Duruji Kvareli – 2036 Open Thread
It is officially the end of an era.
As detailed in the 2035 season review, I feel like I need to be more ruthless in terms of squad building. So we spent the winter transfer window negotiating deals both in and out. My goal? Replenish the squad with: (1) two centerbacks; (2) a libero; (3) a shadow striker; and (4) a left wingback. More than that — to secure players who can legitimately challenge for a spot in the 1st XI, instead of just filling out a roster spot.
Before we dive into the details, though, let’s pause for a moment to address the biggest news. Vasile State and Levan “Goose” Akhobadze have left the club, after requesting a move in search of more playing time. Hence, the “end of an era.”
Anyone who has followed this save knows how much I love these two. State departs as Duruji Kvareli’s all-time appearances leader (254 in the league, 386 in all competitions), while Goose is our all-time leading goalscorer (123 in the league, 189 in all competitions).
But you also know that neither is good enough to take us where we’re going. I had been willing to keep them around, but when they asked to leave I felt I owed it to them to oblige, even though I usually don’t agree to these requests. State and Goose are different. I feel like their request needed to be respected. Not just for their years of service, but also because neither one was going to see the field beyond sporadic appearances off the bench for the 2nd XI. I hate seeing them go, at least they went to Renhe together.
The other notable players who have left are: (1) Petar Vukovic to Espanyol ($15M, plus 50% of any future fee); (2) Erekle Jibuti to Caen ($8M, plus 50% of any future fee); and (3) Besik Chichinadze, to Guingamp on loan until the summer.
That’s five players out the door from the first-team squad, leaving big holes to fill — sentimentally, even if they’re replaceable on the pitch.
Erand Ramadani will step into the 1st XI, to replace Vukovic. He’s an established Albanian international who has already made 97 league appearances for the club.
We’ve also brought in 5 youth internationals who look to have a bright future. While they aren’t ready for the 1st XI now, they have the potential to reach that level in the future (if they develop).
Starting from the back, the brilliantly-named Andri Snaer Eyjolfsson ($375k, KR) will be the libero in our 2nd XI. He isn’t quite as attack-minded as Diallo, but should be a solid player in the back 3. He is relatively on-part with State at the moment, but has far greater potential.
Margus Oper (free, Levadia) and Kenan Dzafic ($165k, Celik) are the new centerbacks, with Dzafic arriving in February (the Georgian transfer window closes at the end of March). Again, neither is necessarily an immediate upgrade. But both appear to have substantial potential, Dzafic in particular.
Delano Westerveld ($250k, Groningen) is arguably an immediate upgrade on Chichinadze at left wingback, whose primary asset was his pace. Westerveld is much more well-rounded.
Finally, Sekou Thiam ($675k, Stade Malien) has been signed as a shadow striker for the future. He should dominate in the Erovnuli Liga, once he’s integrated into our tactics.
We face Roma in a few days’ time in the First Knockout Round of the Europa League. By no means an easy draw. But like Brendan Rodgers, I’ll always back my lads to get the job done.
A bit of good news regarding television rights for the Erovnuli Liga, which have risen to $1.12M per team — up from $975k last year.
The first leg against Luuk De Jong’s Roma could not have gone better. We snatch two early goals from free kicks, with Dieng finding Jankowski then Toudji, both of whom head home. Roma are reduced to 10 men in the 41st minute, and while we continue to dominate the match it looks like the Italians will escape further punishment…until Diallo makes it 3 in the 89th minute, and Aidara makes it 4 in the 2nd minute of injury time. A massive 4-nil win. The perfect start to the 2036 campaign.
The 2nd XI hammer Torpedo Kutaisi in the Super Cup, 5-nil, with debut goals for Eyjolfsson, Thiam, Dzafic and Westerveld. That ought to silence any critics.
Any chance Roma had of fighting back in the 2nd leg was extinguished through Anyamele’s 40th minute strike at the Olimpico, a textbook counterattack. The Romans truly dead and buried in the 49th, when Bajrami found Aidara in acres of space on the back post. Kurashvili’s 83rd minute penalty almost felt like it was too much. Almost. Our focus slipped, allowing Roma to peg one back in the 85th…only for Dieng to surgically thread a free kick to Toudji, to smash home at the back post. 4-1 on the night, 8-1 on aggregate.
Precisely the start we needed.
As the Erovnuli Liga kicks off, it is good to see that the bandwagon fans aren’t all jumping on board at once. We’ve sold 535 season tickets this year, only 32 more than last year. Supply and demand? Perhaps. Ticket prices increased to $31 per match and $211 per season ticket (up from $30 and $201).
Against Stuttgart in the Second Knockout Round, goals from Anyamele and Farjallah in the first half set the tone on a cold night in Kvareli.
However, we gift Stuttgart a goal in the 62nd minute, which unravels all of the good work we’d put in in the first hour of the match. While Anyamele restores our 2-goal lead minutes later, Stuttgart have the taste of blood in their mouth. They find a 2nd in the 80th minute, before equalizing in the 91st after a comedy of errors in our defense. The match finishes 3-3. An utter shambles. We should have buried ze Germans. Instead, we’ll have to pack our shooting boots for the 2nd leg.
The second leg isn’t our best performance, but we’re the better side by every measure. We’re snatching at our chances, though, firing from distance far too often. In the end, we are awarded a penalty just after the hour, when Diallo is cruelly hacked down in ze German box. Anyamele makes no mistake. A 1-nil win on the night, 4-3 on aggregate.
Domestically, we finish the first month of the campaign unbeaten. We’ve won 34 straight Erovnuli Liga matches. We haven’t conceded in our last 29 league matches, dating back to May 12th of last year.
The first leg against Manchester City will be my 700th match in charge of Duruji Kvareli.
And what a match it was. We went up 2-nil, through goals from Aidara in the 12th minute and 56th minute as a result of ruthless counterattacks. City’s quality shone through, however, as they scored twice late to earn a 2-2 draw. Frustrating to give up our lead, but we were under heavy pressure from the 1st minute and — truth be told — this is a tremendous result.
In the 2nd leg, City come to play. An epic, wide-open match ensues. Both sides throwing caution to the wind. Anyamele pounces in the 61st minute, giving the Kursha Road faithful reason to believe. City throw everything at us, but we hold firm. We claim a 1-nil win on the night, and advance to the semifinals to face Michael Laudrup’s Real Sociedad.
Over the weekend between the Manchester City matches, the 2nd XI win our 36th straight Erovnuli Liga match, our 31st in a row without conceding. Given that one of my goals is to make the Kvareli Fortress (and now, Kursha Road) a metaphorical fortress, I’m rather pleased with this.
Even crazier? Qlirim Mehmeti arrived at Duruji Kvareli in 2033 and has played primarily for the 2nd XI; he has conceded 12 goals in 62 appearances, in all competitions — a goals against average of 0.19. (Jonathan Akrofi arrived in 2031, and has been with the 1st XI since 2033; he has conceded 64 goals in 152 appearances, in all competitions — a goals against average of 0.42, which is all the more impressive given who we’ve faced in European competitions. Keep in mind that he led the Champions League with 9 clean sheets in 2034/35.)
We strike first against Laudrup’s men, in Kvareli. The Basques were full-throttle for the entire match, and I’m frustrated that we gave up a 91st minute equalizer. Nevertheless, a 1-1 draw is a favorable result given how much pressure we were under late. It was a brilliant match — both sides going for it, both sides with a goal called back by VAR.
90 minutes at the Anoeta. A chance to reach a European final. All to play for.
But Sociedad are too much for us to handle. They are hyper-aggressive, again, scoring 2 before Akrofi saves a penalty and we manage to pull one back. We cannot find the 2nd goal, however, that will put us into the final. We lose, 2-1 on the night, 3-2 on aggregate.
A brutal end to the European campaign. As much as I regret not reaching the final, I’m pleased with our performance overall. On another night, we would have won this tie.
Bottom line, we’ve taken another step in Europe. And in 2 months’ time, the journey will begin anew with Champions League qualifying.
Our Erovnuli Liga streak without conceding has been broken, by none other than Lokomotivi. We won the match, 3-1, but it is frustrating to have the streak broken by our biggest in-country rivals.
In thinking about the future, the latest round of youth facility upgrades are complete, meaning that we have “superb” youth facilities now. The Board promptly agreed to another round of investment, so we should hit “state of the art” by this time next year.
After the disappointment of our elimination in the Basque Country, it was nice to return to the domestic campaign for a few weeks. Rotate the squad, get everyone their minutes.
After 17 matches, we sit 19 points clear of Dinamo Batumi. 21 clear of Lokomotivi. We’ve only conceded once, away to Lokomotivi in April.
June 2036 – European Review.
Just when you thought it was safe to look at the European results…English sides win 2 continental titles.
Only 1 match in June, a 3-nil stoning of Merani.
In terms of qualification spots, Georgia rises to 16th overall, right behind Greece, Belgium and Ukraine. Not much changes for the 2037/38 European campaign, but we gain a 2nd Champions League spot at 15th, and automatic seeding into the Group Stage once we hit 10th.
Progress will likely remain slow and steady as to all 3 measurements, but I’m pleased. If only Lokomotivi would start making waves — they reached the Europa League Group Stage in 2031/32, but finished 4th; they have only reached the knockout rounds of the Europa Conference League once, in 2027/28. They came close to reaching the Champions League Group Stage in 2031/32, but otherwise have fallen off early.
The transfer window is open, and I’ve decided over the last few months to make another adjustment to the squad. Patryk Jankowski has been a fixture in the 1st XI since he arrived in 2027, but has been a massive prima donna. Always demanding higher wages, throwing his toys out of the pram when I reject a transfer offer, etc. The past few months, he’s been even worse than usual, notwithstanding our run in the Europa League.
After we were eliminated by Sociedad, I decided to transfer list Jankowski and promote Samuel Kitawi to the 1st XI. Jankowski has now signed for Guingamp ($2.8M, plus 50% of any future fee).
Ardian Ferati has been signed to play as a mezzala in the 2nd XI. Ferati is an established Albanian U21 with potential, arriving for $275k from Partizani. [Edit: Ferati grabs a hat-trick on his debut, in the Davit Kipiani Cup against a 5th-tier side.]
The less said about our youth intake preview the better. Laughably poor.
Per usual, the month of July is spent slapping down transfer offers and renewing a few contracts. There have been an inordinate number of rumors building for months, though, about a possible Board takeover. We’ll see if/when that actually happens.
We begin our Champions League qualifying campaign against Shirak. The first leg is at Kursha Road — we put three into the back of the net in the first 20 minutes, to effectively end the tie. We do not take our foot off the gas, however, scoring 7 in a one-sided affair. The 2nd XI closed the door on the Armenians in the second leg, with a comprehensive 4-nil win.
We’re 27 points clear of Lokomotivi in the Erovnuli Liga after 23 matches, with 77 goals for and only 2 conceded. Akrofi leads the league with 11 clean sheets in 12 matches; Mehmeti is just behind him, with 10 in 11 matches.
We begin the month right where we left off. Rampant domestically.
We make quick work of Valur in the Champions League Third Qualifying Round — a 3-nil win in Iceland, followed by a 3-nil win at Kursha Road. The results were never in doubt, even if we were far from clinical in front of goal.
In the Playoffs, we face HJK. The first leg is at Kursha Road; we batter the Finns mercilessly, but only walk away with a 3-nil win thanks to our profligacy. The same pattern repeats in Helsinki, as we claim a 3-nil win on the night to progress to the Group Stage with ease.
We remain a 3rd seed, however, and are drawn with Marcelino’s Tottenham, Marcelo Gallardo’s Barcelona and Zenit. We’ve been down this road before. We eliminated Spurs in the 2033/34 Champions League First Knockout Round, 4-1 on aggregate. Barcelona have had our number, but we’ve beaten and drawn them at the Camp Nou. A second-place finish is not out of the question.
Unlike Big Papi’s sister, our defense proves impregnable throughout the month of August. Suffice to say that I think our attempt to improve the 2nd XI was a success.
A 3-nil win over Zenit on Matchday 1 confirms that we’re battling for 2nd, not 3rd. As long as we take care of business, we have got a chance. But all of our good work is undone in London, as our normally stingy defense gifts Spurs two easy goals, leading to a 2-nil loss. Spurs deserved the win on the night, but we gifted it to them.
If we’re going to reach the Champions League knockout rounds, a result against Barcelona at Kursha Road would get us a long ways down that road. The Catalans are unbeaten in 16 matches. We create our chances but cannot find a goal. The Catalans claim a 1-nil win.
Tottenham beat Zenit in Saint Petersburg later in the evening, meaning we’ve fallen behind…and face a trip to the Camp Nou, next.
For all the progress we’ve made, Barcelona are still a step ahead. We gave up an early goal, but responded brilliantly with a goal of our own…only to have it chalked off by VAR. Barcelona struck again, and proceeded to ruthlessly smother the tie. I can’t complain about the result. They were the better side. The margins are getting thinner with each passing year, but they’ve still got our number. We lose 2-nil, and need a result against Zenit on Matchday 5 (in addition to some help from the Catalans) to give us a chance to overhaul Spurs.
It doesn’t happen. Spurs win 2-1 in London, and we stumble in Saint Petersburg, losing 1-nil despite controlling the match. We are officially eliminated from the Champions League. While we hold the tiebreaker against Zenit, we may need a result against Spurs on the final matchday to secure a third-place finish. There’s no question that finishing bottom would be a disaster.
The final match of the Erovnuli Liga season sees us hosting Lokomotivi at Kursha Road. Tired legs at the end of a long campaign, but we make it 36 wins from 36 matches with a 2-nil win, finishing 41 points clear at the top of the table, setting records for points, goals scored (121) and conceded (3).
Against Tottenham, we battle for a 2-2 draw in a thrilling, end-to-end match where both sides were out for blood. Barcelona win 4-nil, meaning that we will progress to the Europa League knockout rounds for the 2nd straight year. It’s frustrating, but a fair reflection of the performances on the pitch.
December 2036 – Season Review.
Two years ago, during the 2033/34 Champions League, we reached the quarterfinals. There is no question that the squad has improved immeasurably since then. Our epic domestic campaign this year demonstrates just how far we’ve come. We have won every domestic match we’ve played since April 2035. Yet, the Champions League Group Stage has become a glass ceiling. Being a third seed for the draw hasn’t helped.
The in-game reputation mechanic may have something to do with it. At this point, we finally have a 3.5 star (continental) reputation. This was the first year where our “big” opponents in Europe didn’t just come at us, guns blazing, every minute of the match. As if, by virtue of our slowly increasing reputation, they’ve started to be less recklessly aggressive. Maybe I’m looking too hard to find an explanation for why we haven’t pushed on in Europe, the way I’d hoped we would.
Don’t get me wrong, the struggle is gloriously fun. And, it shouldn’t be easy to break through in Europe as a small Georgian side, no matter how far we’ve come. Keep in mind that — in terms of reputation — in 2036, the Erovnuli Liga is on par with the Allsvenskan and the Romanian Casa Liga.
Consider Lokomotivi, our biggest domestic rivals. This year, Lokomotivi were eliminated from the Europa Conference League by Shakhter Soligorsk during the Third Qualifying Round. Think about that for a minute.
Why should the likes of Barcelona and Tottenham (who are the defending Champions League winners, after all) be even remotely afraid of us? When I stop to think about it, the fact that we’re pushing these two teams (without adjusting our tactics) tells me that we’re doing it right, even if I was overly optimistic in thinking we could push for a second-place finish.
It’s all going to come together. Sooner rather than later. We just need to be patient and stay the course.
Goals for 2037: Make a run in the 2036/37 Europa League knockout rounds. Reach the 2037/38 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.