IT would be a football fairytale that might even eclipse Leicester if Girona can hang on to top spot and win the Spanish league.

And if they do it would be celebrated as enthusiastically in one corner of Manchester as it would in Catalonia. The transformation of the club since the City Football Group acquired a stake in the summer of 2017 has been incredible.

Opta’s latest European football Power Rankings – published just before Christmas – produced a few wry smiles at their Etihad HQ.

Not surprisingly, City were top of their pile while Girona were ranked in 24th place – one spot above Manchester United.

It’s looking increasingly likely they could have two clubs qualify for the Champions League next season – while the Red Devils’ hopes are fading.

Who could have seen that coming back in 1999 when Sir Alex Ferguson was leading his club to an historic treble on a famous night in Barcelona?

Some 50 miles across the region that year, Girona were playing in the fifth tier of Spanish football – typically in front of around 200 fans.

They only reached the top flight in their country in 2017, a couple of years after Pere Guardiola – younger brother of you know who –  had arrived to shake things up.

Even now they have only spent four seasons in LaLiga – yet here they are looking down on the traditional heavyweights Real Madrid, Atletico and Barcelona from the summit.

Sunday’s 5-1 thumping of Europa League holders Sevilla was another indication they are not going to go without a fight. At the very least a place in the top four looks theirs for the taking – as they have an 11 point cushion to fifth place.

Despite the rules around clubs with shared ownership, Guardiola Jr is optimistic they will be able to compete in the same competition as City.

Asked if there is a possibility they wouldn’t be allowed into the Champions League, the club chairman said: “I don’t think so – the Uefa rules are clear.

“Some adjustments will need to be made – but there won’t be any problems.”

The governing body may need some convincing but Leipzig and Salzburg – both owned by Red Bull – have found ways round them before and the CFG will look to do likewise.

Guardiola Jr went on to explain that the 13 clubs in the group are largely run independently – but there are things they can share.

The model may have to be tweaked if Girona are playing in the same Uefa competition as their sister club City next season. Speaking to Gazzetta Dello Sport, Guardiola said: “Each club is organised and works individually. The model of a franchise cannot be applied to a football team.

“But there is a synergy that leads to the sharing of data and information on players.

“Daily life comes only from work on site – but there is still a sense of a team.

“The sporting directors are in Manchester three or four times a year, the general managers have a weekly call to share the strategy of each club. It works very well.”

Some would say it’s worked like a dream.

Their highly-rated coach Michel Sanchez has assembled a squad of veterans, kids, free transfers and loans – spending only around £30million in the process. Among them are Brazilian pair Savio and Yan Couto – both borrowed from other clubs within the group.

Eric Garcia and Aleix Garcia both had time on City’s books – while Prem fans will remember Daley Blind and keeper Pablo Gazzaniga.

Yet they are top of the table on merit – top scorers in the league and with just one defeat – against Real Madrid back in September.

No wonder Michel – who has been coach since summer 2021 – is being linked with other jobs such as Newcastle, Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

There is even talk the 48-year-old could be the man to step in once Pep finally decides to call time on his glittering spell at the Etihad.

Out of the shadows

Defender Eric Garcia – on loan from Barca – was well thought of by the current City boss and he might still be there now had he not turned down a new deal in summer 2020. But having played for both clubs he can see a common theme, saying: “The playing philosophy is very similar.

“We try to play out from the back, press as quickly as possible when we lose the ball and play attacking football.

“Obviously, from there our opponents are going to have chances because it’s what we expose ourselves to, although we try to minimise them.”

After all these years in Barcelona’s shadow, kids in the city are now wearing Girona shirts  – and loving the journey their team are on.

Long-serving sporting director Quique Carcel admits these are emotional times and knows it will probably be a once in a lifetime opportunity.

He said: “We could never have expected this. It’s historic. it won’t happen again because it is so, so difficult.” – Sun

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