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I Thought Christmas Only Comes Once A Year

Duruji Kvareli – 2032 Open Thread

December 2031 / January 2032 – Odds & Ends.

The Europa League draw is full of traps for the unwary, but we avoid the likes of Atletico, Barcelona and Liverpool (although the latter 2 draw each other). Instead, we will face Niko Kovac’s Saint-Etienne, who sit 10th in Ligue 1.

True story: Farmer Niko was so interested in conserving energy when he moved to France, he built a pig-powered car. He had to get rid of it, though, because every time he turned a corner, the tires squealed.

Meanwhile, the takeover talks appear to be coming to a head, as rumors surface that the new owners will want no longer want a particular style of play. I mean, what’s the point? If you’re going to buy a Ferrari, why would you drive it like a Fiat? You got to open the throttle, baby.

(Yeah, that sounded better in my head. I’ll work on it.)

The biggest transfer rumors appear to involve Ghonghadze and Utsmuts heading to MLS, but we’re beating back those transfer offers.

We release Tevadze, Panchulidze, Asatiani, Chikovani and Devadze at the end of the year — their time has come and gone, although we appreciate their contributions over time.

We have no “immediate” holes to fill in the squad, but the transfer embargo imposed in November is preventing me from doing anything more than scout promising players.

January 2032 – Takeover Finalized, Georgian Football Finances.

The takeover saga finally ends in mid/late-January, with a consortium taking the reigns. They have no meaningful demands, beyond “strive to make progress.” Ok, then.

Yet, the very next day, they cancel our planned, agreed-upon improvements to the training facilities.

These dog-shoe bastards do not know who they’re messing with. Goose can be very persistent. And annoying.

The grim state of Georgian football finances remains the same. Dinamo Tbilisi is the only other fully-professional club in the Erovnuli Liga, after Dila Gori revert to semi-professional status.

Derbi Tbilisi and Zana Abasha are the only fully-professional sides in the Erovnuli Liga 2…for now. Derbi’s finances are in terrible shape.

We sit atop the sponsorship income table. There are still no signs of a TV deal.

February 2032 – Squad Review.

Before we dive into the imminent match against Nico Kovac’s Saint-Etienne, it is time to take a close look at the squad and assess where we are, in the process of conquering Europe.

As you will recall, we’re playing PM Draugr, my strikerless 532/2323 that is detailed in The Long Night Is Coming, And The Dead Come With It.

Without any further ado, let’s take a long, hard look at the 23-man squad we will be carrying, and a handful of other notable players.

Kahka Mikeltadze, my assman, took his informal job title a little too seriously. Now, he’s on a list.


Zurab Ghonghadze continues on as our undisputed Number 1. Tornike Skhirtladze is a youth academy graduate who will deputize for Ghonghadze, playing some (but not all) of the 2nd XI’s matches this year.

Let’s be honest. Ghonghadze has been brilliant over the last 4 years. But this is an area where we can improve.

We’ve only just secured the signing of Amilios “Amy” Nikolaou, an unattached Cypriot U21 international who looks the business. Amilios will arrive in February 2033, and immediately join the first team. Whether he is in the 1st or 2nd XI will depend on how he develops over the next year.


The libero is easily my favorite role in the current tactic — my favorite role in FM, if I’m being honest.

Which is why it pains me to say that Lasha Kurdadze, our starting libero, is not good enough. It is as simple as that. Throughout the save, my liberos have consistently been the key players, year-in, year-out. Not so anymore. I’ve spent at least the last year scouting for replacements, to no avail.

Krisztian Bela is our backup — he’s solid enough for this level, with potential for growth. But he did not develop the way I hoped he would over the course of his first campaign with the squad. Bela played with our 2nd XI last year — I may elevate him to the 1st this year, just to give him a shot. Regardless, signing a 1st XI-caliber libero is my top priority right now.

The starting centerback pairing is Ervin Kodermac and Mikheil Zoidze. Wolves have been after both of them, but they signed new contracts so I’m not worried for the time being. The backup centerbacks are new signing Kjartan Stefansson and Giga Gabelia.

Bottom line, we’re more than set at centerback. Nevertheless, we’ve reached an agreement to sign Skerdi Shiba, an unattached Kosovo U21 international on a free. He will arrive late in February 2033, on his 18th birthday. At this point, he seems to be pure potential — but that potential is what you would get if Peter Crouch and Rio Ferdinand made sweet, tender love.

Now that you’ve got that image in your mind, you’ll never, ever, be able to un-see it. You’re welcome.

(The only other senior centerback at the club, Mikheil Khaburdzania, has been sent out on loan. His contract will not be renewed.)

At wingback, we’ve got Guram Oniani and Miroslav “Mickey” Mickovski on the flanks. Oniani is in the “winger-turned-wingback” mold, whereas Mickovski is more of a ball-winning playmaker. Truthfully, Mickovski has yet to grow into his potential, which is a constant source of frustration, especially as we look to progress in Europe.

The backup wingbacks are Giorgi Kacharava and Giorgi Gvazava — both loyal servants, with Gvazava the club’s all-time appearances leader. However, neither is good enough — Kacharava, in particular. Their contracts will only be renewed if I lack options to replace them.

One such option is Giorgi Labadze, a youth academy prospect who filled in while Gvazava was injured last year. He’s more potential than talent, right now.

Another outside-the-box idea is to convert Gia Koberidze into an inverted wingback — he’s a mezzala/interted winger who will spend 2032 on loan with Dila Gori. I’ve had him slotted in as a possible future mezzala, but…the idea of retraining him as an inverted wingback is just stupid enough to work…

Central Midfielders.

Let’s just say it. He’s the best signing we’ve made to-date. The footballer so nice, they named him thrice — Magnus Oliver Hjaltason. Our new libero is the Icelandic Messi. Yeah, it’s a big harsh to put that on him at the age of 18. But he’s immense. He’s ours. He’ll be our starting mezzala. I can’t wait.

He’ll be paired with Hristijan Hristov in our midfield. Hristov is a yellow-card magnet, renowned for earning a straight red in the first minute of our Champions League Group Stage debut against Arsenal in Tbilisi, when he went in two-footed on their best player. I’ve considered tweaking this role in two ways: (1) to be able to remove the “tackle harder” instruction, which is hard-coded, as the Team Instruction is to stay on your feet; and (2) to create more room in possession for our libero to saunter into. For now, I’ve simply added “get further forward” to the Player Instructions for the role. We’ll see if that addresses the 2nd issue.

The backup mezzala is Murman Lezhava — a solid, reliable player, but not one who will take us any further in Europe. Marko Cipot is a promising backup with bags of potential, who had a good welcome to the club last year.

Attacking Midfielders.

Up top, Sergei Utsmuts remains the targetganche in our 1st XI. He’s our top scorer the last 2 years, claiming 63 goals in all competitions, along with bags of assists. It’s going to take someone special to replace him, but this is a position where we can obviously improve. Our backup is Soso Kvilitaia — another loyal player, and our club captain. He just isn’t good enough to play anything other than a supporting role going forward.

At right inverted winger, we have Valdas Freidgeimas, a brilliant Lithuanian international who joined us on a free transfer in late 2030 after his Riterai contract expired. He claimed 27 goals and 21 assists in 42 matches last year, his first full year with the club. He’s a giant at this level. His backup is Jiri Rak, a youth academy graduate who was sent out on loan last year to Saburtalo, only to be recalled when Zurab Asatiani was out with an injury. Rak has the potential to go far — I’m hoping he will be our first youth academy graduate to earn a full international cap.

At left wingback, I’ve thrown sentiment out the window. New signing Miroslav Ivkovic will step directly into the 1st XI, replacing Nukri Gordulava. Gordulava was the club’s leading goalscorer in three consecutive years (claiming 79 goals in 2027-29), but where he was once the shining light of our 1st XI, he’s now underperforming (to the extent you can call 21 goals and 15 assists last year an “underperformance”). Bottom line, there’s not much between these two, but Ivkovic has far greater potential. Gordulava may have gotten us to this stage, but he will not take us to where we’re going.

Final Thoughts.

This squad is close to taking the next step in Europe. We’re improving, slowly by slowly. With each window, we improve. We get a little bit closer to taking on the big boys, consistently.

Our pre-season friendlies have been rather straightforward, per usual. We’re the clear favorites domestically after 5 straight Erovnuli Liga titles (notwithstanding the Cup losses last year…).

Saint-Etienne are no pushover, but they’re as vulnerable a “big nation” club as we’re likely to get at this stage of European competition. I’d like to think that we can push them to the limit. A run in the Europa League would do our reputation and finances a world of good.

February 2032 – Europa League, First Knockout Round.

The first leg in Tbilisi sits on a knife’s edge. Neither side can find a breakthrough, despite sharing numerous opportunities. A scoreless draw ensues. It isn’t ideal, and my assman, Khaka, is pleasantly befuddled that our installation of square goalposts didn’t rattle the French.

In truth, I’m glad no one seemed to notice — it was a petty, juvenile attempt to knock them off their game. It was also absurd to think that the players themselves would recognize their club’s tormentors from more than 50 years ago. I prefer much less subtle forms of intimidation.

We also must accept that Saint-Etienne were the better side in the first leg. Of that, there is no doubt. But we’re not done for yet. We will have 90 minutes next week, to stamp our authority on the match.

But first, the 2nd XI has a chance to avenge our loss in last year’s Super Cup (and Davit Kipiani Cup final). It may not have been pretty, but the lads got the job done in extra time.

In France, we start poorly and concede the advantage to our hosts in the 2nd minute. We do not break, however, and claw our way back into the match. In the 36th minute, our persistence is rewarded — Hjaltason opens his Duruji Kvareli account from close range, drawing us level on the night, but taking the lead on away goals.

The match remains level at the half — it is anyone’s game. With 20 minutes to play, the match has all-but been smothered, although only Saint-Etienne have looked dangerous since the restart. Our first chance of the 2nd half falls to Ivkovic, who must react quickly to a fortuitous deflection, but he cannot find the back of the wide open net.

In the 89th minute, Ziger looks to ping a mid-range pass wide-right, but Mikovski reads it cleanly, intercepts and hits the seam at pace. We launch forward, sensing the chance for a killing blow. As Mikovski drives he has 5 players in support, drawing defenders to leave the young North Macedonian with a clear shot at goal. He does not shy from the weight of the moment, slotting the ball home with authority to give us a 2-1 advantage. We’re through, if we can hold our nerve.

The lads remain resolute, not giving the French an inch. We advance to the Second Knockout Round, 2-1 on aggregate.

We are the first name out of the hopper in the draw, and will face Filippo Inzaghi’s Burnley, who sit 10th in the Premier League and won their Europa League Group.

March 2032 – Europa League, Second Knockout Round (First Leg).

The first leg in Tbilisi is our chance to stake a claim on a spot in the quarterfinals.

Before kickoff, my frustration with Kurdadze boils over. He’s had a poor start to the campaign, one I entered thinking his time in the 1st XI had already passed. He’s dropped in favor of Krisztian Bela — it’s sink or swim time for the young Hungarian.

The Kursha Road Brigade greet our visitors on this bitterly cold night, with a tifo depicting the Baby Jesus flipping Pippo the bird, as we’ve been led to believe even He hates Burnley. Perhaps inspired, we claim a goal in the 4th minute as Utsmuts rises to head home off of a free kick…only for VAR to chalk it off. Over the next 10 minutes, both Utsmuts and Freidmeigas come close to giving us the lead.

Burnely are under the gun, but nevertheless take the first big chance on offer. First blood to the Brits, thanks to Marcus Fabiani.

We do not lose hope, however, and continue to look dangerous. In the 42nd minute, Mickovski rifles one into the bottom corner from more than 30 yards, to draw us level. Fired first time, it erupted from his boot like a heat-seeking panther that I’m shocked didn’t burn a hole in the net.

We build from the back deliberately in the 53rd, eventually finding Utsmuts in the hole. He plays Freidmeigas in behind British the line, and Freidmeigas buries it in the bottom corner. A 2-1 lead, with less than an hour gone, in a match where we know we will have more chances.

We have them, but do not take them. Moments after Gabelia heads off the crossbar, Burnley counter quickly. Marikian is ruthless, finding the back of the net. 2-2. There are maybe 10 minutes to play, inclusive of injury time. We push forward immediately, leading to another quick counterattack from Burnley — Fabiani elects to audaciously lob the onrushing Ghonghadze, but finds only the cold, hard metal of the crossbar.

The match finishes level, despite one last-gasp effort in the 5th minute of stoppage time.

March 2032 – Europa League, Second Knockout Round (Second Leg).

In Lancashire, we need to find the back of the net. I’m a firm believer in playing “our way,” and not changing our approach simply because our opposition are more illustrious. It’s ****ing Burnley, lads. Intimidation stops once you get past the huddled masses of degenerates outside the stadium, yeah?

Once the first whistle blows, you can feel the hate radiating from the crowd. Their voices only grow in strength after Melake opens the scoring in the 20th minute, onside by the thinnest of margins.

We grow into the match, beginning to see meaningful chances. But it all crashes down in the 60th minute, when Pablito cannons a volley off the crossbar, and Melake finds himself in acres of space to tap home the rebound. 2-nil…until VAR intercedes. Offside. While we still need two goals to have a shot at progression, somehow, the weight is lifted from our shoulders.

Kakha is in the technical area, shouting nonsense at the players like a deranged, estranged father at a U12 cup final. What he lacks in footballing intelligence, he more than makes up for in enthusiasm.

In the 79th minute, a lifeline. Lezhava — on for Hristov — sees Gordulava free in the channel, and plays an inch-perfect through ball, which Gordulava buries. 1-1 on the night, 3-3 on aggregate.

Kakha is going mad in the technical area, shouting “next goal wins” at the lads. I don’t have the heart to tell him that’s only true if someone scores. As things stand, we are out on away goals.

90 seconds later, Melake has again put the ball in the back of the net, only for VAR to again intercede. We’re not dead yet.

There will be 3 minutes of added time. We push forward, in waves of pristine white. But we cannot crack the Burnley defense. The final whistle blows its mournful tune, and we are eliminated on away goals while Kakha celebrates for a few moments, before realizing what has occurred.

The players stay on the pitch, to salute the brave 21 supporters who traveled so far to be here tonight, in hopes of witnessing history. We are out of Europe. We nevertheless owe them this moment.

You can see in their eyes, that the lads’ hearts are broken. Burnley are far and away the better side on paper. But football matches are not spreadsheets. And we took them to the limit over 180 minutes. Next time, they will not be so lucky.

March / April 2032.

Lost in the furor of the Europa League knockout rounds was the news that our season ticket holder numbers have again increased — rising to 367, up from 311 last year. Single-match ticket prices average $23.07, while it will run you a mere $155 for a season ticket.

Even without the press of Europe, we have a packed fixture calendar. Our 2nd XI perform admirably, except for an inexplicable 1-nil loss away to Rustavi in the Erovnuli Liga.

Excellent news in the middle of the month, however, as the contractor apparently did not get the memo from our new Chairman, and completed the upgrades to both our training and youth facilities. Our facilities are not anything approaching those of our continental opponents, but they are steadily improving.

Amidst the apparent confusion, I decide to test my luck. While the Board initially refuses my request for further improvements, the Chairman ultimately agrees to invest further in our youth and training facilities.

May 2032.

After several busy months, we get to enjoy a brief respite. We have only 4 matches on the schedule, which means our 1st XI get a good solid run, coupled with some rest, before the summer madness begins.

Early in the month, we negotiate a $210k fee (plus 50% of any future fee) for Giorgi Kacharava, our backup right wingback whose contract was going to expire in 7 months’ time. It’s a no-brainer. Kacharava is off to Saudi Arabia, and our hunt for a new right wingback just became a priority for the summer transfer window.

Meanwhile, the 1st XI rattle off five straight wins to leave only Dinamo Tbilisi as our rivals for the title.

May 2032 – European Review.

In the Champions League, Mauricio Pochettino’s Manchester United beat Julian Nagelsmann’s Roma, 2-1 (aet). Soso Kvilitaia claims “Best Goal”, while — thanks to our epic qualifying campaign — Sergei Utsmuts claims the Golden Boots (17 goals) and Valdas Freimeigas records the most assists (9).

Thomas Tuchel’s Barcelona beat Imanol Alguacil’s Lazio, 4-nil, in the Europa League.

In the Europa Conference League, Ignacio Ambriz’s Valencia beat Julen Lopetegui’s Lille on penalties, after a 2-2 draw.

In the active leagues, Tuchel’s Barcelona reclaimed the La Liga title; Pochettino’s Manchester United retained the Premier League title; Thierry Henry’s Monaco knocked Patrick Vieira’s PS-****ing-G off their perch; Nagelsmann’s Roma claimed their first Serie A title since 2000/01; and, Hansi Flick’s Bayern did Bayern things again.

June 2032.

With the brief summer break, we see the Erovnuli Liga’s reputation rise to 49th in the competition rankings table, a hair behind the Norwegian and Ukrainian second tiers.

Duruji Kvareli also rise to 48th in the club coefficients table, sandwiched between Valencia and Sporting, like an erotic Iberian ham.

Overall, Georgia’s club coefficient rises to 17th, meaning entrance to Champions League qualifying in the Second Round. If we can catch Scotland in the nations coefficients’ table, we will have 2 entrants in the Champions League, 1 in the Europa League, and 2 in the Europa Conference League.

The bad news? We draw Steaua Bucharest in the Champions League Second Qualifying Round. On paper, they’re a team we should beat. However, they will be out for revenge after we narrowly eliminated them in the First Qualifying Round 2 years ago, after they were reduced to 10 men in each leg.

Davit Makaradze joins from Lokomotivi ($60k) to take over as the right wingback in our 2nd XI. Sure, he is a one-trick pony — pure, filthy speed. But this is Georgia. He should be extremely dangerous, and a payer with pace will always be loved by Goose.

The only other move I’m planning for this transfer window is to recall Gia Koberidze from Dila Gori. Gvazava has been poor in 10 appearances thus far, while Koberidze has been thriving with the additional match time. So, it is time to pull the trigger. Koberidze will retrain as an inverted wingback, with Gvazava benched for what will be his last 6 months at the club.

Our youth intake preview is frustrating. It appears that, at most, we can expect one forward from this group. Omar at least has the self-awareness to look ashamed.

It has been a straightforward month, but now the hard work begins.

July 2032 – Champions League, Second Qualifying Round.

Four years on from our first encounter, we arrive in Bucharest looking to — once again — be an unwelcome houseguest. We’re even more unwelcome given that, for years, I’ve tried to sign their most promising player, Andrea Stelea. But he’s refused to take my calls or even negotiate.

We dominate the match, but struggle to hit the back of the net. We shouldn’t turn our noses up at a 3-1 win away from home in Europe, but this is a disappointment.

Back in Tbilisi, Freidgeimas starts us off quickly with a goal in the 6th minute, before claiming his 2nd with a header in the 21st minute. He completes his hat trick in the 54th minute, but not before Utsmuts and Ivkovic have joined the party. Lezhava piles on, as we run away with it. 6-nil on the night, 9-1 on aggregate.

Is that good enough for you, Andrea? Yes. Yes, I do understand. You’ve been perfectly clear. There’s no need — look, Andrea, there’s no need to get the police involved. I promise I’ll stop calling. I mean it this time. Really.

[Announcer: He didn’t mean it.]

We will face Molde, who eliminated Atromitos, 5-1. Molde’s best player? Another transfer target who has spurned our advances, even after I put on my sexy pants — Stephan Brakstad. We hates him forever.

August 2032 – Champions League, Third Qualifying Round.

In the end, the Norwegians did not put up much resistance, although Brakstad managed to find the back of the net, the saucy bastard. We are poor at home, and only claim a 2-nil victory. But in the 2nd leg, we put together a much more complete performance even if our finishing was subpar — it finishes 2-1 on the night, 4-1 on aggregate. The result was never truly in doubt.

We will face the Kazakh champions, Astana, who eliminated Vardar 4-1 on aggregate.

August 2032 – Champions League, Qualifying Playoffs.

Within minutes, this tie was over. You could sense it in the late-evening Tbilisi sun. 6-nil at the half, 7-nil at full time, the first leg was a (metaphorical) bloodbath. A demonstration of just how far we’ve come over the years.

In Nursultan, the outcome was equally clear after Oniani’s mazy run in the 5th minute, to open the scoring. 5-nil on the night, 12-nil on aggregate.

The Fates must be looking kindly upon us this year. For, after collecitng our $17.94 million in prize money, the draw is as favorable as we could possibly receive — Zenit, Lille and Inter.

The Italians are no pushover (even if we scalped them 2 years ago, 5-nil in Tbilisi, followed by a 1-1 draw in Milan), but Zenit and Lille were easily the weakest seeds in the 1st and 2nd seeding groups, respectively.

Is this the year where we claim a place in the knockout rounds? We have a favorable draw, and continue to improve year-on-year. We were the 2nd highest-ranked 4th seed this year, so while we are hoping to progress to the knockout rounds, I will take anything we can get to improve our coefficient (and that of Georgia, as a whole). With this Group, qualification for the Europa League knockout rounds should be the minimum expectation.

The 2nd XI continue to rack up the points domestically — we hold a 12-point lead in the Erovnuli Liga, and will face Dinamo Tbilisi twice in 48 hours after the September international break. A chance to pound a few nails in their coffin. Metaphorically speaking.

September 2032.

We welcome Antonio Conte’s Inter back to Tbilisi…the overrated ****s.

It is the time to put into play my time-honored strategy, when dealing with clubs who are bigger and (on paper) better than us. Square up, punch their teeth out, and hope the Football Gods are fond of us.

Tonight, we rush out to an early lead thanks to a quickfire double from Freidmeigas in the 18th and 25th minutes — the first after an incisive run inside, the second after a deft flick from Utsmuts. While Inter fight back, we’re not done for. Hjaltason unleashes a thunderbolt from 18 yards in the 51st, mere minutes after the Italians had drawn level. Ivkovic had the simplest of tap-ins in the 64th minute, after Meslier bungled the cross from Oniani who had gotten to the byline.

We claim a massive 4-2 win, in front of a record crowd of 16,848, with $525k in gate receipts.

It was my 501st match in charge of Duruji Kvareli, after reaching 500 against Dinamo Tbilisi over the weekend.

Incredibly, we’re now unbeaten in 3 matches against Conte’s men — 2 wins and 1 draw. A truly ridiculous record given the relative strength of the squads, even if we’ve closed the gap.

Somehow, the look on Antonio’s tangerine face makes it all the sweeter, as the Kursha Road Brigade chant obscenities at him.

September 2032.

The latest crop of youth academy graduates has arrived, and it is far from pleasing to the eye. Or loins.

At least buy me dinner before you screw me, Omar.

Irui Lomidze, Beka Kurghanashvili, and Giorgi Baramidze are far and away the best of the lot, although I also offer a youth contract to Zurab Tutberidze.

The disappointment is real. Fortunately, in addition to signings of Amilios “Amy” Nikolaou and Skerdi Shiba, noted above, we’ve been busy scouting and working to sign a handful of key players. And, we’ve secured two massive signings for our level.

Siyabonga Ntombela ($200k; SuperSport United) is a South African U21 international who will challenge Utsmuts for the targetganche role in our 1st XI. He will be deadly at this level. As much as I love Soso Kvilitaia, there’s no question this is a big upgrade.

Ghayas Vikskjold ($925k; Sarpsborg) is a Norwegian U21 international. And, yes, he is another striker. No, he won’t be retrained play as a targetganche, or to play anywhere in the attacking or central midfield stratas. Oh, no. He’s our new libero. He and Bela will battle it out for the starting role, although my suspicion is that I’ll be handing it to Vikskjold quickly (if not right away), with Bela playing from the bench in the 1st XI.

The thought process is this — I typically deploy liberos that fit one of two proflies — that of a deep-lying playmaker, or that of a goal-scorer/finisher. Beka fits the playmaker profile. Vikskjold is very much the latter, and reminds me of Abdoulaye Diallo, a Duruji Kvareli legend in the FM20 version of this save.

(Donny van de Beek was an epic libero while testing tactics on the FM21 beta, and I wouldn’t kick him out of bed for eating crackers, even at the age of 35 when he’s rocked up at Zenit.)

Of course, both playmakers and goalscorers can fit into the role in our tactics (provided them have the requisite “base” attributes I want), but the latter is more… Insane? Yeah, that’s the word for it. I want this player to be highly aggressive and incisive in the final third, and the “finisher” profile is a better fit, aesthetically.

Ghayas loves it when you call him “Big Poppa.”

But we’ve got football to play before Ntombela and Vikskjold arrive… Zenit arrive in Tbilisi, and we are determined to give them a welcome befitting our former imperial overlords.

Utsmuts strikes the first blow in the 32nd minute, driving through the Russian backline like a man possessed. Bela hammers home from close range in the 58th minute, after Freidmeigas’ corner is flicked on at the near post. Ivkovic finds Hjaltason in the channel in the 63rd, and the rout is on. Some incisive ball movement in tight spaces leaves Hjaltason free in the box 9 minutes later, and he curls home confidently. Freidgeimas makes it 5, minutes later, after Oniani intercepts a wayward clearance and we launch forward, sensing the blood in the water.

The epitome of silky, elegant, attacking football. A 5-nil evisceration of top-seeded Zenit. We will face Gaizka Garitano’s Lille in our next two matches, which could confirm passage to the next round, or see us drop into a dogfight for 3rd.

October 2032.

72 hours after clinching the Erovnuli Liga title with the 2nd XI’s win away to Dila Gori, we take the field against Lille.

A nightmare start, as we concede in the 1st minute…only to bounce back with righteous fury. Bela draws us level in the 3rd minute, with a casual tap-in at the back post after Hristov flicked on a Freidmeigas corner. Before the French have caught their breath, Freidmeigas flicks a header past the keeper, and we’ve taken the lead. We foolishly concede a penalty, but Ghonghadze is equal to the task in the 14th minute to maintain our lead.

One would think that the match would quiet down at some point, but in the 16th minute Ivkovic curls home to double our lead.

The essence of GooseBall, in a nutshell.

Lille pull one back in the 38th with an unstoppable, curling free kick, but we continue to look dangerous.

Ivkovic finds the back of the net in the 58th minute after a beautiful, incisive through ball from Bela, but VAR rules it out for offside. Less than a minute later, Lille draw level. The match is wide open, end-to-end stuff. A neutral’s dream, even if the drama is intolerable inside the seething cauldron that is the Stade Pierre Mauroy. With 30 minutes to play, the only question is not whether someone will score, but who and how many.

Lille retake the lead in the 83rd, as Freidmeigas is removed with a knock. Do we have any gas left in the tank?

Lille hold firm as both sides attack relentlessly. We have a brilliant chance in the 7th minute of 6 minutes of injury time… But we cannot find an equalizer, and go down 4-3 in France. An epic night of football, even I have to admit.

Remember how this feels, lads. We’ll do them back in Tbilisi in 2 weeks’ time.

November 2032.

Our chance for revenge comes as scheduled, and we look to take it with both hands. We’re aggressive right out of the gate, pushing hard for the first goal. It comes in the 23rd, when Ivkovic gets to the byline and finds an unmarked Hjaltason at the near post. 1-nil. Minutes later, Freidmeigas makes it 2-nil on a quick counterattack.

But we know from recent experience that a 2-goal lead is not good enough. And, almost immediately, the French pull one back…with Ivkovic striking the post moments after that…before striking the other post, moments after that. Another wide-open match…I don’t know if my heart can take it. And after those 2 misses, Ivkovic had better hope that we don’t lose or draw.

Just before halftime, Lille draw level. All to play for in the 2nd 45. The wide-open play continues in the 2nd half, and Lille strike first, in the 52nd minute.

Will this be the 2nd time in 2 weeks that we blow a 2-goal lead over the French?

It will be. We push. We prod. We fight. But we cannot find the back of the net.

We lose, 3-2. A crushing blow, coming on the heels of our collapse in France. All of a sudden, our prospects in the Group Stage are looking much more precarious, as we must travel to both Russia and Italy, sitting 2nd on 6 points, with both of our forthcoming opponents on 3 points.

November 2032.

Matchday 5 sees us travel to face Antonio Conte’s Inter — a side that, I suspect, are more than hungry for revenge. We’ve played them 3 times in the last 2 years, claiming 2 wins and a draw.

They come out slowly, but it takes a huge double-save from Ghonghadze in the 22nd to keep the Italians from opening the scoring on the night.

But, as has been norm against Conte’s men, we strike first against the run of play, as Utsmuts fires into the roof of the net from an oblique angle in the 38th minute. A low-probability shot, to be sure, through a crowd. But you miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take.

In the technical area, Conte begins to tear what little remains of his hair out of his head, as the whistles cascade around him. Though his side draw level just before the half and again almost immediately after the restart, the home crowd is not pleased.

The Italians take a 3-1 lead in the 60th minute, and it begins to feel like the natural order is reasserting itself. Lightning does not strike 4 times in a row, Kakha. Yes, yes. You’ve told me all about your cousin, who was hit 5 times and now has to wear a helmet. But he’s the exception who proves the rule.

And just when I begin to think that we’re done for, Hjaltason smashes one home from close range in the 63rd, which gives Kakha another reason to blather on about his cousin. As if he needed one.

We cannot find the 3rd, and lose 3-2. A difficult match, surely. And we should be proud of ourselves.

We will head into Matchday 6, away to Zenit, in 2nd place. Win, and we’re through to the Champions League knockout rounds. Draw, and we’re guaranteed a spot in the Europa League knockout rounds. Lose, and we could be out of Europe altogether.

Tired legs abound as we head into the final 2 matches of the year. The Davit Kipiani Cup final against Dinamo Batumi, and the Russians.

We can rest when we’re dead, fellas.

December 2032.

The penultimate match of the campaign is our last match of the year at the Tsentraluri, and we go out in style. 3 goals in the first 10 minutes, on our way to a 6-nil rout. The result is expected, but it sees us complete our first undefeated domestic campaign in the top tier.

The question being…can we trade-in on our start to the Champions League Group Stage? A trip to our former imperial overlords is all that stands between us and the knockout rounds. Into the belly of the beast.

Hristov slots one in off the back post in the 29th minute, a narrow lead. We are up 1-nil at the half, as Inter lead in Milan. Hjaltason doubles our advantage in the 63rd, but I can’t help but become nauseous… The deja vu, palpable…

…I can begin to breathe easy in the 80th, though, as Freidmeigas smashes home a loose ball. 3-nil, with 10 minutes to play.

We finish strongly, nearly finding a 4th. The final whistle blows. Inter have won, 2-nil, but it doesn’t matter. We hold the tiebreaker over Conte’s men.

We’re through to the Champions League knockout rounds for the first time in club history.

December 2032 – Season Review.

The flight back to Georgia is like something out of The Wolf of Wall Street, but with more debauchery.

I don’t think any of us will be able to look each other in the eye for weeks.

So I guess it is a good thing that we have the holidays now to unwind…and try to forget.

But we face a new task in the new year. We must raise our game to new heights. In a few days’ time, we will know our opponent in the Champions League knockout round. But every time I look at the names of the clubs who won their Groups, I shudder. Out of both fear and pleasure. (An uncomfortable reminder of the feelings I felt on the plan ride home, I must admit.)

Champions League Tables: Groups A-D | Groups E-H

We have come a long ways during the 10 years I’ve sat at the helm of this great club. But the challenges before us now are much greater than any we’ve surmounted, to date.

Much to my chagrin, our holiday is disrupted on the first day by news from the local council. For the 5th straight year, they’ve blocked any expansion of the capacity at the Tsentraluri. And, our new ownership group has shown no interest whatsoever in building a new stadium, as they like the aesthetic of our fortress home. I agree with them, on one hand, but also question their commitment to what we’ve built.

How many clubs in the Champions League knockout rounds have a stadium with a capacity of 750? While we may play our Champions League matches elsewhere, we must never forget where we came from. Expanding our local base of operations is imperative. No matter what the politicians may think.

Goals for 2033:  Not embarrass ourselves in the 2032/33 Champions League knockout rounds. Reach the 2033/34 Champions League knockout rounds. Win the lot, domestically.

Squad | Erovnuli Liga | Transfers

Finances | Income | Expenditure

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.

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