Duruji Kvareli – 2032 Open Thread
December 2031/January 2032.
The Europa League draw is in, and we manage to avoid the like of Juventus, Napoli and Valencia. Instead, we’ll face Rangers — not the easiest draw we could have had, but a very manageable one.
Clubs will receive $599k in television rights for 2032, up from $499k last year and three times what we received in 2026, our first year in the top flight.
(Club finances have generally improved, with all but one club in the top flight earning a profit in 2031. Ironically, the only club to lose money was the one who was best-positioned to be profitable, at the start of the save — Dinamo Tbilisi, who was $17.54k in the red for the year. The second tier seems much more stable than it used to be, as well.)
Luis Lorente, Vladimir Khakhaleishvili and Luka Khachidze have all departed, upon the expiration of their contracts. We had backfilled these positions in the squad last year, so their departures are long-planned.
The biggest signings are Mamadou Aidara (who was mentioned in last year’s squad review; $225k, ASC Diaraf), Erand Ramadani ($155k, Flamurtari), and Erekle Jibuti (free, after Lokomotivi foolishly let his contract run down). All 3 will be in the 2nd XI.
In a bid to bring in the “best” young Georgian players, we’ve also signed Rezo Mukbaniani and Vakhtang Papidze on a free, from Samtredia and Zestaponi, respectively. Mukbaniani, Papidze and Giorgi Rotiashvili will spend the year playing primarily with our U21s, if they aren’t out on loan.
(Yes, we have too many centerbacks, especially when you consider that we have Murman Akhalaia from the 2031 academy class, in our U19s. Depth won’t hurt. I also anticipate that we will lose Petar Vukovic and Bojan Gocevski at some point; I sincerely doubt that either will sign a new contract.)
Surprising no one, we’re favored to win the Erovnuli Liga again.
We kick off the year with a comprehensive 3-nil win over Rangers, thanks in no small part to a brace from Goose. In the 2nd leg, an early goal from Goose puts the Scottish side under pressure, and a wide-open match ensues, finishing 3-3 on the night, as we progress 6-3 on aggregate. We draw Arne Slot’s Marseille, a rematch of the 2030 Europa Conference League quarterfinal.
In the interim, the 2nd XI smashed Torpedo Kutaisi to claim our 4th straight Georgian Super Cup, with the 1st XI then taking care of business to kick off the Erovnuli Liga campaign.
Finally, we’ve sold 289 season tickets (up from 259 last year), with average tickets now $24 per match, $163 for a season ticket (up from $21 and $151, respectively).
The first leg against Marseille is everything we needed it to be. A tough match, but a 3-1 win which sets us up perfectly for the return leg to the south of France.
I decide to play PM Haaientand in the 2nd leg, since we’re expecting an all-out assault. The idea being, park the tank in front of goal knowing that we can absord pressure, but that we’ll also get our chances on the other end. We simply need to finish them. (The tactic is not an “underdog” tactic, per se, but works well when sides are coming at you due to our defensive shape and aggression in the attacking phase. One example of this plan in action? Our 5-3 loss in Marseille 2 years ago, in the Europa Conference League quarterfinal.)
The plan worked…almost. We conceded 2 goals under extremely heavy pressure, but they did not come from defensive lapses — rather, they were the sort of wondergoals a side needs to break down a stubborn, resolute defense. We also had our chances, but didn’t take them. We lose 2-nil, and are eliminated on away goals (3-3, aggregate). Marseille were and are the better team. If we’d been slightly more clinical, we’d have scalped them.
Meanwhile, we’re off to a near-perfect start in the Erovnuli Liga. 5 wins from 5 matches; 19 goals for, 1 against.
I wasn’t planning on making any moves on deadline day here in Georgia, but when Lokomotivi started making offers for Kote “Reshi” Tkeshelashvili, I changed my mind and decided to pull the trigger on a two-part move that was planned for later in the year.
Reshi’s contract was due to expire in 9 months’ time. While he has been a sentimental favorite of mine due to his versatility, I wasn’t going to offer him a new contract. He has been playing as a shadow striker in our 2nd XI, and just isn’t good enough for the long term.
His planned replacement? Irakli Kurashvili, a Zestaponi academy graduate who has been capped by the Georgian U19s, and is easily the best young shadow striker prospect in Georgia. I had already unsettled Kurashvili in the media, and was planning to swoop for him in the summer transfer window as either a free transfer (his contract expires in December) or for a relatively modest fee.
In the end, it’s a no-brainer. Reshi leaves for $1M plus future clauses, instead of leaving on a free in 9 months’ time. We spend $475k of that fee to bring in Kurashvili, one of the most promising young players in Georgia, who could fit our system beautifully.
Yes, Reshi is off to our biggest domestic rival. He is a solid, reliable player. But he isn’t going to push Lokomotivi over the top, not when he couldn’t get into our first-team squad. And he wasn’t going to take us anywhere in Europe.
Kurashvili will join the 2nd XI, fighting with Lasha Geguchadze for the 4th shadow striker spot on the depth chart. I think I could have signed him for free in the summer (or for a smaller fee), but in the end that isn’t a concern. We’re in the black in terms of our transfer “net-spend,” and our finances are in impeccable shape.
In terms of long-term squad building, this looks like a win-win.
Karma being karma, shortly after selling Reshi to Lokomotivi we face our rivals in Tbilisi. And lose, 2-nil, breaking a 58-match unbeaten streak.
Immediately upon the completion of our most recent facility upgrades (raising our training facilities to “excellent” and youth facilities to “average”), we go back to the Board for more. While the Board doesn’t immediately agree, they don’t put up much of a fight and agree to another round of investment in our training and youth facilities.
The loss to Lokomotivi has proven to be a one-time slip, as we’ve returned to our winning ways and sit atop the table, 7 points clear. We host Lokomotivi in 10 days, the last match before the Euros commence.
June 2032 – European Review.
The annual European results, this time with even more annoyance at England’s continued dominance.
We start the month with an infusion of an additional $10M from participation in the Champions League, from the coefficient ranking pool and in additional television revenue. Insane. Not that we’re sending the check back. We’re crazy. But we’re not that crazy.
The Erovnuli Liga rises to 40th in the competitions table, slightly behind the Irish top tier, and improve the Georgian qualification coefficents marginally for the 2033/34 campaign.
The youth intake preview again looks like an issue of quality versus quantity.
The summer passes quietly, as we continue to romp through the domestic campaign. We do manage to renew several contracts, however, after batting away insulting offers from other European sides.
A dream tie awaits in the Champions League qualifying rounds. We’ll face Malmo FF, one of my favorite teams to play as. Forgive me, Hakan and Ludwig. It isn’t anything personal.
The first leg against Malmo? Wasted chance after wasted chance. We win, 1-nil. But we’ve left the door ajar for Di Blae, on the return leg in Sweden.
A door that we firmly close with a Jankowski goal in the 2nd minute. Followed by 5 more. 6-nil on the night, 7-nil on aggregate. Forgive me, Hakan…
The first leg against Luzern is another exercise in missed opportunities. We win, 1-nil. Again. And, again, we will take a narrow lead on the road, to face a side that we should vanquish… A side we should have put away in the first leg…
A side to whom we’ve given the most dangerous gift of all. Hope.
The return leg is my 500th game in charge of Duruji Kvareli. We control the match, but lack the incisive, ruthless mindset that we’ll need in the Group Stage. Which is where we’re heading. We’re through. 1-nil on the night, 2-nil on aggregate.
Our reward? We’re drawn intro Group B, with Ernesto Valverde’s Manchester City, Marcelino’s Barcelona, and Fenerbahce. I’ll be extremely pleased with a third-place finish.
The domestic campaign continues apace, as we sit 19 points clear of Merani at the top of the table, 21 clear of Lokomotivi (who have a game in hand). We’re also through to the Davit Kipiani Cup semifinals.
We’ve won 26 straight matches in all competitions. While that streak is certain to end in the Champions League within the next few weeks (I’m already having flashbacks to our last trip to the Camp Nou…), it has been an immense run.
The summer transfer window in Georgia ends in mid July, which typically means that our business is done long before anyone else’s is. If we move someone on in August, we need to have someone already in the club who can backfill the position.
As a result, my typical stance is that no one will be moved on after the closure of the Georgian window in July. It puts us at too much of a disadvantage.
The exception that makes the rule? Denis Garnier, the left wingback in our 2nd XI who has been a source of non-stop complaints about playing time since arriving in June 2031 for $400k. He’s not a bad player. He’s just not good enough to start. And I’m typically very careful about personalities, avoiding toxic players as much as possible. So, when clubs started a bidding war on the final day of the transfer window, I set a price in my mind and waited to see if anyone would meet it.
And Atalanta did. $13.25M, inclusive of future clauses, plus a 50% sell on fee. Not a bad return on our investment, over a 14-month period.
That does leave us with a hole in our 2nd XI, though. Well, not really. I wouldn’t have let Garnier leave if we didn’t have a replacement on-hand. We’ve promoted Besik Chichinadze from our U19s/21s. He was a member of last year’s Academy class. He has some potential, no question. In time, I think he could be a productive member of our 2nd XI. For now, it’s sink or swim.
Frustration was the word of the day, when Fenerbahce came to town. A 3-3 draw which saw us throw away leads of 2-nil and 3-2, having hit the woodwork three times, with 2 goals called back for offsides. This means we’ll likely need a result in Istanbul, to claim 3rd place.
At the Camp Nou, we find a measure of redemption. We lose 1-nil, but aren’t punished when we try to chase the game in the last 20 minutes.
Our youth intake was, as predicted, a matter of quality over quantity. The only player truly worth considering is Lasha Bitskinashvili, who will train as a mezzala.
The dream of finishing the campaign unbeaten at home was not to be. We played relatively well against City, but their quality shone through to deliver a 3-nil win for the visitors, in front of a record crowd of 16,455.
An epic night at the Emptyhad. [Editor Note: There’s something about this sentence that is fundamentally incorrect. No, no that.]
We fight tooth and nail, and are on the verge of securing a 1-1 draw after a brilliant cross from Mamadou Dieng forced an own goal from Andre Luis…only to give up a 90th minute goal to Mohamed Ihattaren. But we weren’t done for yet. Mamadou Aidara grabs an equalizer in the 91st minute, to earn a 2-2 draw. A massive result.
The reality was that progress through to the Europa League knockout rounds would depend entirely on our trip to Istanbul. A difficult away tie, if ever there was one. If only we’d taken care of business on Matchday 1… But, we didn’t.
Before we can leave for Istanbul, however, we have one final match to play at the Kvareli Fortress, before we move into our new stadium (the Barcelona match will be hosted in Tbilisi). Fittingly, the last match at the Tsentraluri is against Lokomotivi. I’m tempted to rest the 1st XI with an eye towards Istanbul…but the supporters deserve a proper goodbye. A 4-1 win should do the trick, even if we don’t field a full 1st XI.
At which point our attention could turn to the task at hand, away to Fenerbahce. It wasn’t pretty, but we gave the brave 63 traveling supporters cause to celebrate with a 1-nil win in Istanbul. We’re through to the Europa League knockout rounds.
For the final match against Barcelona, we decide to proceed with PM Haaienhamer. If we’re going to go down, let’s go down swinging. Fortune favors the bold? Indeed it does. We walk away with a fully-deserved 2-nil win. A brilliant end to the season.
December 2032 – Season Review.
Another epic year. Our final campaign in the cozy confines of the Kvareli Fortress, the venue that drew my attention to this corner of the world.
While I hoped for an unbeaten season at home in all competitions, it was spoiled by the loss to Manchester City in November. Technically, we didn’t lose any matches at the Kvareli Fortress this year…but that’s not what the achievement hunter requires.
Change is in the air. In terms of the squad, I promoted Mamadou Dieng to the 1st XI (with Mesud Besic dropping to the 2nd XI) several months ago, and am planning two additional “swaps” between the 1st and 2nd XIs, for the coming year: (1) Jonathan Akrofi will take over as our starting goalkeeper, with Manuchar Kurashvili dropping to the 2nd XI; and (2) Omar Farjallah moving into the 1st XI as a mezzala, in place of Davit Gogitidze.
My goal is to keep Besic, Kurashvili and Gogitidze in the squad — all 3 will also be on the subs bench for the 1st XI, so they will get ample playing time. Kurashvili is a prima donna, though, so I expect him to eventually kick up a fuss. I could easily sell him if he becomes a problem (Leeds was chasing him last summer).
I’ve been scouting, per usual; I just haven’t found players that I’m truly enamored with. There are a handful of players I’m considering making moves for, but no one that I feel is a “must” buy right now. We have plenty depth at centerback and mezzala, even if the youth prospects we have on hand aren’t 1st XI caliber players.
There’s one Ivorian I really like as a mezzala (he’s just a bit too slow to be an effective shadow striker)…but the reality is that I’m not looking to splash any of our newfound riches.
I don’t see anyone that can immediately improve the 1st XI, or claim a spot in the squad outright. The only exception to that being at left wingback in the 2nd XI, a spot held by Besik Chichinadze on the basis of potential, for now.
Goals for 2033: Make a run in the 2032/33 Europa League knockout rounds. During the 2033/34 European campaign: (1) reach the Champions League Group Stage; and (2) qualify for the knockout rounds of a European competition. Take over the Georgian National Team if it becomes available.
God leaned over to the Devil, drew him close and declared, “those who will drink three glasses of chacha may be on my side. After that, they are yours.”
If you’ve stumbled upon this post and are finding yourself a bit confused, the basic concept behind the Fourth Glass save is explained here. Just need to catch up? Each installment in Giorgi Amirani’s attempt to take over the football world, starting from the Georgian Regional Leagues, can be accessed through the Fourth Glass Archive.