Duruji Kvareli / Georgia – 2040 Open Thread
December 2039 / January 2040 – Odds & Ends.
The off-season begins with confirmation that the Kursha Road expansion will go forward, adding 1,863 seats to reach an all-seated capacity of 14,800.
The Champions League draw is painful. Of all the teams we could have drawn as a reward for navigating a challenging Group, we draw Marcelo Gallardo’s Barcelona. A renewal of hostilities with the Catalans. A rematch of the 2038 Final.
Zurab Ghoghoberidze has also won the 2039 European Golden Boy, marking off another task on the “Achievement Hunter” checklist.
Alright, let’s dive into what everyone really wants. Transfer news.
One of my missions early when managing any national team is to start retraining players who can play whatever tactics we’re using.
With our current tactics, that means: (1) we may need to retrain talented strikers and wingers, since the tactics use neither role; and (2) we need to retrain players who have certain profiles to fill specific roles.
The best example of (2) is our utilization of a libero on attack duty. We need more than just a ball-playing defender. We want more than just a deep-lying playmaker (although that would obviously suffice).
It’s why I love Abdoulaye Diallo. FM thinks he’s a complete forward. I think he’s more than that.
While we aren’t announcing the signing of the “Georgian Diallo,” I am pleased with the signing of Saba Kapanadze from Dila Gori, who seem to be churning out quality prospects.
Kapanadze will play from the bench in our 2nd XI, as we currently have 3 liberos in the squad: Diallo in the 1st XI, Gia Sukhiashvili in the 2nd XI, having taken over for Andri Snaer Eyjolfsson who joined Watford last summer for $79M. Between Kapanadze and Sukhiashvili, the Georgians should be covered at libero for the next 10-15 years.
Other squad-related news from the winter transfer window, in no particular order.
Left Wingbacks. Delano Westerveld has been promoted to the 1st XI, with Victor Toudji dropping to the 2nd XI. Beka Kiknadze, one of our 2039 youth academy graduates, is waiting in the wings even if he is too raw to trust right now. I anticipate letting Toudji leave in the next 12-18 months, once Kiknadze can take over in the 2nd XI. Kiknadze will be on the bench for the 2nd XI, while also getting minutes with the U21s and U19s.
Goalkeepers. For years, Jonathan Akrofi and Qlirim Mehmeti have been battling to be our starting keeper, with Akrofi staying one step ahead at each turn. The margins between them are thin. But we also have 2038 academy graduate Aliko Dolidze in the squad, who my coaches continue to believe has the most potential of the three. It’s clear to me that Dolidze is the future in goal for the Georgian national team and needs minutes; last year, I gave him his senior club debut and first cap. So, when Lionel Messi’s Sevilla agreed to a $32M transfer fee (with a 30% of next sale clause) for Mehmeti, I decided to let him go. Dolidze will take over in the 2nd XI.
Roaming Playmaker. Finally, Oumar Toure has been a mainstay in the first-team squad since his arrival in January 2030. He’s a verified Duruji Kvareli legend and current club captain. He was named the supporters’ player of the year in 2036, 2037 and 2039, even though he had previously lost his spot in the 1st XI to Qlirim Bajrami. For years, Toure has been a key player off the bench for the 1st XI, starting for the 2nd XI. The problem being, we’re trying to develop Levan Shekiladze for the Georgian national team, as we have very few playmaking defensive midfielders (former Duruji Kvareli player, Kote “Reshi” Tkeshelashvili has been playing this role for the Crusaders since my arrival). In other words, Shekiladze needs more minutes. He will take over as the starter in the 2nd XI, with Toure playing from the bench for both the 1st and 2nd XI.
Promising Youth Prospects. 2038 youth academy graduate Giorgi Beriashvili and 2039 graduate Nika Surmava have been promoted to the first-team squad. Beriashvili is far more ready than Surmava, who is raw potential at this point. Both will play from the bench in our 2nd XI, while primarily playing for the U21s and U19s.
If you’re doing the math, you’ve realized that we have a 27-man squad heading into the 2040 campaign, consisting of: (1) the core 23 players, which comprise the 1st and 2nd XIs, plus Toure; and (2) 4 promising Georgian prospects in Kapanadze, Beriashvili, Kiknadze and Surmava, although Kiknadze and Surmava are arguably too raw to get minutes this year.
This should not be a problem for the 2040 campaign. However, we cannot carry a 27-man squad indefinitely.
The modest expansion to Kursha Road is complete, bringing our capacity to 14,800. I no longer have an option to request an expansion, so it looks like we’ve hit our capacity.
The campaign kicks off in earnest with a trip to the Camp Nou, after a wildly-successful pre-season which included a tour of China. The Catalans sit 9 points clear of Real Madrid in the table. This is easily the most high-profile tie of the round.
We fully expect the hosts to dominate possession; our gameplan is simply to deny them any meaningful look at goal while looking to hit them in transition. The plan works perfectly for the first half, only for Barcelona to snatch a goal in the 48th minute after a poor clearance, leading to a deflected shot and easy tap-in. Diallo immediately strikes back in the 49th minute, off a long throw-in from Toudji as indecision left the Catalan keeper in no-man’s land. Barcelona strike on a counterattack in the 53rd, as the game starts to open up. We increase the pressure, looking to find an equalizer…and are rewarded in the 90th minute, when we launch a counterattack of our own, Kitawi feeding Thiam, who slots the ball home with precision. 2-2. As the Catalans push forward for a winner, Aidara nearly secures all 3 points in the 94th minute on another textbook counterattack, on to be denied by Guillem.
The final whistle blows. A 2-2 draw. An exceptional match, one surely enjoyed by the neutrals.
We claim the Georgian Super Cup for the 12th straight year, with a 5-nil win over Torpedo Kutaisi. All things being equal, we’re ready for 2040.
The second leg of the Barcelona tie was a nervy affair at Kursha Road, only settled with a 90th-minute thunderbastard from Diallo, to give us a 3-2 win on aggregate. Even though the away goals were in our favor up to that point, it felt like it was anyone’s game.
Random fun fact: Madrid’s goalkeeper for the past decade is Kilian Laternser, who has earned 163 caps for Liechtenstein over the course of his career.
The fine tuning continues with Georgia, as we prepare for the Euros. The Faroes invited us to the islands for a friendly, which I was happy to accept as it gives our younger players a chance to earn a cap under less than heavy pressure. It wasn’t the most impressive display, but a 4-1 win is a 4-1 win. Things looked better back in Tbilisi, where we put on a clinic in the 1st half of a 3-1 win over Jamaica.
The Euros are looming, but we have to take care of business in the Champions League first. We face Madrid at the Bernabeu in a few short days.
For more than 40 minutes in the first leg in Madrid, we held the hosts at bay. Mainly through the heroics of Akrofi. They were relentless. But in the 43rd minute, the dam broke. Ubieto smashing a volley home to make it 1-nil. We manage to steady the ship in the second half, but cannot find an equalizer. In the 87th minute, Kantaria is caught in possession, which sets Ubieto free to claim his brace.
We lose 2-nil, a scoreline that arguably does not do Madrid justice. We’ve got it all to do back at Kursha Road.
The Euros draw is staged the day before the second leg. Someone must have paid off Cristiano on our behalf, though, because when he drew the balls out of the hopper we were left facing Wales, Denmark and Croatia. I’m looking at you, Big Papi.
Kursha Road is packed for the second leg. We need a result. We will have to be aggressive from the opening whistle. Madrid are also looking aggressive, but we draw first blood in the 6th minute, on an incisive counterattack finished by Aidara. Before Madrid can get their sea legs, Aidara pounces on a loose ball in the box to make it 2-nil on the night, 2-2 on aggregate. All to play for.
Mayhem ensues when Madrid are reduced to 10 men in the 28th, as Cristobal is shown a straight red for a horror tackle on Dieng. There’s blood in the water.
But it’s Madrid who score, to make it 2-1 on the night. A vital away goal. Our rhythm is broken. Madrid nearly make it 3-1 a few minutes later, only for Akrofi to save us.
We find the back of the net in the 49th after our high press catches their Liechtenstein keeper in possession, but we are denied by VAR.
In the 56th minute, VAR gifts Madrid a penalty after Toudji brings down Ubieto in the box. Ubieto makes no mistake. 2-2 on the night. We need 3 goals.
We’re dazed. Minutes later, Brancadori smashes an unstoppable shot from 30 yards. Madrid are up 3-2 on the night. Surely the tie is over.
But Kitawi scores in the 68th. The masses have yet to leave Kursha Road. Hope is the cruelest mistress, and we are not immune to her call.
Thiam buries another in the 78th. 4-3 on the night. 4-5 on aggregate.
Westerveld wins a crucial interception in the 80th minute, springing Aidara free. He slots it home, to make it 5-3 on the night. 5-5 on aggregate, with 10 minutes to play, plus stoppage time.
In the 91st minute, the world is set aflame. Relentless pressure finding release as Aidara is found in space, 10 yards from goal. He makes no mistake, finding the bottom corner. It’s 6-3 on the night. 6-5 on aggregate.
But our focus has been lost. In the chaos of our joy, the steely, single-minded determination of Muhlberger wins out…a winding solo run, beating 3 men before slotting home Madrid’s 4th on the night.
Our dreams of a third-straight Champions League title lie in tatters. Muhlberger having delivered the final, cruel blow at the behest of the football gods. It is the hope that kills you.
The Board are disappointed with our exit at the quarterfinal stage, but “understand.” I guess it is better than how they could have reacted.
The pre-Euros portion of our domestic calendar proceeds smoothly, as we stretch our unbeaten streak in the Erovnuli Liga to 193 matches — more than 5 years, dating back to March 2035.
The Nations League A has also been drawn, and it isn’t pretty for the Crusaders. We’ve drawn Erik ten Hag’s England, Sebastian Desabre’s France, and Robbie Nielson’s Scotland.
Before we dive headfirst into Euro 2040, let’s take a quick at what happened in the active domestic and continental competitions. Unfortunately, it was largely “business as usual” with English sides claiming both the Champions and Europa Leagues, and traditional clubs claiming domestic titles.
June 2040 – Georgia Squad Review, Germany 2040.
This is my first major tournament since taking over the Crusaders, the 50th anniversary of the Georgian Football Federation. It is long past time that we take a closer look at the squad.
As noted previously, our primary tactic is PM Haaienmes, one of my strikerless Nagelsmann-inspired tactics, which is detailed at (and downloadable from) this post: Those Who Do Not Move, Do Not Notice Their Chains.
The 23-man squad is young, but talented. We’re nowhere near ready to make a run at the Euros (or World Cup), but I think we’re better than our current world ranking (68th).
In our pre-tournament friendlies, we were unlucky to only draw Ireland, 2-2, even after we were reduced to 10 men, as Gogitidze missed a late penalty. We then conceded late against Venezuela to draw 1-1 after dominating the entire match; an utter shambles.
Our starting goalkeeper is former Duruji Kvareli captain Manuchar Kurashvili. Aliko Dolidze is our primary backup and the future starter; he just needs time to develop. Former Duruji Kvareli keeper Luis Lorente is also in the squad, but will not see the field in Germany.
Our starting back 3 consists of Goga Nadiradze at libero, with Erekle Jibuti and Vasil Kantaria at centerback. Gia Sukhiashvili is our backup libero. Murman Akhalaia and Giorgi Rotiashvili provide depth and experience at centerback. (Of these 6, Nadiradze is the only one who hasn’t played for Duruji Kvareli.)
Tengiz Baramidze and Besik Chichinadze will start on the flanks, and will be familiar names for anyone who has followed this save. Baramidze has a wealth of promise and could hold down this spot for years. Chichinadze is pure speed. Their backups are less than impressive — Revaz Tabatadze at right wingback, with Beka Jincharadze in the squad mainly because he provides coverage across the back 5. (Believe it or not, he’s also our most competent backup at left wingback.)
At mezzala, Lasha Gegia and Zurab Ghoghoberidze (the 2039 Golden Boy winner) will start, and could form our midfield pairing for years to come (they’re currently paired in our 2nd XI). We have three former Duruji Kvareli players as backup here, each of whom could also provide coverage at shadow striker as/if necessary: Davit Abulashvili, Lasha Bitskinashvili and Davit Gogitidze.
Irakli Kurashvili and Dima Ghoghoberidze will be our starting shadow strikers, with Goga Gabelia coming off the bench. Kurashvili has been banging in goals for Duruji Kvareli since his arrival from Zestaponi in 2031. Ghoghoberidze came through at Lokomotivi and has declined my overtures to join us in Kvareli. Gabelia is a Duruji Kvareli youth graduate (screenshot from 2034) who excelled in our youth ranks and always appeared to have potential, but ultimately did not look like he would make the grade. Suffice to say that Gabelia has progressed since his 2037 transfer to Dila Gori.
As demonstrated by our pre-tournament friendlies, we’re not good enough to make a serious run at the Euros. While there are marked signs of improvement over the last 2 years, what we’re seeing is exactly what I’ve come to expect from young, inexperienced sides on an international level — underperforming.
The question is whether the young players in this squad can step up another level, and whether the youth prospects who are waiting in the wings have the potential to take us even further.
On the eve of our first match at the Euros, the news drops. The Erovnuli Liga rises to 8th in the competitions reputation table, while Duruji Kvareli rise to 3rd in the club reputation table, only behind Real Madrid and Manchester City.
The bad news? We’ve lost a Champions League spot to the Netherlands, for the 2041/42 campaign.
Euro 2040 Review.
We kick off the Group Stage with a comprehensive 2-1 win over Denmark. A massive upset, according to the pundits. But well-deserved.
The Welsh came out playing a cautious 532, so we pressed high seeking to take advantage of their nerves. We were less than ruthless in front of goal, but still claimed a 3-1 win to guarantee passage through to the knockout rounds, under the watchful eye of a balding, bored Gareth Bale in the stands.
A historic moment, as it is the first time the Crusaders have qualified for the knockout rounds of a major international tournament.
The final match against Croatia is a dead-rubber. We both have 6 points. I decide to rest our 1st XI, knowing that this match will not determine our fate, one way or the other.
For more than an hour, we sit deep, soak up pressure and look to hit the Croatians on the counter. In the 74th minute, a long throw-in sees Sukhiashvili taken out in the box. VAR confirms. Penalty. Gogitidze buries it. And all of a sudden we’re 15 minutes (plus stoppage time) from a historic win.
As all footballers know, however, one of the most dangerous moments is right after you score. And Croatia catch us caught up in the moment, to equalize. The match plays out a 1-1 draw. Immense, from our 2nd XI.
We are level with Croatia in every tiebreaker. We win the Group (presumably on a coin flip, overseen by Zlatan). A moment to remember.
Our reward? We will face ze Germans in Berlin, after the hosts finished third in Group A. Zlatan is beside himself with rage, convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that the fix is in. My head knows that isn’t the case. My heart is with him in the street, lighting flares and singing songs about corruption at UEFA.
Domenico Tedesco’s Germany strike early, with Kurashvili at fault. They control possession while we absorb pressure and look to hit them in transition. But ze Germans score again in the 21st. The lads are not disheartened, however, and we immediately pull one back through Ghoghoberidze. We’re not dead yet.
But the hosts are not to be denied. They find the back of the net again in the 31st, looking to pull away. Another Kurashvili error gifts ze Germans their 4th in the 44th minute.
At 4-1 down, all hope looks to be lost. Two major errors from our keeper. And all I can think as I watch Kurashvili flap his arms in exasperation is, “this is why we dropped you at Duruji Kvareli, you ****.“)
I do the only thing that seems reasonable at halftime, and replace Kurashvili with Dolidze. (Which is arguably unreasonable, I realize. It won’t change the match. But Kurashvili is dead to me.)
In the 2nd half, we hold our own, hitting the woodwork a second time before Gabelia finds our second.
But we cannot find another. We lose, 4-2, and are eliminated. We played them straight up and have nothing to be ashamed of.
Other than Kurashvili, of course. He will never play for Georgia again. The ****.
As the footballing world focused on the Euros, football in Georgia continued to roll on.
Our youth intake preview is bleak, the only good news being that we have a lot of terrible wingers coming through.
The Champions League Group Stage draw is also very favorable, pitting us against Marseille, Sporting and Hannover. Lokomotivi also secure a favorable draw, and will face Dynamo Kyiv, Lazio and Basel.
The Nations League and Champions League both return, in what felt like a busy month.
The Crusaders kicked off their maiden Nations League A campaign away to Moussa Sissoko’s France, ranked 5th in the world. While our hosts were the better side, we earned a hard-fought 1-1 draw in Bordeaux. That was followed up by a 3-1 stoning of Robbie Nielson’s Scotland in Tbilisi (ranked 15th), which also marked Vasil Kantaria’s 100th cap for Georgia.
This is a big milestone for Kantaria, as well as the save — he is the first Duruji Kvareli player to claim 100 full caps, as he earned his Georgia debut in June 2029, six months after his arrival on a free from Lokomotivi.
The Champions League campaign did not start off strongly, however, as we suffered a 1-1 draw away to Sporting after Anyamele had a 90th-minute winner chalked off by VAR. We have only ourselves to blame. We conceded a poor goal against the run of play, and had numerous opportunities despite Sporting’s attempt to pack players behind the ball and waste time.
Our domestic campaign remains on-track to extend our unbeaten streak for the foreseeable future.
Two years ago, we knew that we were in for trouble upon promotion to the Nations League A. 4 days in the United Kingdom confirmed our worst fears, as we were soundly beaten 3-1 at Wembley and 4-nil at Hampden. We sit 3rd, and will host France and England in Tbilisi in November.
November 2040 – International Fixtures.
The final days of the Nations League would determine if we stay in the A division, or suffer the drop.
Moussa Sissoko’s France are the first to arrive in Tbilisi. We play them straight up, with Irakli Kurashvili burying a late penalty to give us a massive 1-1 draw against one of the giants of world football.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s England were next. Despite having already secured passage through to the semifinals, Ole deploys a full-strength XI in Tbilisi. The English control the early stages and have a goal chalked off for offsides. But we’re still in the match. Believing that — despite the beating we took at Wembley in October — we can win this match. Baramidze finds the back of the net in the 50th minute. Six minutes later, it’s Zurab Ghoghoberidze, winner of the 2039 Golden Boy, who finds the back of the net. It’s 2-nil. Improbably. But not undeservedly. England shake off the shackles imposed by their manager and launch forward. Relentlessly. But to no avail. We see out the match with 10 men, as Ghoghoberidze is withdrawn in the 70th minute with a hamstring strain.
At the final whistle, Ole lies prone in the technical area, his face buried in the turf as flares launched from the upper tier land in his vicinity.
A momentous occasion. A statement of purpose. A campaign to remember.
Zlatan is careful to note that the lads have returned to their clubs in a “buoyant” mood. I should hope so.
The final weeks of the Duruji Kvareli campaign confirm another invincible season domestically, having also secured a 1st-place finish in our Champions League Group. We can’t face Madrid until the quarterfinals stage (since they also won their Group), but I’m hoping that we get the chance to avenge last year’s defeat in 2041.
December 2040 – Season Review.
It feels like I say this every year, but…this was a big year. Sure, Duruji Kvareli were eliminated from the Champions League in one of the most incredible matches I’ve ever played in years of enjoying CM/FM. But the Georgian national team took several steps forward, reaching the knockout rounds of the Euros and battling valiantly in the Nations League.
Stepping back to consider the bigger picture, we’ve won the Champions League twice. If our goal was to only win the Champions League, we could easily continue to do so while importing foreign players.
The “trick” at this stage of the save is to maintain our level of performance with Duruji Kvareli while integrating an ever-increasing number of Georgian players into the squad, and developing players for the national team.
We carried a 27-man squad all year, with 4 Georgian prospects comprising the “last” 4 players on the roster. In 2041, those 4 players need more minutes. How to get them those minutes without sacrificing their development is a “problem,” but a good problem to have. Right now, I anticipate 2-3 of those players moving into the 2nd XI as part of a modest squad reshuffling, with 1 or 2 going out on loan.
Before we press on, though, we have to stop and take note of two big milestones that were reached this year: (1) Zurab Ghoghoberidze was named the 2039 European Golden Boy and followed up with a solid campaign for both club and country; and (2) Vasil Kantaria won his 100th cap for Georgia at the Euros. That means that 18 years into the save, we’ve completed 21 of the 42 achievements I’m tracking (see below).
Next year, we’ve got our eye on 3 possible achievements, as: (1) Sekou Thiam is on the verge of scoring 50 goals for Mali, with a remarkable 47 goals in 46 matches to-date; (2) our first World Cup qualifying campaign with Georgia is imminent; and (3) Duruji Kvareli will feature in the 2041 Club World Cup.
Lokomotivi have also reached the Champions League knockout rounds for the first time (only the second Georgian club to do so, after Duruji Kvareli), which should help with our European coefficients.
Goals for 2041: Make a run in the 2040/41 Champions League knockout rounds, and at the 2041 Club World Cup. Continue to sign and develop promising Georgian prospects. Qualify for the 2042 World Cup.
To be continued…
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.