Duruji Kvareli – 2024 Open Thread
January 2024 – Odds & Ends.
I must say, we’re “living la vida loca” as we wait for the Liga 3 campaign to commence.
Amidst the metaphorical avalanche of champagne, jalapeño poppers and disco lights, I find that mindfulness is the key to dealing with all of this newfound, heightened stress and celebrity — local celebrity, I must emphasize, as the rest of the country has yet to begin taking us seriously.
It’s the little things that keep me grounded. Routine.
As my father reminded me this morning when I stumbled home at dawn, one should always “dress for the job you want, not the one you have.” But I want the job I have, so thanks for nothing, “Dad.”
I really don’t see what his problem is with how I’m dressed, anyways. A nice, well-fitted suit. And while I have taken to wearing an ascot, to celebrate of our back-to-back promotions — that’s just fancy. It isn’t a reason to hate me.
There’s a buzz growing around town. The Board has repeatedly reminded me that our average attendance dipped last year, notwithstanding promotion, and how an increase in attendance would help improve our financial situation. 31 season ticket holders does not a continental superpower make.
I suspect that our attendance issues might have something to do with the geese that have taken up residence nearby, and have gone feral after Luka and his Kursha Road Brigade abandoned them. I swear, walking past that corner of the fortress… It’s like the Somme, with trenches and a minefield of goose ****.
Trying to be helpful, I suggest that the club get the geese a tire swing…or something…anything to keep them from relentlessly attacking anyone who comes near. A couple of the U13s went home crying last week, after an errant ball was fired over the ramparts, landing square in the middle of geese territory. I don’t know who is responsible for recovering that ball, but as sure as **** isn’t going to be the guy wearing a $75 ascot!
I’ve got bigger fish to fry. Once again, we’ve missed virtually all of our transfer targets. It’s hard enough to lure them Kvareli in the first instance (and I use the term “lure,” quite deliberately — we’re nothing if not resourceful). Once they take a look at the pitch and our facilities in general, the sell becomes even harder. Most view the club as a novelty — destined to be relegated back to the 5th tier in due course. And they want no part in that.
The only exception? Vasil Tevadze, a young keeper released by second-tier Chikura. He will push Kvaratskhelia for a spot in the 1st XI, and is ahead of Ilia Khikava in the pecking order, with greater potential. I’m not sure why he accepted our contract offer — honestly, I’m afraid to ask, since I think the odds are perhaps 50/50 that he signed for us while heavily intoxicated. (Of course, my suspicions are based primarily on the fact that I’m the one that got him drunk and put the pen in his hand. But, let’s just keep that between us, yeah?)
The other spots in the first-team squad will have to be backfilled by youth. It isn’t pretty. But, as a great man once told me, “pretty costs extra.”
The Board have settled on a plan of action, to get rid of the feral geese infestation.
“It’s simple, Levan. Do not let your namesake animal friends cause you any worry. Very humane.”
“With all the problems we’re having with attendance, let’s just avoid a scandal, ok?”
“No problem, Levan. Is simples. We simply unleash wave after wave of Chinese needle snakes. They’ll wipe out the geese.”
“But aren’t the snakes even worse?!”
“Yes, but we’re prepared for that. We’ve lined up a fabulous type of gorilla that thrives on snake meat!”
“Then we’re stuck with gorillas!”
“No, that’s the beautiful part. When wintertime rolls around, the gorillas simply freeze to death.”
“I… I… I’m sorry I asked.”
“I’m glad you did, Levan. I’ve been trying to avoid telling you about it for weeks.”
“Ahh, yes. Plausible deniability? Clever. Good thinking.”
“Actually…no. Uhh… The snakes have not respected the boundaries of the fortress since they were released a few days ago… They’re kind of everywhere now. It is only a matter of time before a small child is bitten. Or… Eaten. Digested, if you will.”
“Look, Levan. Do not make that face. I forbid it. It’s not all bad! Think how happy when the community will be when the children are just bitten, and not eaten! Much better, I think, for everyone, when the gorillas arrive in March.”
February 2024 – Squad Review.
While the Board struggle to minimize any collateral damage from the feral geese and snakes which have invested the Tsentraluri, the only thing we can do is focus on the squad and our pre-season preparations.
We will be carrying a 20-man squad this year — our 1st XI, a 7-man substitutes’ bench, and 2 players who are promising and can fill in, in a pinch.
We’re still playing the strikerless tactic I began working on during the beta, tentatively dubbed PM Draugr as an homage to the shape-shifting, undead creatures of Norse legend.
At this point, PM Draugr has been tested extensively with Duruji Kvareli, Brondby and Manchester United. Once I’m done tweaking, I will likely write it up here on FtCS for anyone who might be interested — watch this space.[Edit: the final version of PM Draugr is now detailed in The Long Night Is Coming, And The Dead Come With It.]
But for now, let’s take a closer look at the players who we’ll be leaning on during the upcoming campaign.
As noted above, we have three goalkeepers at the club that are worthy of mention. Davit Kvaratskhelia has been our starter since my arrival. I’ve been concerned about him since the first day — but he’s continued to be reliable, even if his days are numbered. There’s only so far we can go with him in goal.
When we received our youth intake last year, I immediately identified Ilia Kikava as: (1) a potential first-team player, after some development; and (2) the likely backup for Kvaratskhelia beginning in 2024.
However, we were able to sign Vasil Tevadze during the winter transfer window. He’s a better player than Kikava, and is already pushing Kvaratskhelia for a spot in the XI. He also seems to have the most potential, of the three. The question will be — can he develop? If so, he’ll be our starter in short order. (With Tevadze’s arrival, Kikava will spend the year in the youth setup.)
As per usual, my defense is centered around an aggressive libero — for the third-straight campaign, Luka Chikobava will play that role for us. He may not look like much, but he’s was named our Player of the Year in both 2022 and 2023, and is a verified club legend. (We are not carrying a backup libero in the first team squad. Davit Kikava is with our U19s, and will be called up if necessary.)
He is flanked in the 1st XI by Vazha Chelidze and Nika Chkhartishvili. Nika is taking over for Beka Burkiashvili, who had been a mainstay in our XI but — at this juncture — is in over his head. Giorgi Giorgadze will join Burkiashvili in providing depth for our central back-three — he’s not going to play from the bench just yet, another year of seasoning and development will do him good.
At wingback, Giorgi Gvazava and Zurab Tabatadze enter their second campaign with the club. They both had tremendous campaigns last year, and are being scouted by Erovnuli Liga 2 sides. I won’t sell them, and am hoping we can extend their contracts again. Gvazava was our first player to earn an international youth cap last October, and is arguably our best player.
Our backup left wingback is Guram Popkhadze, another 2023 youth academy graduate with decent potential. (We are not carrying a backup right wingback with the first team; Rezo Vardanidze will be called up from our U21s if necessary.)
Our starting midfield pairing will be Jaba Kuprashvili and Vazha Ivanishvili, at mezzala and ball-winning midfielder, respectively. When I first arrived in 2022, I thought that Kuprashvili was one of our better players — he has lived up to that promise, but his days may be numbered. Ivanishvili is a solid youth academy prospect, who worked his way into the XI last year.
Leading the attack, we have three players — two inverted wingers flanking a deep-lying targetman.
In the 1st XI, our inverted wingers are Vazha Shanidze and Giorgi Gureshidze. Like several other senior players, they were here upon my arrival, and immediately identified as key to our chances. They’ve been solid, consistent performers. But we may be reaching their ceiling.
The backup inverted wingers are Paata Romelashvili and Zurab Gagua, both of whom once seemed to have the potential to make the step up into the 1st XI — Gagua was deemed the hottest prospect at the club when I arrived, two years ago. Of course, there are now legitimate questions about their ability to do so, especially given our ambitions.
Our deep-lying targetman is Gia Zhishkariani, who signed for the 2023 campaign and emerged as our leading goal-scorer. He is central to our chances this year, and beyond. I could not be more pleased with him. Kakha Kiladze is his backup, in the squad on the basis of his apparent raw potential.
One of the challenges in this save is measuring ourselves against the opposition. During the FM 20 version of the Fourth Glass, we promoted rapidly thanks to an annual infusion of talent on free transfer. It has been much more difficult to sign players this year, meaning that I’m far less certain of our relative ability vis-a-vis the opposition.
If one match last year — our extra time loss to Spaeri in the Davit Kipiani Cup — is any guide, we aren’t far off the pace for Liga 3. Obviously, one match is nowhere near enough information to warrant that kind of conclusion, but…
Structurally, Liga 3 has the same, fundamental model as the Erovnuli Liga and Erovnuli Liga 2 — 10 teams, 4 rounds. 1 team earns automatic promotion/relegation, while 4 teams enter a two-legged, cross-divisional playoff to determine promotion/relegation.
Our pre-season form has been solid, even if our opponents were not particularly competent.
A favorable draw in the Davit Kipiani Cup, as we’ll kick off the campaign against Torpedo’s reserves at the Tsentraluri.
We must be doing something right, as our season ticket sales have blown through the roof.
If the curtain-raiser against Torpedo’s reserves is anything to judge by, we’re in for a massive campaign — a comprehensive 7-2 win, and a record-setting gate. (Also, word is that the snakes have finally eradicated the geese.)
The Board wanted entertaining football. They got it.
5 matches in March, in all competitions. 23 goals scored. 10 conceded.
We’ve also got a date with Erovnuli Liga side WIT-Georgia in the Cup… Saucy. Very saucy, indeed.
April / May 2024.
What did that Chaucer guy say about April? Something about the rain.
A wet month saw us drop points away to Tbilisi City, before a hard-fought 2-2 draw against promotion-challengers Sioni, and a narrow 1-nil win over fellow challengers Skuri. It set the stage perfectly for the match against WIT — an Erovnulia Liga side, even if they were sitting bottom of the table.
We gave them a run for their money, in the end — a 3-2 away loss that we can and should be proud of.
The next match was away to Spaeri. Fearing retribution for last year’s “fireworks display” in Kvareli, our supporters stayed away. All save Luka, who stood alone on the terrace, shirtless, shouting abuse at the home supporters, surrounded by a squadron of police in riot gear. I’m not sure who they were there to protect — Luka, or the hundreds of Spaeri supporters who wanted to give him a friendly hug. In the face. With a metal folding chair.
Frankly, Spaeri walked all over us. Changes needed to be made. Vasil Tevzadze stepping into goal, and Vazha Ivanishvili dropped from the midfield to take over as our libero — replacing Davit Kvaratskhelia and Luka Chikobava, respectively. I realized that we would need to make these changes sooner rather than later, right after the first match of the year, and began retraining Ivanishvili accordingly.
While Chikobava is a club legend, the reality is that he isn’t going to take us further forward. What he has to offer through sheer grit, determination and athleticism is not enough to offset his utter and complete lack of footballing ability.
With Vazha moving into the back line, Givi Gogichaishvili moves into the 1st XI as our ball-winning midfielder.
I’ve asked our scouts to work on finding us 3 players this summer — a mezzala and two inverted wingers — to reinforce our XI in anticipation of a promotion challenge. We’re not that far off as it is. The reality is that they’re likely to just sit around playing FIFA, so I’m going to need to do some scouting of my own.
June 2024 – European Review.
It’s time for our annual glance around the Continent…
In the Champions League, Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid beat Klippity-Klopp’s Liverpool, 2-1. leading to Klopp getting sacked within moments of the final whistle.
Sergey Semak’s Marseille beat Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham on penalties, after a 1-1 draw, in the Europa League.
In the Europa Conference League, Sean Dyche’s Burnley beat Olivier Dall’Oglio’s Stade Brestois, 2-1.
In the active leagues: Zidane’s Real Madrid won their first La Liga title in four years; Roger Schmidt’s Chelsea won the Premier League title on goal difference ahead of Mourinho’s Spurs; Tuchel’s PS-****ing-G won their 7th straight Ligue 1 title; Andrea Pirlo’s Juventus reclaimed the Serie A title; and Bobby Manc’s Dortmund knocked Bayern off their perch.
June / July 2024.
Another Erovnuli Liga side comes knock-knock-knocking on my door…Torpedo, this time. Well, technically it is my mom and step-dad’s door, since I still live with them. What? The rental market in Kvareli is grim, especially on my after-tax wages. 500 per week barely covers my avocado toast and cappuccino budget… But I digress.
Takeover rumors have been swirling, but I can’t focus on that. We simply need to take care of business on the field…except the rumors simply won’t go away…and just keep recurring. Unfortunately, given our financial state, the club has restricted our wage budget — there isn’t any money for new signings, even on a free.
As if on cue, Aleksandre delivers his annual, optimistic assessment of the youth coming through…but if I read between the lines, we may have two players that he’s truly excited about — a fullback and an attacking midfielder. I’ll take it.
In the end, a local businessman (legitimate business, not the fun kind — I checked) has completed his takeover, clearing the club’s debts. Unfortunately, it came too late in the window — our top targets have re-signed with their current clubs, or agreed to move elsewhere.
It hasn’t been the cleanest 2-month period, but we’re riding high, six points clear at the top. Just as important, we’re 14 points clear of Spaeri in 4th. Skuri hold a game in hand and have been going through a rough patch — it is only a matter of time before they begin putting teams to the sword again. Automatic promotion would be preferred, naturally, but if you’d told me we’d be in the playoffs at the start of the campaign I’d have bitten your hand off.
A big month. Skuri. Sioni. Spaeri. One after another.
A murderer’s row, as we sit atop they table and they sit 3rd, 2nd and 4th, respectively.
Win these three and we can start dreaming of promotion.
And I can start thinking about moving out of my mom’s basement. The lads may laugh, but I made my name as a player during the semi-pro era, which means saving up was not an option. And my salary these days doesn’t stretch as far as I’d like, even if I’m making a fair amount more than they are.
We smash Skuri. That’s one. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…
Away to Sioni, we are in complete control, but are unjustly reduced to 10-men early in the 2nd half. We fight back from 2-nil down to draw level…only to concede a late winner. Brutal.
Leaving Spaeri…the arrogant ****s. And we are annihilated. 4-1. An utter shambles.
The drive back to Kvareli is long. Quiet. No one wishes to speak. We know that we’ve ceded a significant advantage in the race for promotion.
A return to form in September. We mark my 100th match in charge with a 3-nil win over Dinamo Zugdidi, consigning them to relegation. Our promotion rivals took turns taking points off of each other this month, so we’re still in a strong position, heading into the final 2 months of the campaign.
October 2024 – Youth Intake.
Aleksandre has done himself proud this year. At least, that’s what he tells himself. I’m less convinced.
While the group may not be as strong as we’d like, Davit Abashidze is a definite talent. Tornike Jokhadze is the only other player worth considering — mainly for his theoretical potential. I like the idea of Nika Bokashvili, but he is too small to play at centerback, and will retrain as a ball-winning midfielder.
We’re so close to promotion, I can taste it. Another step up the ladder. Freedom from my mom’s basement.
It’s not that I don’t appreciate all that she and my step-dad have done for me. It’s just that I need my freedom.
I’m like a caged peacock. Yearning to spread his plumage and feel the wind on his bare haunches.
I know. It is a powerful metaphor. You’re welcome.
We drop points to Kolkheti on Matchday 32. ****ing Kolkheti. I knew I hated them for a reason.
Meaning we sit 2 points clear of Sioni, who are due to arrive at the Tsentraluri.
We start off with a bang, as Shanidze earns…and then misses… a 25th minute penalty. We concede minutes later, followed by Shanidze hitting the post, the Sioni keeper well-beaten. This is not going well. It has the feeling of “one of those games.”
I have no choice. I let the lads have it at halftime. I throw water bottles in a blind rage. I question their paternity. Their virility. Their very aeroelasticity. I berate them. I detail the various ways in which they’ve let themselves and the entire city of Kvareli down. I describe their mothers crying, tearing their hair out, unable to fathom the depth of their disappointment in their sons.
And, like flipping a switch, you can see the aeroelasticity change at the Tsentraluri.
You can taste it.
It tastes like victory.
Vazha smashes one home, in the 54th minute. In the 58th, Vazha turns provider, as Giorgi Gureshidze unleashes a thunderbastard volley to give us the lead.
The momentum is in our favor. For a minute, I almost regret texting all of the lads’ girlfriends prior to my halftime meltdown, to invite them to my mother’s for a hot tub party later that evening.
When Zhishkariani smashes home our 3rd in the 61st, I decide to throw caution to the wind and invite the lads to the hot tub party. There will be no curfew tonight, Mom.
I barely even notice when Ivanishvili heads home at the back post in the 85th, as I’m too busy setting up the playlist for the night’s festivities. How much LMFAO is too much?
But we’ve secured a spot in the playoffs. Now we just need to finish the job off.
The hangover has long-since receded by the time we take the pitch against Skuri on Matchday 34. A 5-1 win follows, meaning we’re on the verge of the title.
We will face Spaeri at the Tsetraluri on the penultimate day of the campaign, although we will do so without Tevzadze, who has earned his first youth international call-up.
The mood is tense. No fireworks or other shenanigans before kickoff today. Luka and the Kursha Road Brigade know that we do not need distractions, or to give Spaeri any motivation as they look to confirm a playoff spot. In the end, the match is a dull affair, all the edge taken away by the wariness of both sides. The only goal comes in the first half from Givi Gogichaishvili, who tapped home after Spaeri’s keeper flapped at a cross.
The lads are clamoring for another epic hot tub party, but truth be told my heart isn’t in it as I begin to ponder the challenges associated with promotion. And, Mom pulled me aside before the match, insisting that I find my own place after all these years. So I don’t think she would have gone for it, anyways.
We finish off the campaign against Dinamo Tbilisi’s reserves, a guns-blazing, open-ended match that must have been thrilling for any neutrals. Not the most glamorous tie in the history of Georgian football, but it is a promise of things to come. We will return to Tbilisi in due course, to face Dinamo’s first-team squad.
For now, I’ve promised the lads a night out in the capitol, and they will not be denied — not matter the weather. The cold is oppressive, with a thick layer of fog covering the city. As we stumble into the bus for the ride back to Kvareli, the revelry diminishes as — one by one — we fall prey to the long day and heavy drink, falling asleep with dreams of the Erovnuli Liga 2 danci\ng in our heads. (All except those who’ve been told their contracts won’t be renewed. I’m sure their dreams are more to do with knifing me in a dark alley…)
It seems I’m the last one awake, save the driver, who has turned on the new Jedward reunion album. Full of bangers, that one. At my request, we drive slowly by Dinamo’s stadium, the Boris Paichadze, which is shrouded in an impenetrable bank of fog. Perhaps its the steady inflow of absinthe-and-Red Bull energy drinks at the club, but I see the shadow of a figure perched atop the roof of the stadium, backlit by the lights of the city. Watching me. With red eyes.
I blink, and he’s gone. I’ve clearly had too much to drink.
December 2024 – Season Review.
Six months after our takeover by a local businessman, and there are already new takeover rumors.
Clearly someone else sees what I’ve seen, and long promised (even when I had no justifiable basis to do so) — Duruji Kvareli are going places. Fast.
At the end of the season, we sent all 32 of our loyal season ticket holders a commemorative kit with their names on the back, coupled with full-sized flags bearing the club emblem emblazoned with “I was a Duruji Kvareli supporter before being a supporter was cool.” It’s a nice touch, suggested by Luka. He’s a rather clever fellow, when he’s sober. Which isn’t often, mind.
(His last attempt to create an iconic cheer failed miserably, although I guess there’s still a chance that “I’d Rather Be In The Eastern Zone Group B” will catch on. Sung to the tune of the Beatles’ “The Ballad of John and Yoko,” but with a far more bitter, cynical sense of humor. Most people probably don’t listen to the lyrics. But they should, because it’s not just about the pleasures of conformity and the importance of trends. It’s also a personal statement about the club, itself.)
In the end, it has been an utterly brilliant campaign. Gia Zhishkariani has been utterly brilliant, as has Vazha Shinedze. I assumed that this would be the latter’s final year with the club, but after this performance…I had to offer him a new, one-year contract. I still intend to replace him at the first possible opportunity, but even if we manage to do that, he can fill in off the bench.
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 Duruji Subsequent ThreadSave is explained here. Just need to catch up? Each installment in Levan “Goose” Akhobadze’s attempt to take over the football world, starting from the Georgian Regional Leagues, can be accessed through the Duruji Subsequent ThreadSave Archive.