Soccer-'New Leicester' Girona can win LaLiga, says ex-Spain winger Garcia


Soccer Football - Legends of the North - Manchester United Legends v Liverpool Legends - Old Trafford, Manchester, Britain - May 21, 2022 Liverpool Legends' Luis Garcia celebrates scoring their first goal Action Images via Reuters/Ed Sykes/ File photo

BENGALURU (Reuters) - The vast majority of soccer fans might view Girona's stunning climb to the upper echelons of Spain's LaLiga as an early season aberration, but former Spain and Barcelona winger Luis Garcia is not one of them.

Girona coach Michel has played down his team's chances of winning the title, saying they are not at the level of the league's elite, despite being level on 38 points with Real Madrid, behind the league leaders only on goal difference.

Girona have 12 wins, two defeats and one draw so far, the same as serial champions Real, and are four points above third-placed Barcelona, having scored more goals than any other side in the top flight ahead of their trip to Barca on Sunday.

"Girona have just come out of nowhere," Garcia told Reuters in Bengaluru, adding that he saw parallels between their rise and Leicester City's fairytale Premier League title win in the 2015-16 season.

"It's the new Leicester, right? With Leicester I remember the talk was exactly the same -- 'Oh, you know, they will drop.'"

After earning Premier League promotion in 2014, Leicester needed a remarkable late rally to avoid what seemed like certain relegation the following season, before embarking on their incredible title run the subsequent campaign.

Girona, who were promoted via a playoff in the 2021-22 season and finished 10th in LaLiga last season, seem to be following a similar script.

"Why can't it be Girona?" Garcia said. "They don't have European competition. They don't have many international players.

"They can rest, they can rotate every week, and they can put out their best 11 every single weekend. It isn't easy to beat this team.

"Will they feel the pressure in the last part of the season? They might. But we said the same of Leicester."

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Atletico Madrid are the only team apart from Real and Barcelona to have won LaLiga in the past decade, claiming the title in 2014 and 2021, but Garcia believes greater investment means the European soccer landscape is poised to change.

"We can see it already with Newcastle (United)," the 45-year-old said.

"That's why football is such a followed sports all around the world. We like to see the top teams competing for every single trophy. But we all love a dark horse. We all love it."

Two decades ago, Garcia was part of the 2003-04 Barcelona squad that had one hand on the title only to drop 10 points over the final two months of the season before finishing second to Valencia.

"I grew up following Barcelona," he said. "(Missing) that opportunity to win LaLiga was a massive blow for me."

Barcelona won the league next season, but by then Garcia had moved to Liverpool, where he won the Champions League and the FA Cup but not the Premier League trophy.

"It was so difficult. The Premier League was a dream for us," he added.

But Liverpool under Juergen Klopp are a completely different animal to the team that Garcia was part of, and the Spaniard believes they mean business this season and could seal their second league title in four years.

"This squad is very competitive," he said. "I know it's not going to be easy, but it's not going to be easy for anyone."

(Reporting by Chiranjit Ojha in Bengaluru; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

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