Why Man City have targeted La Liga newcomers Girona for loan moves
Preseason friendlies are big business these days. So are postseason friendlies. But Manchester City began a new trend this week by playing a friendly when the season had already started.
They will spend much of this week at a warm weather training camp in Spain and on Tuesday, the club took on Girona, three days after a 2-0 win in their Premier League opener at Brighton & Hove Albion.
The newly promoted La Liga side won 1-0 at the Municipal de Montilivi and landed the Costa Brava Trophy thanks to a 14th minute strike from midfielder Portu. The game was played at a leisurely pace, with 71st minute substitute Ilkay Gundogan making his first appearance since suffering a knee injury in December, but why did City feel the need to play the game at all?
Club sources told ESPN FC the fixture was arranged because their four-match summer tour of the United States and Iceland was considered one game light, and City wanted to take advantage of a gap in the schedule with their next Premier League match being Everton next Monday.
But there is also the growing relationship between the two clubs to take into consideration.
There have been multiple reports in the UK and Spain that City's parent company, City Football Group, will soon become joint-owners of Girona, to extend a stable of clubs that includes Major League Soccer franchise New York City FC, Australian A-League side Melbourne City FC, Japan's Yokohama F. Marinos and Club Atletico Torque in Uruguay.
Sources at City told ESPN FC that no deal has been finalised yet, but the links between the clubs are already strong. Girona's promotion to the Spanish top flight for the first time in their 87-year history offers City's youth players a competitive environment in which to learn their trade. And, back in July, the Girona players staged their own training camp in Manchester, using the luxury facilities on offer at the Etihad Campus.
Who has moved?
On Aug. 1, City sent three players on loan to Girona: Douglas Luiz, a 19-year-old Brazilian midfielder signed from Vasco da Gama for £10 million on July 15; Marlos Moreno, 20, a Colombian winger signed from Atletico Nacional last year for £4.75m; Aleix Garcia, a Spanish defensive midfielder who has been with City since signing from Villarreal in 2015.
There, they have joined up with Pablo Maffeo, a 20-year-old Spaniard full-back who is in his third loan spell at Girona, having first moved there in January 2016, and who played excellently against his former club on Tuesday.
Olarenwaju Kayode, a Nigerian striker set to sign from Austria Vienna, is expected to be loaned immediately to Girona once his transfer is complete.
But not all of City's players want to join. Belgium defender Jason Denayer expressed his dissatisfaction with the club vetoing a move to Lyon because they "absolutely want to loan me" to Girona. That will not be happening now and his exit from City is expected this month.
What's in it for City?
City have a relationship with Eredivisie club NAC Breda. Six young players will spend the season there -- Thomas Agyepong, Thierry Ambrose, Paolo Fernandes, Angelino, Manu Garcia and Pablo Mari -- but Girona's Liga status allows players to gain experience at a much higher level.
The division of players between Breda and Girona suggests City's top-tier talent is heading to Spain, the players in need of further development will go to the Netherlands. And City can now test out their talent beyond the English Under-23 level, which is not considered tough enough.
Barcelona and Real Madrid cannot play their reserve teams in the Primera Division, with Barcelona B playing in the Segunda Division and Real Madrid Castilla in Segunda B, a division below that.
City's relationship with Girona may allow them to steal a march on their European rivals and can also act as a high-profile shop window for players they have decided to sell on.
What is Girona's history?
Many European travellers know the medieval city of Girona best for its airport, used by budget airlines for its relative proximity to the city of Barcelona, 54 miles away. But it has not been a place recognised for its football team.
Previously a club in the lower reaches of the second tier, Girona were transformed in February 2015 when a consortium of local businesses paid off its €2.3m debts. Leading those benefactors was Pere Guardiola -- the younger brother of City's manager. He owns football agency Media Base Sports, which includes Barcelona striker Luis Suarez and Maffeo among its clients, and represents Pep. Pere has acted as senior adviser to the football club since that cash injection.
So are there any problems?
The presence of Pere at the heart of the relationship suggests something of a conflict of interest, and could bring into question the length of any linkup, since Pep is only contracted until the end of next season and has repeatedly said three years at a club is his preferred length of tenure.
A takeover by City Football Group of Girona is not illegal but UEFA rules may prevent the smaller club playing in the Europa or Champions League. The shared-ownership club qualifying for the lesser competition could be barred, though UEFA let in both Red Bull-owned Salzburg and Leipzig this season.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.