrid twice on their impressive bow in the Spanish top-flight.
Stuani has played a crucial role, indeed, scoring 21 league goals for his side whereas Espinosa has been a rock at the back for the side from Catalonia.
We thanked the Colombian for coming down to India to be a part of this historic moment for Indian football and wished him all the best for the coming season, which we hope will include many more upsets against the big boys in Spain.Published 27 Jul 2018, 14:42 IST