Duruji Kvareli – 2035 Open Thread
December 2034/January 2035.
While I wanted nothing more than a rematch against Atletico, it wasn’t to be. Instead, we draw Marcelo Gallardo’s Barcelona. Ouch.
We’ll get to the squad review momentarily, but it is worth noting that a spent a fair amount of time revamping the backroom staff. Our biggest, most high-profile addition, to-date? Franck Ribery, signing on as a coach. Big days are surely ahead.
Our planned expansion is also taking shape nicely, although we’ll be playing our home games in Tbilisi until August.
Finally, we will receive $975k for Erovnuli Liga TV rights this year, another substantial year-on-year increase, up from $836k last year.
January 2035 – Squad Review.
Alright, let’s right dive in. We will be carrying a 25-man squad this year, with no significant changes from the squad that finished the 2034 campaign, a squad that completed another Georgian treble and reached the Champions League quarterfinals.
We are playing the revised version of PM Haaienhamer — the Nagelsmann-inspired 5122/235 strikerless tactic detailed in Those Who Do Not Move, Do Not Notice Their Chains. The “revisions” from the original PM Haaienhamer being: (1) utilization of a roaming playmaker, instead of a regista; and (2) reducing passing directness to “shorter,” which has the knock-on effect of reducing our tempo to “standard.”
Our starting goalkeeper is 22 year-old Ghanaian international Jonathan Akrofi. He’s David De Gea’s spiritual twin, but better with his feet than Spanish Dave.
Our backup is Kosovan U21 international Qlirim Mehmeti, who my coaches think has the potential to eclipse Akrofi. He’s probably too good to be in our 2nd XI, but we’ve ensured he gets playing time since his arrival in 2033. One to watch, for sure.
The pundits were impressed back in 2033, when we secured the signature of arguably the best young Ivorian striker since Didier Drogba. They laughed when Giorgi Amirani began deploying him as a libero. Well, who’s laughing now, lads?! Abdoulaye Diallo took over as our starting libero after a year, and has gone from strength to strength. He’s utterly brilliant, and everything I hoped he could be when we signed him to serve as a libero. I couldn’t be more pleased with him.
Sadly, Diallo’s ascent meant that Vasile State dropped to our 2nd XI. State was a massive signing for us in 2026, a Moldovan youth international that we knew would be an impact player from deep. He’s become a club legend, in-game. And I adore him. His attributes may not look like much, in comparison to what we could bring in. But last year, he claimed 14 goals, with a team-leading 16 assists. He has a contract through the end of 2037 right now; I intend to keep him in the squad as long as he’ll stay here, and then to sign him as a staff member when his playing days are over.
Our starting centerbacks are long-term members of the 1st XI — Petar Vukovic and Vasil Kantaria. They’re both solid, solid players. Their backups are Erand Ramadani and Erekle Jibuti, with Giorgi Rotiashvili on the bench for the 2nd XI (the 23rd man in the squad). Ramadani is probably too good for our 2nd XI, but he isn’t good enough to push Vukovic or Kantaria out and I’m not willing to sell him.
Overall, our back 3 is extremely strong. And deep.
The right wingback in our 1st XI is Mamadou Dieng, who might be the best player in the squad. He’s an utter and complete beast. Andras Sandli is our backup; he’s more potential than anything right now, albeit more of an attack-minded player than Besic, the player he replaced last summer.
Sticking with the theme, at left wingback we have Victor Toudji in the 1st XI, backed up by Besik Chichinadze. They’re both attack-minded wingbacks, with buckets of potential. The departure of Selmani last year was a necessary evil, though — he wanted to leave, and I’d been planning to replace him with Toudji in the long-run anyways. For all the potential Toudji and Chichinadze have, though, it is just that. Potential. Unfilled, for now. This is arguably the “weak spot” in our 1st XI.
Our starting roaming playmaker is Oumar Toure, a solid, dependable player who always seems to play above his attributes. Qlirim Bajrami is the backup here, although I can see him eventually stepping into the 1st XI once he develops further.
The mezzalas in our 1st XI are Patryk Jankowski and Omer Farjallah. They’re both absolute beasts. I couldn’t be happier with them. Yannick Eto’o and Samuel Kitawi are the backups here, although I’ve strongly considered selling Eto’o. He just hasn’t developed the way I expected. This is probably a make-or-break year for him.
We will also be carrying 2 additional players (the 24th and 25th men in the squad), both academy graduates who can cover in the central midfield or at shadow striker — Davit Abulashvili and Lasha Bitskinashvili. Between the two, I prefer Abulashvili. They’ll both get time this year, playing from the bench for the 2nd XI.
Our starting shadow strikers are a fearsome duo — Ibrahim Anyamele and Mamadou Aidara. Anyamele, in particular, has been long-sought by many of the biggest clubs on the continent. He had an “off” year last year, but isn’t going anywhere. Aidara is a ruthless finisher, who is also getting attention. They’re complete players — capable of creating and scoring. and more than happy to put in a shift when out of possession.
The attack in our 2nd XI is all about speed. Hot, nasty, bad-ass speed.
The names on the backs of the jerseys flying past you are Levan “Goose” Akhobadze and Irakli Kurashvili. We’ve talked about Goose repeatedly during this save. He is easily one of my favorite FM players of all time. An absolute legend, both in my mind and in-game. His stats may not look like much at first, but he scores goals and routinely gets into dangerous positions, to feed others. Kurashvili has had a slow start to his life with the senior squad, but hopefully will kick on sooner rather than later.
Overall, I think the squad is perfectly capable of battling for the Champions League title in the next 2-3 years, as players continue to develop. We may bring in 3-4 players during that time, but the pieces of the puzzle are largely here.
In other words, the squad is strong. Very strong. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for improvement. Of course there is. But, to improve the squad substantially at this point, it would require payment of 7-figure transfer fees and much-higher wages.
We’ll hit that point, eventually. I’m just delaying it as long as possible.
For now, I want to keep our transfer costs reasonable. Keep the wage budget under control.
And win. Naturally.
Knowing we are facing a strong, confident Barcelona side unbeaten in 10 matches, we elect to start the first leg in PM Haaientand, the deep-lying 33310 strikerless setup detailed in The Dirty Half Dozen. The idea being — sit deep, soak up pressure, hit them on the counter.
We should have won the match. Barcelona dominated possession, but only created one chance of note (which they finished). We created numerous chances, but couldn’t find the back of the net, smashing the woodwork twice and blowing quality chances. A 1-nil loss is not the end of the tie, though.
We beat Barcelona 2-nil at the Camp Nou in December 2032. Repeat that feat, and we will progress.
As we lick our wounds, the 2nd XI beat Torpedo Kutaisi to claim our 7th straight Super Cup.
The Georgian press have also gone out on a limb, and are predicting that we will win the Erovnuli Liga. One would like to think that will happen. We’ll also renew hostilities with Didube-2014, a side we last played in 2022, during the Promotion Phase of the 5th tier. Welcome to the Erovnuli Liga, fellas.
The atmosphere at the Camp Nou is electric. We can’t get out of first gear. We lose. 1-nil on the night, 2-nil on aggregate. We have no one to blame but ourselves, after we failed to convert numerous chances in the 1st leg.
The 2nd XI were beaten by Dinamo Batumi over the weekend, in what was arguably the worst performance we’ve put in, in years. The club is in a dark place right now. We can’t get back to the field soon enough.
Not much that can be said, here, that hasn’t been said before. April was a quiet month, with the 2nd XI failing to convince against Dila Gori. We’ve only got 6 matches on the books in May. My eyes are on the Champions League qualifying that will commence in July.
6 matches. 6 wins. 14 goals for. 1 against.
I’ll take it.
We’re in good shape, notwithstanding the hit-and-miss start to the campaign.
June 2035 – European Review.
The results around Europe continue to be underwhelming, to say the least. I can’t wait for one or more of the traditional powers to stumble and fall — it’s one of the things I enjoy most about a long-term save.
While the Champions League saw a Manchester Derby in the final, the Europa League and Europa Conference League finals were contested by non-English teams.
An accolade that I wasn’t expecting — Levan “Goose” Akhobadze claimed 2nd in the Champions League Goal of the Tournament voting, behind a cracker of a goal scored by Schalke’s Andrius Beniusis, a Lithuanian kid that I tried to bring to Georgia, but lost out on once Manchester United started throwing money at him.
Our slow, steady climb up the ladder that is Europe continues. The Erovnuli Liga rises to 27th in the competitions ranking, while Duruji Kvareli is up 1 spot, to 22nd.
We also have what looks to be another mediocre intake, at best.
Not that this is his fault, but I’ve decided Big Papi will be put out to pasture. He was a big, big addition to the staff when we brought him on board in 2028, in that we could trust him not to each the crayons in his desk. But we’ve come a long ways since then. It is time to move on.
As indicated in the squad review above, one of my frustrations has been the lack of progression from Yannick Eto’o. He’s a solid, reliable player, but his development stalled and never picked back up, and he has not become the impact player I expected.
I decided to replace him in the 2nd XI, but failed to land my top 2 targets — players who could have made an immediate impact in the 1st team, playing from the bench.
(Although he was a target in prior years, I am still bitter about Yassine Halam choosing Real Salt Lake over us last year… I maintain that MLS allowing clubs to include sister-wives in contracts is a breach of FIFA regulations.)
While he isn’t an immediate impact player, I am extremely pleased to land Bjorn Mar Laxdal, an Icelandic U21 who arrives for $150k from KR. He will train as a mezzala and start in the 2nd XI, alongside Kitawi. Eto’o will remain on the subs bench for the 1st XI for now, but drop to the subs bench for the 2nd XI.
Abulashvili and Bitskinashvili will be offered out on loan, leaving us with a 24-man squad for the rest of the campaign. They both need more matches than they will get as the 25th/26th men in our squad.
Champions League qualifying finally begins with a 5-nil rout of Dinamo Brest in Belarus, as we waltz through a month of fixtures. We need to maintain this form, heading into the Group Stage.
A busy month — 9 matches overall, kicking off with a comprehensive 4-0 win over Dinamo Brest to ensure progression in the Champions League.
The 1st XI proceeded to dismantle Ferencvaros over 2 legs, beating them 2-nil in Hungary, and 4-1 in our first match at the newly-expanded Kursha Road, with an all-seated capacity of 8,625.
Ludogorets were no obstacle in the Playoffs. We smashed them 3-nil in the first leg, despite our sloppiness in the final third. I think the lads were simply distracted, trying to catch a glimpse of Ludogorets superfan Jared Leto, who was rumored to be in the stadium. (Yes, I started the rumor. I don’t see why that’s relevant.)
The second leg back at Kursha Road was equally one-sided, a 3-nil win seeing us through to the Group Stage in comfort.
“Comfort” is not a word that we should get used to, though. We’ve drawn Marcelo Gallardo’s Barcelona, Derek McInnes’ Liverpool, and RB Salzburg. The question for me is whether we finish 3rd, or sneak into 2nd.
Obviously, the issue here is that we’re a 3rd seed. The lowest-ranked 2nd seed? Juventus. Sure, they’re only 5 spots above us in the coefficients table, but our rise up that table has slowed substantially. We’re at a point where I’d almost rather drop to the Europa League and make a run, than face a quick elimination in the Champions League knockout stages.
In terms of the results overall, we played 9 matches this month, as noted above — the 1st XI tasked with our European matches, the 2nd XI focused on domestic competitions. Suffice to say that I’m pleased with the results. 9 wins, with 33 goals for, only 1 conceded.
We’re 16 points clear of Lokomotivi, with a game in hand, which means that our 1st XI can continue to focus on Europe.
A brilliant start to the Champions League campaign, with a 6-nil win over RB Salzburg at Kursha Road. We head to the Camp Nou in a few days’ time, so perhaps the good times are coming to an end.
Our youth intake was disappointing again this year. Beka Jincharadze is the best prospect to my eye, and he isn’t much to look at. Giga Kalandia is the next-best prospect which, again, isn’t saying much. Roman Meskhi is arguably the best player of the group, but doesn’t appear to have any room for growth.
We began the month with a trip back to the Camp Nou, the 3rd time we’ve faced Barcelona this year. We did not claim revenge, but we did obtain a measure of redemption thanks to a hard-fought 1-1 draw.
We put in a much better showing against Liverpool at Kursha Road on Matchday 3, and arguably outplayed them…in every measure, but for the one that counts. We lose, 2-nil to a Liverpool side featuring a 37 year-old Trent Alexander-Arnold, Gerard bossing their midfield, and a rampaging, brilliant left winger by the name of Kang Dong-Hoon.
I laugh, but they took all 3 points. Regardless, we’re well on track. The Erovnuli Liga title is secure, and the 2nd XI will fight for the Davit Kipiani Cup title in a few days’ time. The big question mark is passage through to the knockout rounds in Europe, which seems more likely than not, as things currently sit.
The trip to Liverpool went as expected, as the home side looked to (and did) dominate from the first whistle. We held them off for an hour, thanks to the heroics of Jonathan Akrofi, but after an hour there was only so much he could do. We lose 2-nil.
On Matchday 5, Barcelona beat Liverpool in one of the early matches, confirming our elimination from the Champions League. However, a point in Salzburg means that we will guarantee a third-place finish and passage through to the Europa League knockout rounds. We dominate, but cannot find the back of the net until late…and promptly concede. A 1-1 draw. Frustrating, but we’re through.
Barcelona in Kvareli on Matchday 6. A meaningless match for both teams. But neither show it. 90 minutes of open football, but once again the Catalans come out on top. We lose, 2-1. Frustrating, to say the absolute least.
We finish the domestic campaign strong — the 2nd XI winning the Davit Kipiani Cup, and the squad waltzing through the final league matches. We win the Erovnuli Liga by 28 points, scoring 116 goals (3 shy of our record), while conceding 5 (equaling our record).
December 2035 – Season Review.
I can’t help but feel that we’re on the verge of something here. I know from looking at the squad, that the players are here. I know from our results, that we’ve narrowed the gap with the European elites.
No, we’re not on the verge of stomping through the Champions League. That’s not what I’m suggesting.
Rather, I think we’re at a point where — once a few things fall into place, and we get a bit of luck — we will be more than capable of making a run in the Champions League.
For now, I’ll have to be content with the chance to make a run in the Europa League knockout rounds. A chance to improve our coefficient, and perhaps secure a 2nd seed for the Group Stage draw next year.
The other thing we need to do? Invest in the squad, and be more ruthless with certain personnel decisions. Vasile State recently suggested that he felt it was time to move on; I talked him out of it, but the reality is that we’ve moved beyond his level. He and other players in the 2nd XI are good enough to win the Erovnuli Liga. But that is their level. Their ceiling. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Bottom line? What got us to where we are today, isn’t what will get us to where we’re going. Which means that we’ll be looking to have a younger, hungrier 2nd XI. Players who will not just take up a spot, but push the 1st XI over time. Details will follow.
Goals for 2036: Make a run in the 2035/36 Europa League knockout rounds. Revamp the 2nd XI. Reach the 2036/37 Champions League knockout rounds.
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.