Duruji Kvareli – 2030 Open Thread
December 2029 / January 2030 – Odds & Ends.
A new year. A new contract, on improved terms.
I moved out of my ***** apartment into a one-bedroom flat with a view. It’s a view of a Taco Bell, but it’s a view. We’re moving up in the world, folks.
The Europa Conference League draw is a star-studded affair, hosted by the kid from Jerry Maguire. (Trust me, it was much cooler than it sounds. Maybe you had to be there.)
We draw Legia — a rematch of our Champions League First Qualifying Round tie, which we lost 5-4 on aggregate. A chance for revenge — aka, “the sexy man’s justice.”
Speaking of sexy, we’ve signed Guram Oniani from Merani — the best young Georgian player we’ve signed in my tenure, and arguably the best young Georgian player we’ve seen. (Our goalkeeping coach isn’t impressed, but no one asked you, Lasha.)
I, for one, wish we had 11 Guram Onianis. We would be unstoppable… Unless it turned out like one of those Twilight Zone episodes and they all murdered each other.
January 2030 – Georgian Football, Finances.
The grim state of Georgian football finances? No real change. Duruji Kvareli, Dinamo Tbilisi and newly-promoted Dila Gori are the only fully-professional clubs in the top tier, after Zestaponi reverted to semi-professional status.
Margveti are the only professional side in the second tier, and missed out on promotion via the playoffs last year.
(As a random aside, the stadium screenshots pack has a terrible view of Dila Gori’s stadium, which sits in the shadow of a hilltop fortress dating back to the 7th century, which you can see from a different angle.)
Sponsorship income remains modest, with no signs of a TV deal on the horizon.
February 2030 – Squad Review.
Before we dive into the new campaign, it seems to be an appropriate moment to pause and take stock of where we are, as a squad.
We will carry a 23-man squad into the season, playing PM Draugr, my strikerless 523/3223 which is detailed in The Long Night Is Coming, And The Dead Come With It.
As we look to continue pushing forward in Europe, this is a position where we will need to improve. There simply aren’t any domestic prospects that I’ve unearthed.
Our starting back 3 consists of Lasha Kurdadze at libero, flanked by Giga Gabelia and Mikheil “Zoidberg” Zoidze as our centerbacks. Kurdadze has carried forward the pattern of our liberos winning Player of the Year, claiming it for 2028 and 2029, and is solid for this level, as are Gabelia and Zoidze. I do think we can improve at libero, however, especially as our reputation increases to the point where we can lure foreign players. With the current match engine, I’m dying to see how an aggressive attacking-minded player will perform in the role.
Zaza Goguadze is our backup libero — a solid player, who can also fill in as a midfielder. We managed to get him signed to a new contract. He’s probably too good to be on the bench, but…that’s where he plays from, for the 1st XI.
Our backup centerbacks are Ervin Kodermac and Mikheil Khaburdzania. Kodermac will be pushing for a spot in the 1st XI, if he continues to develop. Khaburdzania is a really strong backup for this level, but fell out of the 1st XI last year (losing his spot to Zoidze).
At right wingback, its a battle between Giorgi Kacharava and Giorgi Oniani. The differences between the two are obvious — Kacharava is the more traditional wingback, while Oniani is an aggressive winger who (theoretically) will offer a new dimension while in possession and the counterattack. The latter is what I prefer and what our tactic is designed for — we simply haven’t had a player who can fulfill that role. Until now. They will likely split time this year, with Oniani taking over in the 1st XI by the end of the campaign.
At left wingback, we have a similar conundrum. Giorgi Gvazava is the club’s all-time appearances leader, but has all-but reached his ceiling. Miroslav “Mickey” Mickovski is untapped, raw potential. Gvazava will continue in the 1st XI for the foreseeable future, but this is an area where we will be looking to improve. If Mickovski doesn’t develop, we will add someone else — this role is far too important to ignore as we look to progress in Europe.
Guram Popkhadze has been our backup left wingback for years — my coaches have always been impressed by his potential, but he has never grown into it. With Mickovski’s arrival, Guram is out. He will be shipped out on loan or transfer, at the first opportunity.
Our starting central midfield pairing is Murman Lezhava at mezzala, with Hristijan Hristov as our ball-winning midfielder. Lezhava is good enough for the level we’re at, whereas Hristov is one for the future. I promoted Hristov to the 1st XI late last year, and have high hopes for him.
The substitutes here are Jemal Panchulidze and Giorgi Devadze. They’re both decent backups for this level, but one or both may be sacrificed in our push to revamp the squad. In particular, I’m on the hunt for a mezzala who can take us to the next level.
Up top, our attacking trident will be led by Sergei Utsmuts — perhaps the biggest signing of my tenure at Duruji Kvareli. He will play as our deep-lying targetganche, with inverted wingers Nukri Gordulava (our captain) on the left and Davit Asatiani on the right. Gordulava is a fixture in the XI. Asatiani, however…his time has come. Signing a right winger is my first priority.
Soso Kvilitaia (our vice captain) is the player who makes way for Utsmuts. He’s a solid backup for our current level, but we needed more. I plan to offer him renewed terms, but his demands were excessive…we’ll see how things progress as the year runs its course.
Asatiani’s backup on the right is Temur Toidze, who has also deputized as our targetganche. I see him as nothing more than a backup, even if I once harbored hope that he could take over Asatiani.
(I’m currently dithering over new contracts for Asatiani and Toidze, in hopes that we can sign a new right winger in the summer. As noted above, that is my top priority. If we can do that, one of these two will be allowed to leave on a free.)
Davit Chikovani has been a dutiful servant, but he isn’t good enough to push Gordulava for a spot in the XI. I’m not looking to replace him, per se, but he’ll be on the chopping block if and when we locate someone better.
After 3 successive Georgian titles, it is safe to say that we’ve reached the point where we have completed the second “phase” of this save — becoming the elite club in Georgia — and must now pivot to the third (and final) stage on the club side of the shop — building an XI that can conquer Europe.
Our pre-season friendlies are generally promising — especially the 3-nil stonking we gave Shakhtar at the Tsentraluri.
February 2030 – Europa Conference League, First Knockout Round.
The first leg in Warsaw is a narrow, hard-fought affair. We look to be on the verge of a 2-1 win, when Oniani (on his debut) finds Kurdadze in the 93rd on a cutback, who slots it home. 3-1. A big night in Poland.
The 2nd XI are charged with the Georgian Super Cup, away to Dinamo Tbilisi. The lads delivered a 5-nil win, with Kvilitaia in particularly good form, claiming 4 goals.
The 1st XI return for the 2nd leg, however, as we will remember just how dominant Legia were during the home leg of the Champions League qualifiers last July. We dominate the first half, but Legia snatch a goal against the run of play in the 33rd…and the tide begins to turn. A halftime tirade ensues…and does the trick. We aren’t playing well, but we recover our poise. Heino looks to have drawn Legia back level on the night in the 70th minute, only for VAR to rule it out for offsides.
In the end, we’re unable to find any purchase going forward, but do not concede again thanks to a resolute performance from Ghonghadze. We lose, 1-nil, but prevail on aggregate, 3-2.
We draw Zurich in the Second Knockout Round — arguably the best possible draw we could have received.
March 2030 – Europa Conference League, Second Knockout Round.
I fear that we’ll live to regret not putting the Swiss away in Tbilisi. A 2-1 lead just does not feel like enough…
…and it is not. We stumble on the return leg, as our hosts take their chances and we fluff ours. We lose, 2-nil on the night (3-2, agg.). We’re eliminated, but have $411k to comfort ourselves with on the ride home. A favorable draw awaits the Swiss, as they’ll face Strasbourg.
Meanwhile, our season ticket numbers soar to 264 (up from 216). Single-match ticket prices rise to $19.91, with season tickets running $134.
Time to focus on the domestic campaign for a few months. But, then? Back to Europe. We go again, lads.
We’re dropping too many points in the Erovnuli Liga. Three 2-2 draws and a loss to Dinamo Tbilisi — not acceptable. Not by any measure.
We have 6 matches to get our act together, before the fixture congestion returns with a vengeance. We need to make the most of them.
We recover our form. The only problem being that Dinamo Tbilisi has maintained their form. They will be working to navigate European qualifying as well, but we will enter that period without our customary lead in the Erovnuli Liga.
June 2030 – European Review.
As Marcelino’s Spain prepare to host the World Cup, let’s take a quick glance around the continent.
In the Champions League, Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid beat Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, 2-nil.
Erol Bulut’s RB Leipzig beat Matias Almeyda’s Napoli, 2-1, in the Europa League.
In the Europa Conference League, Michael Laudrup’s Leeds beat Mariano Soso’s Villarreal, 3-2 (aet).
In the active leagues, Tomas Tuchel’s Barcelona reclaimed the La Liga title; Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City successfully defended the Premier League title; Stephane Roche’s PS-****ing-G won their fourth straight Ligue 1 title; Antonio Conte’s Inter Milan won the Serie A title after Pirlo’s Juventus drew away to Verona on Matchday 38; and, Hansi Flick’s Bayern did Bayern things.
The powers-that-be are starting to take notice. After sending us wire transfers of $4.2M and $187k to round out our financial take from the 2029/30 European competitions, we’re ready to take on the world.
The Erovnuli Liga rises to 66th in the competition reputations table. More importantly, Georgia rises 11 places in the coefficients table, such that beginning with the 2031/32 European campaign, Georgia’s Europa Conference League qualifiers will enter in the Second Qualifying Round.
As if on cue, our youth intake preview arrives…and is more promising than it has been for years.
We have a straightforward month on the pitch with minimal fixtures due to the World Cup, as we draw Albanian champions KS Teuta Durres in the Champions League First Qualifying Round.
July 2030 – Champions League, First Qualifying Round.
The first leg in Tbilisi is a masterclass in wasted chances. We prevail, 3-0, having hit the post 5 times and wasted countless opportunities to bury the Albanians, who were ultimately reduced to 9 men.
Given our dominance and the imminent match away to title rivals Dinamo Tbilisi, I elect to play the 2nd XI on the return leg in Durres. They fumble their way to a 2-1 win. It isn’t pretty, but we’re through.
We will face the Bulgarian champions, CSKA-Sofia, in the next round.
July 2030 – World Cup Review.
Luis Castro’s Portugal claim the title on penalties at the Camp Nou, after a 1-1 draw with Erik ten Hag’s Holland.
Janne Andersson’s Sweden and Aasmund Bjorkan’s Norway are the big surprises, reaching the semifinals and quarterfinals, respectively. The biggest shock? It has to be either Peter Vermes’ United States smashing ze Germans, 5-2, or AI-managed Senegal eliminating Philippe Clements’ Belgium on penalties, both in the Second Round.
July 2030 – Champions League, Second Qualifying Round.
Bulgaria. The land of chocolate. My land.
We are far from good, but still claim a 2-nil win in the first leg. The second leg back in Tbilisi is a nervy affair until injury time in the 1st half, when a moment of madness from Hristov sees us reduced to 10 men. We are left to rely on Ghonghadze in goal, and he is up to the task. A 1-1 draw is enough. We’re through, even if it is disappointing.
We will need to improve. Fast. Because we face Danish champions Kobenhavn in the Third Qualifying Round.
At least things are on track domestically, as Dinamo Tbilisi struggle with the fixture congestion and drop points. We’re 4 points clear.
The only problem? Dinamo have been eliminated from the Europa Conference League qualifiers, losing 4-2 on aggregate to Qairat. We’re the last Georgian team alive in Europe. Fixture congestion will our problem, and our problem alone.
August 2030 – Champions League, Third Qualifying Round.
On the eve of our first match against the Danes, takeover rumors are once again making the rounds. Enough already, yeah?
We have our moments against Kobenhavn and generally give a good account of ourselves, but their talent shines through in the end. We lose the first leg in Tbilisi, 3-2, before a record crowd of 3,372, setting a new gate receipts record of $95k.
Mission impossible in the return leg. But we attack with purpose and generally are the better team, even if we concede early and struggle to put away our chances. Nevertheless, like a man possessed, Gordulava snatches a goal in the 52nd and another in the 88th, to give us a 2-1 lead on the night, level on aggregate. But we need a third…
We throw everyone forward in the dying minutes. And in the 92nd minute, we are rewarded as Utsmuts rises to meet a corner from Oniani. 3-1 on the night. A one-goal lead on aggregate. The Danes need a goal to force extra time.
They cannot find it. We are through. 5-4 on aggregate. Against the odds, we were the better side over 180 minutes. I’d like to reward the lads with a night on the town, but we kick off against Saburtalo in less than 72 hours.
And, we must prepare to face Scottish champions Celtic for a spot in the Champions League Group Stage.
A shot at glory, lads. A chance for immortality. All to play for.
August 2030 – Champions League, Qualifying Playoffs (1st Leg).
Everything we’ve done over the last 7.5 years has built to this moment.
We welcome the Scottish champions to Tbilisi with a knife in hand. But attitude will only take us so far. On paper, they should annihilate us.
A thunderbolt from Hristov opens the scoring in the 28th minute, after the visitors fail to clear a corner. We strike again just before the half, as Kordulava coolly slots home on a counterattack after Ghonghadze stands on his head to deny Celtic an equalizer.
As the second half begins, we push forward in search of the killing blow. And, in a sustained period of pressure, Asatiani finds Oriani in acres of space with a quick cut-back. Young Guram makes no mistake, slotting home from close range to give us a 3-nil advantage. Incisive, brilliant finishing tonight.
Celtic push forward, in search of an equalizer. We counter-punch, looking for a 4th in transition.
As Celtic launch a counter-attack of their own, Gvazava is adjudged by VAR to have fouled Armstrong Oko-Flex in the box. Penalty. Ghonghadze shows no fear, leaping to his left like the salmon of Capistrano, to deny Rory Mutch, who stands, mouth agape.
In the 83rd, we again counter, with Asatiani finding the byline, cutting it back for Lezhava who is unmarked 6 yards from goal. 4-nil.
On the biggest night in club history, we stand equal to the task before a record crowd of 3,817.
In the post-match commentary, a caustic Roy Keane is quick to highlight the collapse of Scotland’s champions, who have once again slipped on a banana peel, on the biggest stage.
It is left to a drunken Gary Neville to herald the coming of a new force, to revel in the beauty of our tactical nous (although he pronounces it with a ‘k’ and a haughty, fake French accent, causing no end of confusion in the studio).
The world wakes to the news that, barring an epic collapse in Glasgow, for the first time in history, a Georgian side could reach the latter stages of the Champions League. The Group Stage proper.
August 2030 – Champions League, Qualifying Playoffs (2nd Leg).
A dark night in Glasgow. Heavy clouds hang low over the stadium, as thunder rolls in the distance.
The hosts start aggressively, but we land the first punch as Asatiani takes flight in a lightning-fast counterattack. 1-nil. 5-nil on aggregate.
A quickly-taken free kick in the 24th finds Asatiani unmarked on the near post. 2-nil on the night. 6-nil on aggregate. Celtic are in free-fall, their agony televised for posterity’s sake.
The crowd is dead-silent as the whistle blows for halftime. Our 5 supporters can be heard, loud and clear as we exit the pitch, singing the Duruji Kvareli “calypso,” to the tune of Britney Spears’ Hit Me Baby One More Time.
The commentators are at a loss for words. That does not stop Gary Neville, who punctuates the first-half highlights with a series of escalating, cascading moans of sheer pleasure, much to the horror of Jamie Carragher beside him.
Gary’s moans of pleasure reach untold depths of discomfort in the 66th, when Zoidze hits Asatiani in yet another counterattack, and Asatiani calmly chips Webb to make it 3-nil on the night.
Celtic are dead and buried as the rain begins to pour in Glasgow, the thunder drawing closer.
The final whistle blows. Celtic are booed off the pitch by their own supporters, who give the visitors a standing ovation. An epic, historic display.
We have no desire to leave the pitch. Ever.
But we are ultimately forced to do so by a series of increasingly-concerned UEFA officials, as reports of the approaching electrical storm force the city into shutdown. Even Gary is moved — eventually, and with great effort — to leave the stadium, shouting with incoherent glee at the scenes he has just witnessed.
As has become custom, we welcome our traveling supporters at the bar of the official team hotel. Luka and his brave friends have been there at every step of the journey these last seven years, and can hardly believe what they’ve seen here tonight. Truth be told, neither can we.
Forks of red lightning crash down in the middle-distance, as we toast to the past…and future.
Our reward? The first is confirmation of the prize money we’ve earned for reaching the Group Stage, through the qualifiers — $17.94 million — which kicks off another round of drinks. Our total turnover last year? $10.3 million.
Accordingly, there isn’t a sober mind at the club when a freshly-oiled Cristiano Ronaldo pulls the balls from the hopper during the draw, not looking a day older than 19. (Rumors are that the World Health Organization is investigating his line of essential oils.)
Nervous laughter fills the room as we draw Sergio Conceicao’s Arsenal, Antonio Conte’s Inter, and Swiss champions Basel in Group H. Which leads to another round of drinks, and the 2nd XI dropping points against Samtredia, as they were three sheets to the wind at kickoff.
Before the members of the Board can sober up, I start making requests.
While they gleefully agree to invest in our training and youth facilities, I know that their agreement to expand the Tsentraluri was only reached after rejecting my request to build a new one — of course, the local council could simply block the expansion, for the third time.
The hangover was well-and-truly in effect when I approached them about expanding our scouting range beyond Europe.
In the cold, sober light of day, the scope of our task is clear. To say that we are underdogs would require redefining the term, at 10,000-to-1 odds.
I also had a good laugh when I looked at the lads’ first impressions of the individual talent we’ll be up against. The likes of Yan Cavalcanti at Arsenal? I can see why he’s one of the oddsmakers’ favorites to claim the Golden Boot…and why Luka bought a replica kit of his the other day. I’d call Luka a traitor, but…I get it.
Having missed our transfer targets in the summer, my sincere hope is that potential signees will see us not as a one-off novelty act, but as the perfect place at which they can write their names in the history books.
Mindful of that sales pitch — and the old adage that fortune favors the bold — we welcome Inter to Tbilisi. We will not bend and scape before our guests. We will go for the throat.
Although, to be fair, the traveling supporters alone nearly match the curious locals. A record-setting crowd of 8,944 is on-hand to witness what they are certain will be our evisceration. Yet, we strike first, against the run of play, as Oniani finds Gabelia rising to meet a corner in the 29th.
As the second half begins, the established pattern continues — Inter control but are wasteful in front of goal, while we threaten on the counter. Utsmuts nearly catches the Italians out in the 48th minute, and on the ensuing corner, the loose ball falls to Asatiani who hammers it home. Improbably, we lead 2-nil.
The Italians surely didn’t pack their shooting boots, and continue to fluff chance after chance. Meanwhile, our lads are rising to the moment. Gordulava curls a speculative effort from 20 yards, after darting inside…and finds the back of the net. It’s 3-nil.
Inter’s humiliation is complete as Kvilitaia makes it 4, finishing off a ruthless counterattack in the 87th minute.
Luka and the Kursha Road Brigade serenade Antonio Conte in the visitors’ technical area as the final whistle blows — no doubt offering the balding fraud some “sensible advice” on where he can go to purchase a new hairpiece in Tbilisi, after he is sacked in the morning.
The future is looking bright, as our youth academy graduates promote to the U19s. Our investment is paying off. Jiri Rak and Tornike Skhirtladze are the best youth players we’ve produced to date, even if they fail to improve one iota from here. If they can match their potential, they will reach the first team sooner rather than later. Bakur Badurashvili, Nika Sekhniashvili and Gia Koberidze are the others that look worth watching.
We kick off the month, hosting Sergio Conceicau’s Arsenal in Tbilisi. Some of our supporters sing of how we are on the verge of claiming another scalp. I’m less optimistic.
In the first minute, we’re reduced to 10 men when Hristov runs straight at Cavalcanti shouting obscenities, launching two-footed tackle. I can hardly complain. Cavalcanti didn’t even have the ball, and he’s an utter thunder****. Hristov leaves the pitch to uproarious cheers from Luka and the Kursha Road Brigade, without an ounce of regret in his eyes or raised fists.
We manage to hold on until the 21st minute, when Vinicius Jr. taps home from close range. The match is over at that point, as we are outclassed in every possible respect. Ghonghadze holds the visitors at bay longer than anyone could reasonably expect, but even he cannot stop the onslaught. The 3-nil scoreline is favorable, in the extreme.
As is the scoreline in Basel, where we fall 2-1 to our Swiss hosts. (Disgusting behavior from the Swiss. I’d been led to believe they would be more hospitable. The History Channel has been lying to me for years.)
Meanwhile, the Board are willing to establish an affiliate link with another club for the first time, as our scouting efforts kick into overdrive, ahead of the winter transfer window. It may not be glamorous, but there was a time not many years ago that Telavi would have been deemed the “big brother” in any local partnership.
Our first signing of the winter arrives immediately, as he was available on a free contract after leaving Riteriai with the expiration of his contract — Lithuanian international Valdas Freidgeimas, who will immediately step into the 1st XI for domestic competitions, even though Zurab Asatiani will necessarily retain his spot in Europe, until we can register Valdas. (Temur Toidze‘s contract expires at the end of the season, and will not be renewed.)
This is a huge signing for us. Valdas would not speak to us until recently, and dithered as to whether he should accept our contract. All that matters is he has arrived. He is our highest-paid player. I hope that he realizes, “to whom much is given, much is expected.”
On his debut? He pulls up with a calf injury. Having read the story of Carlos Kaiser and watched the documentary, I’m immediately suspicious and instruct our Director of Football to engage a private detective to monitor young Valdas.
Dinamo Tbilisi have given us a run for our money this year. However, with 4 matches to play, we hold a 7-point lead. It’s all over but the crying, folks.
Basel’s visit to Tbilisi was an exercise in frustration. We should have claimed all 3 points on the night, but before kickoff I’d have taken this 1-1 draw. So I shouldn’t complain.
Traveling to Milan, all the press can talk about is the chance for Conte’s men to claim revenge. Predictions of our imminent demise and/or humiliation are a dime a dozen. And, quite frankly, on balance, the game should have been over after 30 minutes. But Ghonghadze is a wall, with Inter needing a penalty kick to beat him. And Asatiani continues in a rare vein of form after we signed his replacement, finding the back of the net against the run of play in the 51st.
We manage to hold on — barely — until, in the 89th minute, in one of our rare forays into Italian territory, Oniani gets around his man and is taken down. VAR is called upon to check for a penalty. The ref waves it off, awarding a free kick on the edge of the box. In the end, we survive. A massive 1-1 draw.
We will travel to London on Matchday 6, with a chance to finish anywhere from 2nd to 4th. It may take a miracle, but we can hold our heads high.
Dinamo Tbilisi are also holding their heads high, finishing on 88 points — only 5 points off the pace. It is the third-highest points total in Erovnuli Liga history, behind only: (1) our 93 points this year; and, (2) the 90 points we accumulated in 2027.
December 2030 – Season Review.
A much sterner test awaits in London. The Big Smoke. Arsenal are in control from the first moment, but we manage to keep them from running away with it. And in the 38th, we strike. On the counterattack. Naturally. Asatiani feeding Utsmuts, who slots home calmly. Arsenal retake the lead almost immediately, and snatch a quickfire double right after the restart. While Toidze pulls one back in the 54th, there’s no question that this is but a brief moment of joy that we shouldn’t let go to our heads…as if to prove our point, Arsenal find their 5th within moments…
And then a 6th… And a 7th… I think…I stopped counting.
Mainly because I’m watching the match from Italy. Inter can only manage a draw against Basel, meaning we finish 3rd. We may be out of the Champions League, but we will still be playing European football after the New Year’s.
All told, we faced far more of a challenge domestically than expected, but accomplished our goals. We took massive steps in Europe, and have worked to build up the squad. We’ve struggled to convince our transfer targets that European glory awaits in Kvareli, but if we can keep this up, our results will do the talking for us.
Goals for 2031: Not embarrass ourselves in the 2030/31 Europa League knockout rounds. Reach the 2031/32 Champions League Group Stage. Win the lot, domestically.
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.