Duruji Kvareli – 2034 Open Thread
December 2033/January 2034.
The Champions League draw is here, and we draw two-time Champions League winners, Massimiliano Allegri’s Tottenham.
On a slightly more encouraging note, we will receive $836k for Erovnuli Liga TV rights this year, another substantial increase from last year’s $711k.
In terms of the squad, I decided that it was time for Mesud Besic to move on, with replacements also needed for Besik Chichinadze (who endured a brief, pointless loan to Eibar) and Davit Gogitidze. Besic has simply fallen to the 2nd XI, and is replaceable; his contract expires at the end of the year, and will only be renewed if I can’t find a suitable replacement. Chichinadze has some skills, but I’d like him to get more game time to see if he can push on and become a more useful squad player. Gogitidze is a solid player, but I don’t think he can take us to the next level; I have yet to decide if his contract will be renewed, as he may still have a role to play as a squad player.
Before the window opens, we confirm the signings of Togolese international Victor Toudji (free, as his Etoile Filante contract had expired) and Kenyan international Samuel Kitawi ($110k, Gor Mahia). Both will start in the 2nd XI, Toudji as a left wingback, Kitawi as a mezzala with Gogitidze dropping to serve as a jack-of-all-trades player from the bench.
We haven’t shipped anyone out during the transfer window, other than a few young players on loan. That isn’t to say that the offers haven’t been coming in, with Ibrahim Anyamele being heavily targeted.
This is where having a balance over $100M means that we can reject these offers, without much concern that the Board will sell him out from under us.
Could we replace Anyamele, with the proceeds from a sale? Absolutely.
But these offers tell us we have a massive player here. Of course, we already knew he was a massive player, for our level. But with the “big” clubs after him, that tells me just how big a player he is (and can be). He’s under contract through December 2036, and was willing to negotiate a new contract in late January (I just wasn’t ready to pay him 10k/week). With any luck we can get him to sign another contract; if we can keep his demands beneath $10k/week, all the better.
Of course, the reason we can afford to reject such ridiculously large offers is because we’ve kept a close eye on the wage budget. We can’t loose sight of that just yet.
Shortly before the first leg against Tottenham, the news breaks. We’re favorites to win the Erovnuli Liga, lads.
The first leg in London starts brilliantly, as Farjallah smashes a volley from 25 yards in the 6th minute that Horton mishandles. 1-nil. But there’s a lot of football still to be played. England striker Matthew Barry levels for Tottenham in the 25th. He’s on $350k/week. Nearly seven times our total wage bill. Our highest wage? Petar Vukovic, on $4.1k/week.
Barry is a constant menace. We’re being utterly dominated. An hour gone and it is still 1-1, although I’m not entirely sure how. We’re soaking up pressure, our defensive shape strong.
It isn’t pretty. But it’s a result. A 1-1 draw. All to play for back in Tbilisi.
A straightforward win over Torpedo Kutaisi in the Super Cup follows. A brilliant start to the campaign.
The big test. Tottenham, out for blood, looking to finish us off in Tbilisi. While we look to exploit the advantage of playing the second leg at home, with a precious away goal in-hand. An early goal from Aidara set the tone, followed quickly by Vukovic smashing home from close range in the 13th minute, off a whipped free kick from State. 2-nil on the night, but an incredible amount of football remains to be played, and Tottenham are too good a side to count out.
In the 27th, we build out of the back under heavy pressure, Kantaria finding Dieng to launch an incisive counterattack which sees Anyamele driving through the heart of the Spurs defense, before smashing a 20-yard screamer off the far post…which falls to Aidara, who taps home uncontested. 3-nil. Incisive does not even begin to describe our ruthlessness in front of goal today.
Spurs are the better team on the night, but it makes no difference. They cannot find a way through our resolute defense. Our tactics excel when we are asked to absorb pressure and strike from the shadows.
We win 3-nil on the night. 4-1 on aggregate. We’re through.
We’re going to need a bigger bandwagon in eastern Georgia. A record crowd of 16,923 attended the Tottenham match. Season ticket sales have increased to 374 for 2034 (up from 341). Ticket prices are also up, $27 per match, $185 for a season ticket (up from $26 and $172, respectively). (For the sake of perspective, during our initial campaign in 2022, we sold 30 season tickets. Ticket prices were a mere $3 per match, with season tickets going for $9.01.)
We draw Bruno Lage’s Atletico. Another big ask. But I love that we will play the 2nd leg in Tbilisi.
Aidara scores a brilliant goal, early in the 1st leg, to give us hope. But Atletico hit back immediately. Game on. Aidara claims a brace in the 38th, after a beautiful through ball from Toure — another vital away goal, and the lead on the night. Atletico are in complete control at the half, but we lead on the night. In the 69th minute, against the run of play, Eto’o heads home a long throw-in from the left.
Atletico have no answer. We will take a 3-1 lead back to Tbilisi.
The second leg begins just like the first. Atletico in control, but we strike first blood. Dieng, heading home from close range in the 12th minute. Atletico pull one back in the 39th minute, but need 2 more to force extra time. They’re controlling the match, but pushing forward which creates opportunities for us to hit them on the break. We need another goal.
Atletico start the 2nd half strong, and are rewarded with a goal in the 49th minute. We lead 4-3 on aggregate.
In the 51st, Atletico counter after Kantaria loses the ball outside of their box. And Botto smashes home. The tie is level, 4-4 on aggregate.
Dimitrijevic finds the back of the net in the 67th. Atletico now lead, 5-4 on aggregate. They have been clinical in front of goal. Ruthless. Just as ruthless, if not more so, than we were in the first leg.
We bring on our substitutes and adjust the tactics, but cannot find a way back into the match.
Atletico were the better side, by far. Of that there is no doubt. But we were not good enough today. That much is also clear.
I’m still gutted about the loss to Atletico. They’re a better squad, but we should have closed out the tie. I’m assessing the squad, and will do a full-blown squad review either mid-summer or (more likely) at the end of the 2034 campaign.
Our most recent round of facility upgrades are complete, which leaves us in tremendous shape overall. There is still work to be done on the youth facilities, but the Board have agreed to another round of investment.
We’re back on track domestically, after the 2nd XI’s shock loss to Zestaponi a few weeks ago. We’ve got a busy month ahead, as most of the world turns their eyes to the World Cup in Japan. I’m ready for July, though, when we’ll start our Champions League qualifying campaign.
A big milestone early in the month, as Vasile State registers his 217th league appearance for the club (his 337th in all competitions). He’s a verified club legend. The rub being that he’s been dropped to the 2nd XI, in favor of Abdoulaye Diallo. His spot in the squad is not under threat; he and Goose are two players who I want to keep until the day they retire (and then bring on as staff, if possible).
In the Champions League, Atletico ran out of gas in the semifinals, losing 8-3 on aggregate to Marcelino’s Barcelona. The Catalans will square off with Marcelo Gallardo’s Manchester City, who are seeking their 3rd straight Champions League title.
Lokomotivi are proving hard to shake once again — 2 of their 3 losses are against us.
May 2034 – European Review.
Another year. English sides sweep the European competitions. At least we did our part by eliminating Tottenham, but this is painful.
Mesud Besic is off to Lille for $1.1M, plus a 50% of next sale clause. He will be replaced in the 2nd XI by Andras Sandli ($185k, Ferencvaros), a Hungarian U21 international who is more attack-minded than Besic, and seems to have substantial potential for growth.
The youth intake preview is less than inspiring. I wonder if Big Papi realizes we don’t even play with strikers.
We’ve been less than impressive in Champions League qualifying, thus far.
Albanian side Partizani were up first, and while we swept them aside 3-nil in the first leg and 4-nil in the second, I couldn’t help but feel we were struggling to get out of first gear. Part of the problem is generated by our success, of course — our increased reputation means that opponents are sitting deep, numbers behind the ball with a cautious or defensive mentality. We’ve been struggling to break them down.
Steaua Bucharest were up next, and presented a similar issue. We didn’t do ourselves any favors in the first leg, with 3 goals called back for offsides, needing an 89th-minute penalty to secure a 1-nil win after Goose was taken down in the box. We were dominant, but did not turn that dominance into goals. We suffered the same problem in the 2nd leg, with warning alarms firing in the 92nd minute as Steaua grabbed a goal to draw level on aggregate. We struck back immediately through Toudji, avoiding a tricky 30 minutes of extra time. 1-1 on the night, 2-1 on aggregate.
Less than convincing. We’re controlling matches and creating chances. We just need to finish them. Especially with Dinamo Kiev on the docket for the Third Qualifying Round, a side that I normally would not worry. A side that could cause us problems if our current form continues.
Meanwhile, the 2nd XI have been taking care of business in the Erovnuli Liga, as we sit 8 points clear of Lokomotivi after 22 matches.
Those missing shooting boots? Someone packed them for our trip to Kiev. A comprehensive 4-nil win in the first leg, the goals coming from 4 separate players. This is the kind of performance we’ve come to expect.
Except, in the 2nd leg, we return to form. 2 early goals called back for offsides. A 1-nil win on the night, comprehensive in every respect but for the scoreline.
We will face **** Star in the Playoffs, a trip to Belgrade. Best remembers that drinks at the Itchy Kitty are only for winners, lads.
A modest bit of good news, as with some arm twisting the Board agrees to expand Kursha Road. Great news, right? Kind of. We’re planned to expand only to a capacity of 6,601, from 5,750. I guess I shouldn’t complain. It is better than nothing.
We welcome **** Star to Tbilisi with open arms, and a shiv hidden behind our backs. We smash them 5-nil, exactly the kind of performance we need to bring each and every day. Another narrow, 1-nil win follows in Belgrade — dominant in every respect but for a distinct lack of goals.
In the Group Stage, we draw Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Chelsea, Ajax, and Thiago Silva’s Torino. It isn’t an “easy” Group, but we should be in the mix to progress to the knockout rounds again, if we perform.
The stretch run is here, with a handful of big matches. First up, Thiago Silva’s Torino, who are no match for the lads in Tbilisi. It’s only 1-nil, but 3 points are 3 points. Especially in a must-win match if we want to advance from the Group Stage.
Domestically, we hit the end of the month 6 points ahead of Lokomotivi, with 9 matches to play. And a home-and-away, double-header against Lokomotivi just days before we face Ajax in Amsterdam. A chance for our rivals to narrow the gap. Our 1st XI disabuse Lokomotivi of any such notion at Kursha Road, in a 7-nil annihilation that speaks volumes. We rotate the squad for the 2nd match, to keep the 1st XI fresh for Ajax…and the 2nd XI promptly lose, 1-nil. It’s our first loss to Lokomotivi since April 2042. With 7 matches to play, our 6 point lead should be insurmountable…but it isn’t over yet.
Our youth intake has arrived and, as expected, it is less than impressive, overall. That being said, Goga Gabelia has potential as a shadow striker. Mikheil Bregvadze is the only other player who looks serviceable, but that’s only if you ignore his pace, personality and mental attributes.
Two big matches this month — away to Ajax, and against Chelsea in Tbilisi. We fight for and earn a 1-1 draw in Amsterdam, but Chelsea are too much for us. Camavinga, in particular. This time. Ole’s men claim a 3-1 win. I had no illusions about winning the Group outright, so I’m not bothered.
The trip to Italy in 4 weeks’ time is everything. At least, until we host Ajax in the final match of the campaign. But first, we will face Lokomotivi in the Davit Kipiani Cup final.
We nearly do the job in London, but a late goal gives the hosts a well-deserved 2-1 win. In Turin, we show our mettle and battle for a scoreless draw. One final match against Ajax, while Torino travel to London. We need a result to advance to the knockout rounds, as a loss will mean we are eliminated.
We take care of business in Tbilisi, as Chelsea do their part in London. Our 3-1 win over Ajax is another demonstration of intent. We go through in 2nd place.
December 2034 – Season Review.
When I think back on the year, one thing sticks in my throat. The 2nd leg against Atletico. With any luck, we will get a chance for revenge, as they won their Champions League Group.
While we completed another domestic treble, I am disappointed in our Erovnuli Liga performance. 3 draws and 2 losses, only 100 goals scored with 12 conceded.
At the same time, as I have looked through the squad, I don’t think there is much room for improvement. Not given the players who are willing to come to the Erovnuli Liga. And not given the effort we’re taking to manage our wage structure. At this juncture, I only plan to make one signing in the off-season. Details will follow, as I will do a full-blown squad review before the start of the 2035 campaign.
Goals for 2035: Not embarrass ourselves in the 2034/35 Champions League knockout rounds. Reach the 2035/36 Champions League knockout rounds. Take over the Georgian national team at the earliest opportunity.
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.