Before Saturday night’s Catalan derby, Girona’s Pablo Maffeo was probably a name that was unfamiliar to many.
The 20-year-old is on loan from Manchester City, and he certainly came to everyone’s attention after the way in which he kept Barcelona’s Lionel Messi quiet throughout the match.
Indeed, such was his impact that Messi himself even inquired at full time as to where the player was from and his age. The youngster was, in fact, born just a corner kick away from Barcelona’s new Sant Joan Despi facility. Could the Argentinian be thinking that a potential new signing could be had at the Camp Nou perhaps?
Girona are of course owned by Pere Guardiola, Pep’s brother, and the loaning of players to the La Liga new boys is evidently of benefit all round. Even if one is to be slightly cynical about the arrangement, surely it’s better to have squad or youth players learning their trade at the highest level elsewhere as opposed to being stuck in the background.
It’s certainly worked for Maffeo who has made a real name for himself in such a short space of time.
When asked recently why there are less and less academy players coming through the ranks, particularly at clubs like Manchester City, Pep Guardiola simply said that the gap (between U21 & U23 development squads and first teams) was “far too big.”
So, in order to bridge such a gap and for the wheel to continue turning, farming players out is the only option. The term ‘feeder club’ has been bandied around quite a bit recently, but that’s slightly disingenuous to another super addition to the league.
Girona, regardless of whether Pere had taken over or not, are likely to have always been grateful of the loan options for their first ever season in the Spanish top flight, to help them consolidate and hopefully manage to do what Eibar have; become a solid mid-table La Liga club.
Players like Maffeo will be integral to that success.
With the heart of a lion and an impressive work-rate, he typifies everything good about Girona. Though they were not the whirling dervishes of the first couple of weeks, when they took Atletico Madrid all the way at the Estadio Montilivi, only two incredibly unlucky own goals put Barca in command.
On balance of play, the visitors deserved their win in the end but Maffeo and his colleagues can be proud of what they’ve achieved to this point, and also in their performance against their near neighbours.
(The author is an expert on Spanish football)