Duruji Kvareli / Georgia – 2039 Open Thread
December 2038 / January 2039.
While we have yet to change the calendar on the wall, it is already clear that the 2039 campaign will start off with a bang. We draw Phillipe Clement’s Dortmund, currently atop the Bundesliga, in the First Knockout Round.
The television rights for the Erovnuli Liga continue to rise, up to $5.05M this year, up from $4.45M in 2038.
My first task for the off-season (before the transfer window opens) is to renew contracts in the first-team squad. While many players are already contracted through 2041 and 2042, there are several who are agitating for better terms — not undeservedly so.
Thus far, we’ve managed to keep our wage bill well in-hand, currently sitting at less than $225k per week, with Ferati our highest earner having recently signed a $19.75k per week deal. Those are huge wages for a player in our 2nd XI, when you look across the squad. But the reality is our squad is arguably underpaid, when you look at what players of their caliber could earn in another country.
In the end, the negotiations went smoothly despite several greedy agents, who are promptly fired by their players after a private word. (I love that feature.)
In the end, our wage bill has risen to approximately $571k per week as of mid-January. This was a painful increase. But I still think we’re getting a bargain, in that a strong squad has stayed together, everyone is on a long-term deal and — most importantly — no one is throwing their toys out of the pram during the transfer window.
February 2039 – Squad Review.
Several weeks ahead of our Champions League match against Dortmund, we had a problem. We had been successful in securing the signatures of some of the most promising Georgian prospects, but we hadn’t shifted players off of our roster.
As of mid-January, we had a 28-man senior squad (not to mention 1-2 promising players in the U19s/U21s). Which was far too large. 22 is the minimum, given that we can expect to battle on two fronts for much of the year. 23-25 is probably “ideal.” More than that, and we will struggle to get players enough playing time.
On the eve of the first leg against Dortmund, however, we have a 25-man squad after two late-January moves, to be detailed below. There are no changes to the 1st XI who led the charge in the Champions League.
Our primary tactic is PM Haaienmes, one version of my Nagelsmann-inspired 5122/235 strikerless tactics, which is detailed in Those Who Do Not Move, Do Not Notice Their Chains.
In goal, we have an absolute dilemma. For years, our starter has been Jonathan Akrofi — aka the Ghanaian David De Gea. He’s everything we could want. Qlirim Mehmeti has been the backup for years, with the coaches at one point thinking he had greater potential Akrofi. While Mehmeti has narrowed the gap substantially with Akrofi, he has not passed him by. The margins are thin. For now, Akrofi will continue with the 1st XI due to his marginally better shot-stopping.
Having two top-class keepers is a good problem to have.
An even better problem to have? Having a third-string keeper who might end up as the best of the three. Aliko Dolidze is a youth academy graduate who the coaches rate quite highly. If they’re right, he could be a beast. Dolidze will play primarily with the U21s/U19s this year, and will be asked to take over in the 2nd XI in due course.
Our depth and quality is also on display in the back line. At libero, we continue with Abdoulaye Diallo in the 1st XI — a player that the game now classifies as a “complete forward” who anchors our backline. It’s brilliantly mad. Andri Snaer Eyjolfsson is the libero in our 2nd XI — not as a pure an attacker as Diallo, but an extremely strong libero nevertheless. We also have Gia Sukhiashvili, a $425k signing from Dila Gori, who is retraining to serve as a libero for both club and (eventually, if he can meet his potential) country.
At centerback, I’ve been on the lookout for a talented Georgian centerback to sign, but haven’t had any luck thus far. Accordingly, we have the same familiar 4 faces here. Vasil Kantaria and Kenan Dzafic are the starters, with Erand Ramadani and Margus Oper in the 2nd XI. All four are arguably capable of playing in the 1st XI.
Our starting wingbacks are Victor Toudji and Mamadou Dieng. They’re both exactly what we want — highly competent in all phases of play, capable of unlocking a defense on the dribble and/or with a well-placed cross. Delano Westerveld is the left wingback in our 2nd XI, and on the bench for the 1st XI.
Tengiz Baramidze is a new signing ($600k, Dila Gori) who takes over for Andras Sandli as the right wingback in our 2nd XI, after the Hungarian signed for Guangzhou Evergrande ($34M). Baramidze is raw; he’s the weakest link in our 2nd XI right now. We will need him to step up to this level quickly. Perhaps I should have kept Sandli for another 6-12 months, to give Baramidze time to grow into the role…but, there’s no changing that.
Qlirim Bajrami will continue on as the roaming playmaker in the 1st XI, with club captain (and all-time league appearances leader) Oumar Toure providing cover on the bench, while playing this role in the 2nd XI. They’re both utterly brilliant players. Levan Shekiladze has spent the last year as the third-choice player in this role; I’m hopeful that he can continue to improve and, eventually, step into the 2nd XI.
We do have turnover in the 2nd XI at mezzala — last year’s 2nd XI pairing are no longer with the club, to make room for our Georgian youth prospect. Bjorn Mar Laxdal signed for Atalanta ($42M), while Ardian Ferati is on loan at Sassuolo. Let’s be honest, they’re outstanding players. If I wasn’t looking to develop Georgian youth players, I wouldn’t have replaced them in the squad.
But we are looking to develop Georgian youth players, and I have two who need minutes on the pitch. Zurab Ghoghoberidze was signed last year from Saburtalo; Lasha Gegia arrived in January from Dila Gori ($4.3M). Last year, I gave both players their international debuts; they are good enough to be in the national team on merit, with room for growth. They will be our attacking midfield options on the bench for our 1st XI, and get plenty of minutes with the 2nd XI.
(There are a few young Georgian players I would like to sign — first and foremost among them, Dima Ghoghoberidze. But he plays for Lokomotivi, who doesn’t want to sell him to us. My scouts also say that he has no interest in playing for us.)
This squad has come miles from where it was upon our arrival in the Erovnuli Liga in 2026, and miles from where we were four years ago, the last time we did a full-blown squad review.
We’re the defending Champions of Europe. Unbeaten for nearly 4 years, in all domestic competitions. We should continue to be a force in Europe, for years to come. The Georgian youth we have landed may not be world-class, but they’re full of potential and can certainly play a role in our squad (even at this early juncture).
The 2nd XI make short work of Torpedo Kutaisi in the Super Cup, while the 1st XI prepare for ze Germans.
We start the match at the Signal Iduna right where we left off in 2038, ascendant. We snatch an early goal, but are promptly reduced to 10 men when Dieng lunges into a tackle. Disaster? Far from it. Our backs against the wall, we dig deep and hold firm, snatching a second goal against the run of play to claim a vital 2-nil win.
The second leg was always going to be difficult. Dortmund are 12 points clear at the top of the Bundesliga; 16 clear of Bayern. While we were going to be at Kursha Road, both Dieng and Diallo are suspended. Sink or swim for young Baramidze at right wingback, deputizing for Dieng.
Ze Germans look to overwhelm us with speed and sheer aggression. And they manage to score twice, to draw level on aggregate. But we keep the faith. And in the 81st minute, Ibrahim Anyamele buries one to give us a 3-2 aggregate lead. We hold on. We lose the battle on the night, but win the war, 3-2 on aggregate.
But Tottenham are a concern for another day. The Crusaders’ Euro qualifying campaign is kicking off.
Georgia has reached the Euros three times in the last 20 years. I’m confident we can navigate this qualifying group, but we need to get results on the pitch.
We face Iceland in Tbilisi, and dominate the match — hitting the post 4 times in the first half alone. But we are unable to breath easily until the 71st minute when Zurab Ghoghoberidze smashes home a free kick to put us up 2-nil. We run out 3-nil winners.
The Norwegians were a bigger challenge in Oslo, staking an early lead. We battled and just when it looked like we were going to lose, Zurab Ghoghoberidze smashes a 25-yard equalizer in the 94th minute to claim a point. We’re on course. And, young Zurab is making quite a name for himself.
A hard-fought first leg in London. The highlights being Anyamele hitting the post in the 1st minute, followed by a succession of highlight-reel saves from Akrofi to earn Man of the Match. A scoreless draw. Not ideal, but we’ll take it.
We didn’t make it any easier on ourselves in the second leg, as we gifted Tottenham 2 goals. In the end, though, we claimed a 4-2 win after Spurs were reduced to 10 men late in the 2nd half.
The first leg against Milan at Kursha Road is a tight affair. Both sides pressing, coming close. But neither able to break through. Until Westerveld unlocks the Italian defense in the 80th minute, beating two men before dropping the ball to Kitawi who smashes home from an oblique angle. We should have been more ruthless. But we will take a 1-nil win.
Back at the San Siro, we spent the first 45 minutes threatening while holding firm in defense. Only for Dieng to give away a penalty in first-half stoppage time. Milan convert, to draw level on aggregate. Something has to give. The match continues apace — Milan controlling possession, but rarely threatening, while we look dangerous. On the hour mark, Toudji finds Dieng for a free header on the back post. 1-1, level on the night and with the away-goals advantage. Milan need 2 goals, meaning that as they press forward we should have space to attack and exploit. Ciric pounces on a loose ball in the 76th to make it 2-2 on aggregate. All to play for.
Until Bajrami unleashes a 25-yard thunderbastard in the 83rd minute. Our aggregate lead is restored. But it is still squeaky bum time.
Milan press and prod but cannot get a decent look at goal. We’re through, 3-2 on aggregate.
May 2039 – Champions League Final, Stade de France.
A chance to etch our names in the history books as more than just a one-hit wonder. Real Madrid are favored, but are hopefully a bit shaken having lost the final match of the La Liga campaign 2-nil at the Camp Nou, leaving them 10 points adrift of their rivals at the top. By the same token, they may be looking to avenge their Super Cup loss last August.
Regardless, we know they’ll be up for it. But we don’t need to match them. They need to match us.
The early minutes see Real Madrid with a handful of shots, none of which trouble Akrofi. In our first sustained period of pressure on the Spaniards’ goal, Farjallah flicks a header off the post, but Madrid clear. Minutes later, Bajrami smashes one from outside the box. 1-nil. No keeper would’ve touched it.
Kitawi should make it 2 in the 29th minute, but Laternser denies him at close range. The remainder of the half plays out in the midfield; neither side getting a clean look on goal. 45 minutes to play, lads. Leave it all on the field.
Madrid start off aggressively in the 2nd half. Muhlberger should equalize in the 52nd minute after Madrid’s counterpress recovers possession in a dangerous position, but Akrofi stays big to deny him. Minutes later, and Madrid are rewarded for their persistence. Cristobal finds Tico unmarked on the back post after Kitawi is caught in possession. 1-1. All to play for.
Gegia and Thiam immediately enter the fray, replacing Kitawi and Anyamele.
70 minutes gone, Westerveld is on for Toudji. But neither side can break through.
Real Madrid are pushing forward aggressively, in search of a winner. Westerveld makes a crucial interception in the 89th minute and feeds Bajrami, who plays Aidara free behind the Madrid line…but Aidara curls it wide.
Just like at the Super Cup last August, we’re going to extra time. Baramidze is on for the tiring Dieng.
In the 94th minute, Muhlberger is again left with only Akrofi to beat…and, again, he is denied by Akrofi.
A stalemate ensues, although Madrid are controlling the match. Until we break forward on the verge of halftime in extra time, with Aidara cruelly chopped down outside Madrid’s 18. Gegia fires the free kick into the wall, and the ball takes a nasty deflection, falling to Kantaria who buries it from the penalty mark, the keeper wrong-footed. We’ve stolen a goal, and lead 2-1 with 15 minutes to play.
When the whistle blows to start the second half of extra time, Madrid are dead on their feet. Beaten. They cannot muster a single shot, much less one on goal. They were the better team in nearly every measure — every measure except the one that counts.
The final whistle blows. Duruji Kvareli are Champions of Europe, for the second year in a row. (With the 30-1 odds at the start of the campaign, here’s hoping that Big Papi put down some money on Duruji Kvareli.)
A big month in qualifying for the 2040 Euros, as we host Scotland in Tbilisi. But we are not up to the task. We lose 2-nil. An ugly 2-1 win in Liechtenstein follows. 3 points are 3 points. But we really need to do better.
One thing that I’m dying to see is how our successful Champions League campaign impacts the various coefficients and seeding for Europe. The Erovnuli Liga moves up 2 places, to 10th, sitting behind the Dutch, Portuguese, Croatian and Ukrainian top tiers. Duruji Kvareli rise to 4th. There’s no movement in the qualification spots, however, as we are behind France and need other teams to start carrying their weight in European competitions.
The chance will be coming, as our Champions League win seems to mean that all 3 Georgian teams playing in the 2039/40 Champions League will be seeded into the Group Stage. Lokomotivi were already seeded into the Group Stage; this means that Dila Gori will not need to navigate multiple qualifying rounds. The financial windfall will be a game-changer.
Our youth intake also looks promising, as one thing we desperately need for the Georgian national team is a solid left wingback.
Domestically, we’re in a bit of a rut. We’ve misplaced our shooting boots, and even drew 2 consecutive matches. We’re still 14 points clear of Lokomotivi, though, even if they have 2 games in hand.
A quiet summer, racking up points in the Erovnuli Liga while looking ahead towards the resumption of Champions League play.
This is the first year that other Georgian teams are in the Group Stage, with Dila Gori and Lokomotivi among the fourth seeds. We draw Julian Nagelsmann’s Bayern, Sporting and Moussa Sissoko’s Inter.
Dila Gori have the better draw at first glance, with Dynamo Kyiv being the weakest first seed. Pep Guardiola’s Real Sociedad is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, though.
Euros qualifying continues with a big match in Iceland. We need 3 points to stay in the hunt. We are the better side and walk away with a 2-nil win. Norway beat Scotland several days later, meaning that we have a 3-team race for qualification. We host Norway and Liechtenstein in October; we travel to Scotland in November. A young XI smash New Zealand 4-1 in a friendly. The future is looking bright, if we can keep these players developing.
Before the Champions League campaign kicks off, the Board agrees to expand the stadium again. It looks like we’re rapidly approaching our expansion capacity, but that’s fine.
The start to our 2039/40 Champions League campaign could not have gone better, as we slice Nagelsmann’s Bayern Munich to pieces, 3-nil at Kursha Road. A straightforward 2-nil win in Lisbon follows, as the steamroller continues down the road domestically — our 2nd XI scored 22 goals in our 3 Erovnuli Liga matches this month.
Two big matches in early October for the Crusaders, as we host Norway and then Liechtenstein in our battle to qualify for the Euros, with only a match away to Scotland in November. A win against Norway would put us on the verge of qualification.
The lads were up for it this time, looking dangerous from the first whistle. But it wasn’t until Nadiradze made a vital interception and launched Kurashvili on a counterattack in the 70th minute that we took the lead. Norway look to get back into the match but we shut it down. A 1-nil win. It wasn’t pretty. But, as Zlatan would remind you, “pretty costs extra.”
Against Liechtenstein, we stomped on the gas and never looked back. We should have scored more, but a 4-nil win puts us on the verge of qualification. We’re 4 points clear of Scotland (who lose to Iceland in Reykjavik) and 6 points clear of Norway; they both have a game in hand, but it is against each other. Meaning, we will finish in top 2. Win or draw against Scotland, and we win the Group. Lose, and we may fall to 2nd but on 16 points would still be good value to qualify through the Second Place Table.
On the club side of the shop, we’re looking to close out another undefeated domestic campaign. We have not lost in a domestic match since March 2035; I’d like to make it to 5 years.
As much as I’d like to reach that milestone, our focus is primarily on Europe. We beat Inter 1-nil at the Guiseppe Meazza, taking our tally to 3 wins in our first three Champions League Group Stage matches. We’re going to continue working Georgian youth into the squad; hopefully we can maintain this run of form as we ramp things up.
A massive 5-week period, as Georgia’s Euros qualifying campaign and Duruji Kvareli’s Champions League Group Stage campaign come to a close.
While Georgia qualified for the 2036 Euros, such that qualifying again would not necessarily represent a monumental achievement, it is a “minimum” target in my own mind. We’re blooding youth earlier than I’d normally like to with the national team, but that is more a function of the quality of players coming through right now. The more senior players have better mental attributes, no question. But I think we’re getting more from the younger players.
Scotland went up early, but we were given a glimmer of hope when the hosts were reduced to 10 men in the first half. Consider it an opportunity missed, as we still could not impose ourselves on the match. We lose 3-nil, and cede the advantage to Scotland.
Eyes were thus glued to the updates from Glasgow during our friendly against El Salvador. Scotland and Norway draw, 1-1, thanks to a 91st-minute Norwegian goal, meaning that we finish level on points with Scotland, but take 2nd based on goal difference. As could be expected, our 5-2-1 record was more than good enough to qualify through the Second Place Table.
In related news, Irakli Kurashvili‘s brace against El Salvador means that he is now the Crusaders’ all-time leading goalscorer, passing the legendary Shota Arveladze, who scored 26 goals in 61 appearances.
Back with Duruji Kvareli, Sissoko’s Inter stacked 10 men behind the ball on Matchday 4, playing for and securing a scoreless draw at Kursha Road. In Munich, Nagelsmann’s Bayern exacted their revenge with a 2-1 battering in which we were atrocious.
After we conclude the domestic campaign unbeaten, our focus turns to the final matchday of the Group Stage, against Sporting at Kursha Road. The Portuguese stack 10 (at times 11) men behind the ball. It makes no difference. Diallo finds the back of the net in the 22nd minute, and Thiam adds another in the 79th. Sporting do not even manage to muster a shot on goal. A 2-nil win to bring the 2038 campaign to a close.
December 2039 – Season Review.
It’s far too early to say it. Despite winning back-to-back Champions League and Super Cup titles, we have not conquered Europe.
Certainly, winning the Champions League was a momentous occasion. But I’m enjoying the process of increasing the number of Georgian players in the squad, and won’t truly consider Europe to be conquered until we have more Georgian players in the winning XI. \
Right now, we have 9 Georgian players in the 25-man squad. This is an increase from when we first won the Champions League. But it isn’t enough. Expect to see a slow and (hopefully) steady evolution here.
While we have several big challenges remaining on the club side of the shop, my focus is very much turning towards the Crusaders. Turning Georgia into a force in world football is the ultimate end-goal.
In terms of raising Georgia’s profile, Dila Gori can hold their heads high, finishing 3rd in their Champions League Group, to advance to the Europa League knockout rounds. Lokomotivi had a much tougher draw, but claimed a historic 2-nil win over Milan in Tbilisi to ease their pain at finishing 4th in their Group, level on points with Monaco.
Goals for 2040: Make a run in the 2039/40 Champions League knockout rounds. Hoard/develop the best young players in Georgia. Not embarrass ourselves at Euro 2040.
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.