Why Manchester City should keep their hands off Girona’s Sávio

This is a public service message for Manchester City: Hands off Sávio! He’s far better off where he is. Leave him with Girona next season, too — you’d be foolhardy to cut his progress and stick him toward at the bottom of Pep Guardiola’s squad.

The “Wanted!” notices about Sávio Moreira de Oliveira, aka Sávio, started going out just over a month ago when it was sources told ESPN’s Rob Dawson that the City Football Group, who own his registration and authorised his loan to Girona from French Ligue 2 side Troyes last summer, are calling the kid to England’s northwest and life in rainy Manchester for the 2024-25 season.

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This diminutive, tricksy 19-year-old, raised by his mum and grandparents on their São Mateus farm on Brazil’s southeastern Atlantic coast, has 10 goals and eight assists this season. He’s one of the principal reasons that Girona, who’ve never played European football, are within touching distance of the Champions League next season.

It’s nine years since he was milking cows and gazing in awe at the spectacular rodeos on that family farm, loving the freedom of life on the land while the adults in his family were scratching out a living, but now his talent is properly blooming. His version, told to El Periódico, shines a light on his philosophy.

“I’m aware of what my style of play does for people,” Sávio explained. “I love it when I produce some technical trick and the fans roar about it. I reviewed a recent performance at home on video and noticed how our supporters were up and off their seats. They yell ‘Ohhhh!’ and leap to their feet — I want to cause that.”

During the most brutal and bumpy spell of Girona’s season, which saw defeats to Athletic Club and Mallorca plus a proper dismantling against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu, Sávio produced three goals in their solitary two wins — at home to Rayo Vallecano and, at the weekend, in the 2-0 defeat of Osasuna.

Go take a look at how he sprints onto Aleix García‘s backheel, leaves his marker trailing and then uses the outstep of his left foot to spear the ball into the far panel of the Osasuna net. A wee drop of magic.

Across the season there has been more than ample evidence that this left-footed winger has the “right stuff” — balance, technical gifts, anticipation, athleticism and a capacity to learn. Sávio admits “these have been testing months because I prefer playing on the right wing and coming in onto my left foot.” Such development in a wholly new environment, against the biggest rivals of his short career despite being asked to abandon his preferred position, is impressive.

Girona aren’t quite cut from the “Dirty Dozen” template, a tight band of misfits, bad eggs and brigands who somehow function brilliantly together — but it’s not far off.

So, given that Sávio is a young, raw, full-of-promise breakout talent, he stands out against teammates such as Yangel Herrera, Aleix García, Paulo Gazzaniga, Eric García, Borja García, Pablo Torre and Miguel Gutiérrez. These teammates have, respectively, been on the books at Manchester City, Barcelona, Tottenham Hotspur or Real Madrid and, for one reason or the other, not made the grade. Yet here they are, led by manager Míchel, who lives and breathes Guardiola’s coaching concepts, but whose only previous LaLiga experience as a coach ended in sacking after seven months by Rayo and five by Huesca, on the verge of playing Champions League football next season. Deservedly, too. And, there’s the rub.

Míchel, who’s no optimistic fool, reckons that another nine or 10 points will ensure that this little Catalan club, which has never played an English, German, Italian, French, or Dutch side competitively, is on the cusp of facing PSG, Inter Milan, Bayern Munich, Arsenal, Liverpool and their ilk next season — and earning many tens of millions of euros in the process. That would mean that Sávio, if he’s left where he is or loaned back, so long as he stays fit, would play a minimum of eight Champions League matches under the new UEFA system which debuts in September.

Instead of groups, the Champions League will become a 36-team league in 2024-25 and while Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti finished his “mea culpa” news conference last week, after that horrible 1-1 draw with Leipzig, by saying about the new system that “I’m against any calendar or competition change which means more and more matches,” nobody in authority is listening. The revamped format means that so long as Girona don’t produce the most cataclysmic drop in performance level between now and late May, then history will be made, and Sávio can be given a gigantic opportunity to mature, learn and improve.

Would the same thing happen at City? Well, thinking very specifically about him being under Guardiola’s tuition, in what’s likely to be the Catalan’s last season in Manchester, the answer is yes. Training with his eagle eye on you, training against some of the best players in Europe every few days, taking in his hot-house advice, criticism and demands will push any footballer — let alone a young, still flawed Brazilian winger. But nothing improves and battle-hardens a player like consistent top-level competitive match action.

At City, Sávio would be up against those who periodically or regularly play wide in Guardiola’s team: Jack Grealish, Jérémy Doku, Bernardo Silva, Phil Foden, Oscar Bobb, Julián Álvarez, plus the occasional full-back played as an out-and-out winger.

If fit and on form, he would start for Girona every week and play the majority of all eight Champions League games between September 2024 and January 2025. Plus, he would remain a trusted mainstay of Girona’s campaigns in LaLiga, the Spanish Supercup and the Copa del Rey. It could be the biggest, most demanding, most exciting season of this kid’s career. So, let’s build the case for him staying.

Míchel isn’t anywhere near Guardiola in terms of experience, trophy-winning or genius — but they are from the same school of thought. And character. Sávio told Globo TV in Brazil: “I think almost everything we’ve achieved this season is owed to the coach — he’s demanding. He gets furious if we miss even one pass or make a stupid one. When I’m in the team he’ll curse at me a lot if I’m not doing well enough and for one half of the match I’m on the same touchline as him. It sometimes ticks me off — I get really angry.

“When he rested me in the Copa del Rey, I found it really funny to sit on the bench and hear him cursing someone else instead. But the thing is that he leaves us absolutely no comfort zone — we all know he’s improving us.”

Míchel famously burst into the dressing room at half-time earlier this season and yelled at Sávio, who’d produced a goal and an assist in the first 45 minutes: “Dammit, you’ve got the talent and the quality to score 10 and get 20 assists this season!” Sávio argued back and reduced the “agreed” total to scoring eight and assisting five times — he’s already smashed that.

Sávio chose the City Football Group proposal when he left Brazil, turning down the chance to sign for Arsenal because his ultimate objective was to work under Guardiola. But he understands that “it’s a process and I’ll just have to work towards it.” However, at the start of the season, asked whether simply “staying up” would be Girona’s objective, this fella, new to the country and fresh from playing in PSV’s youth team, said: “I expect us to finish in the top eight.” A bold statement.

In any full analysis, nevertheless, his flaws need to be highlighted too. In each of the defeats against Madrid, 3-0 in Catalonia and then 4-0 at the Bernabeu, Sávio simply didn’t impress. The test of being snarled at, pressed and run past by Ancelotti’s champions-elect gave us the limpest version of Girona’s winger who’ll be with Brazil when they play England and Spain later this month.

The kid who used to stare in awe at the rodeo riders on his family’s ranch already knows that in order to be a rhinestone cowboy, you need to fall, dust yourself down, hide the bruises and then get back on the bucking bronco. He’ll get that chance far more often at Girona than Manchester City next season. And those of us who love football in Spain will have much more fun.

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