Duruji Kvareli – 2034 Open Thread
December 2033 / January 2034 – Odds & Ends.
One of my first tasks during the off-season was to pull the trigger on several backroom staff moves that I’ve been planning. Luis Menendez is our new Director of Football, joined by our new Technical Director, Maxym Lytyvn, and our new Head of Youth Development, Ismael Kessie. All 3 stand head and shoulders above the individuals they replaced, and represent a statement of intent.
We draw Ruben Baraja’s Valencia in the Europa League — a kick in the teeth, as they were one of a handful of teams we hoped to avoid.
As we head into the holidays, I bid adieu to Murman Lezhava. A devoted servant these last few years, but not the player who will take us to the next level. Unless we’re in an elevator and he’s in charge of the buttons.
I ask for a meeting with the Chairman and new Board, to request investment in a new stadium. The request is rejected out of hand due to our expansion capacity. I presume they have either not been paying attention to local politics, or will use some other means to convince the politicians to not kill the project for the seventh straight year. Either way, they’ve agreed to an expansion, in principle. It’s better than nothing.
Television rights for the 2034 Erovnuli Liga campaign increase to $8.52M per club, an outstanding year-on-year increase. Last year, there were only 2 fully-professional clubs in the league. This year? There are 8. The 2 semi-professional clubs have only just won promotion.
Bottom line, neither we nor our players are secrets any more. Big clubs have been knocking on our door for some time, but up until now window players have uniformly rejected overtures from abroad — Krisztian Bela changes that, throwing his toys out of the pram after I rejected an offer from Ralph Hassenhuttl’s Roma.
Ghayas Vikskjold is not a like-for-like replacement, as previously noted, but I would not have the slightest heartburn over him stepping into the XI. That being said, Bela is contracted through the end of 2035 — he will not leave unless our valuation is met.
January 2034 – Transfer News.
Our first signing of 2035 has been confirmed, with Danish U21 international Frank Daugaard signing on the dotted line, moving on a free after the expiration of his FC Midgetland contract.
He won’t arrive until his 18th birthday, and he’s shorter than I’d like for a centerback. He is from Midgetland, after all.
As MarcusWedau pointed out, he’s basically the Danish version of Cannavaro.
Daugaard will step directly into our 2nd XI, likely replacing Mikheil Zoidze who is out of contract at the end of the year. Zoidze is a perfectly serviceable backup, but he lost his starting position to Kjartan Stefansson last year and has contract demands which are wildly disproportionate to his abilities.
As previously noted, Marcus Dahlen has already arrived, to take over as the mezzala in our 2nd XI.
I have also promoted Gela “Diggy” Dighmelashvili to the senior squad, although he will play from the bench with our 2nd XI while also being available for the youth squads.
January 2034 – Transfer Deadline Day (England).
Madness reigns supreme in England on transfer deadline day.
Ciro Immobile’s Norwich not only agree to sign Bela for $6M (inclusive of fees, plus a 50 percent sell-on clause), but also agree to delay his departure until the summer.
In honor of his imminent departure, I banish Bela to the 2nd XI and promote Vikskjold to the 1st XI. There isn’t much between them, and I’d rather give the playing time to a player who didn’t throw a hissy fit.
February 2034 – Europa League, First Knockout Round (First Leg).
Days before the first leg in Tbilisi, we confirm the signing of Bela’s replacement, Polish U19 international Milosz Banach ($900k, Molde). A born libero, if you ask me. He will arrive in late July, to take up the mantle in our 2nd XI as the Champions League qualifying campaign begins in earnest.
We’ve played fewer friendlies this year, as the calendar is front-loaded in advance of the World Cup in Australia. We won’t know if we’re truly ready until we take the pitch in Tbilisi. Valencia sit 7th in La Liga and will be no pushovers.
In the 7th minute, Utsmuts drives into the box and is taken down…but the ball falls to Hjaltason who controls and smashes it home. Timis “And The Lords Of The Underworld” Alexandru-Mihai immediately draws Valencia level in the 8th minute, our concentration having slipped unforgivably. I can only shake my head, as we’d sought to sign him for so long.
Things settle down at that point, but Freidgeimas notches his first goal of the campaign in the 20th minute after a long throw-in from Mickovski wreaks havoc in the Valencia box. A simple tap-in.
Valencia manage to draw level just before the half. We’ve conceded the away goals advantage after 45 minutes. We need to find a winner…
…and in the 50th minute, Hjaltason again pounces on a loose ball in the box, firing home from close range.
We look to hold on, but Valencia’s quality shines through. They draw level in the 82nd minute. 3-3.
Neither side can find the winner, in a wide-open finale to a wide-open match.
It will be decided over 90 minutes in Valencia. All to play for.
February 2034 – Europa League, First Knockout Round (Second Leg); Georgian Super Cup.
For the first 10 minutes in Valencia, we are hanging on by the skin of our teeth and in danger of being overrun. We find out sea legs without conceding, but at the cost of any attacking thrust. But we can hold back the tide for only so long. Valencia take the lead in the 40th.
Knowing we need 2 goals to advance, we push forward. Valencia grab a second in the 63rd, but before they can blink Bela smashes one home with our first shot of the night, to make it 2-1. We’re not dead yet.
In the 77th minute, a long throw-in from Mickovski again wreaks havoc, with the ball falling to Hjaltason for an easy tap in. 2-2 on the night. 5-5 on aggregate.
Before Valencia can steady the ship, we win a throw-in deep on the right. Oniani plays short to Rak, who lays it back. With all the time in the world, Oniani picks out Ivkovic on the back post. 3-2 on the night, Ivkovic wasn’t under any pressure at all.
The home support can barely believe what they’re seeing. They’ve conceded 3 goals, on 3 shots on target.
The minutes roll past, each more slowly than the last.
When the fourth official raises the board to show 4 minutes of injury time, I’m beside myself. When we hit the 95th minute…and then the 96th…I am incandescent with rage. The UEFA mafia are at it again, surely.
But even Michael Oliver can only drag this out long enough. The final whistle blows.
An historic night in Spain. Valencia are humiliated, defeat having been snatched from the jaws of victory.
Little Timis is in tears on the pitch. I walk up — not to console him, but to laugh. Maybe it isn’t the proper thing to do, but he deemed himself “too good” to play for us. And then, he had the gall to celebrate when he scored in the first leg. The ****.
As per custom, the 33 traveling supporters are offered a flight back to Georgia on the team charter plane tomorrow (as is Miroslaw Libicki, who was in the stands tonight as our guest even if he isn’t officially a Duruji Kvareli player for another 36 hours), and an open bar at the club hotel. The supporters deserve it. Many of them have been with us since the 5th tier. It is the least we can do for them.
We awake to find that the supporters have kept the bar open all night, and watch the draw together. Cheers erupt when we’re drawn as the home side…only for an awkward silence to settle over the group when we draw Steven Gerrard’s Liverpool.
Nervous laughter from the supporters is met by stern glances between the players and technical staff. Knocking off Valencia is one thing.
This? This is a whole different matter.
February 2034 – Georgian Super Cup.
Before the season can begin in earnest, we will host Dinamo Tbilisi at the Tsentraluri for the traditional, curtain-raiser — the irrelevant Georgian Super Cup. The 2nd XI are charged with the task, and curb-stomp our rivals 5-nil behind a debut hat trick from Libicki.
For various, obvious reasons, we are heavily favored to win the Erovnuli Liga for the 8th consecutive year. Any less would be a sacking offense.
March 2034 – Europa League, Second Knockout Round (First Leg).
Prior to kickoff, the Chairman passes word — we’ve sold 446 season tickets this year, although the news is bittersweet given the ongoing struggle to expand the Tsentraluri or build a new stadium. Season tickets cost a mere $175, with single-match tickets going for $26.09 on average.
Not the type of statistics to hype as thousands of Liverpool supporters make the trek to Tbilisi, where we greet them on a snow-covered pitch. Good Georgian winter weather, this.
We nearly open the scoring in the 6th, with Kolundzic narrowly saving from Freidmeigas on a narrow angle, tipping the piledriver off the post and wide. Utsmuts hits the crossbar off the ensuing corner, and Liverpool clear. I suspect that, in due course, we will look back on those moments with regret, as we have the woodwork to thank for keeping the match scoreless in the 12th minute.
Yet, just when the match seems likely to end as the dire, scoreless draw it has been, Liverpool find the back of the net in the 87th, Pedrozo rising to meet a cross after Pedri got to the byline. Liverpool then strike again in the 89th on the counterattack from a corner. Savage, ruthless football from Gerrard’s men.
It’s a bitter pill to swallow.
March 2034 – Europa League, Second Knockout Round (Second Leg).
We always knew that the trip to England was going to be a scrap, at best. Down 2 goals, we cannot afford to sit back and wait for our chances. We need to go for the throat.
Utsmuts is handed a sitter in the 4th minute, but he can’t put the ball on target. Our hosts begin to turn the screws after a promising opening period. Arthur buries one in the 36th minute, dashing the hopes of a comeback for all but our most ardent supporters. We’ve been matching Liverpool stride for stride. As in Tbilisi, the margins are thin even if this Liverpool side should walk past us, on paper.
The cruelty of Liverpool’s second goal — on the stroke of halftime, against the run of play — makes manifest the injustice of this game. Down 2-nil on the night, now 4-nil on aggregate.
It is over. That much is clear. But we are not as far off the pace as it may seem. We’ve matched them in virtually every respect — all but the one that matters most.
With nothing but our pride on the line, we take the pitch in the 2nd half. Through the 70th minute, we are pinned in our own half. Unable to register any meaningful foray into our opponents’ half. But we do not give up.
Our dogged determination is rewarded with a corner in the 71st, with Ghayas Vikskjold tapping home a loose ball to make it 2-1 on the night. Suddenly full of purpose, Hjaltason nearly draws us level less than a minute later, with Freidmeigas coming close mere moments after that.
Unrelenting, we charge into the cannon’s mouth, welcoming what has become a wide-open match. Cipot plays a Hollywood ball in the 83rd, which Hjaltason smashes home, first-time. It’s no less than we deserve on the night.
We push forward in search of a miracle, only for Arthur to catch us in transition, finishing a through ball in the 86th.
Still, we refuse to go gently into the night. Raging against the dying of the light, Ivkovic plays Hjaltason through in the 92nd minute, and the Icelandic international buries it. 3-3. It is a triumphant moment.
We may be dead and buried. But only for tonight.
There’s no cure for heartbreak like getting back in the saddle.
While Dinamo Tbilisi would like to challenge us this year, we’ve proven over the last six weeks month that we are the team to beat in Georgia. Nevertheless, nothing will satiate our thirst until Champions League qualifying begins in earnest.
We’ve used the time wisely, securing key players to contract extensions and leaning on our Ivorian HOYD’s contacts in West Africa to source an influx of young talent. We need to continue evolving and developing the squad — a task that is proving harder as time goes on, with available, interested players of the caliber we require (and at the price we’re willing to pay) fewer and further between.
The focus of the footballing world is on the Champions League and run-up to the World Cup in Australia.
Which is fine by me. The domestic campaign is also in a brief lull, with 5 matches on tap. We waltz through them, scoring 19 without conceding. We’re chomping at the bit to return to Europe, but must wait another 6 weeks before the qualifying campaign begins.
May / June 2034 – European Review.
On the eve of Australia 2034, let’s take a quick look around the active leagues and European club competitions…
In the Champions League, Hansi Flick’s Bayern beat Andrea Pirlo’s Juventus, 1-nil. Valdas Freidgeimas was also named to the Best XI, after claiming both the Golden Boot (16 goals) and leading the competition in assists (14). (It’s a good thing we tied him down to a new contract in May; he is the first player to be paid more than $10k/week.)
Steven Gerrard’s Liverpool went on to claim the Europa League title, beating Gaizka Garitano’s Lille, 2-nil. (This follows Liverpool’s 2032/33 Europa Conference League title.)
In the Europa Conference League, Sean Dyche’s Marseille beat Michael O’Neill’s West Ham, 3-nil, to conclude the season on a high note after firing former manager Cristiano Ronaldo, mid-season.
In the active leagues, Tuchel’s Barcelona won their 3rd straight La Liga title; Pochettino’s Manchester United won their 4th straight Premier League title (the 8th year in a row that the title has stayed in Manchester); Patrick Vieira’s PS-****ing-G defended their Ligue 1 title; Ralph Hassenhuttl’s Roma reclaimed the Serie A title; and, Hansi Flick’s Bayern did Bayern things again.
In addition to Duruji Kvareli receiving an additional $7.42 million and $5.21 million from the UEFA mafia, the Erovnuli Liga rises to 33rd in the UEFA competitions rankings, overtaking the Slovenian, Kazakh and Hungarian top tiers, as well as the Serbian second tier. Georgia’s qualification places have yet to improve, as we sit a hair behind Croatia.
Another quiet month, for the most part, as Bela leaves for Norwich and we fend off transfer offers for players who recently renewed their contracts.
I do agree, however, to let 2033 academy graduate Gela “Diggy” Dighmelashvili go out on loan, when Dila Gori come knocking. He has been (and would continue to be) the 23rd man in a 23-man squad — at Dila Gori, he will be considered an “important player” and thus see far more of the pitch than we can offer him over the next 6 months.
Australia 2034 – World Cup Review.
Fernando Diniz’s Brazil claim their 7th World Cup title in Melbourne, with a 2-1 win over Leonardo Jardim’s Spain.
Disappointing showings from Marco Giampaolo’s England, in particular, who were eliminated in the Second Round, and Julian Nagelsmann’s Germany who fell in the Third Round. Otherwise, the tournament was an exercise in the usual suspects progressing at the expense of the neutrals’ favorites.
July/August 2034 – Champions League, Second Qualifying Round.
After the completion of our most recent facility improvements, the Board is less than enthusiastic about further investment. While they are willing to invest further in our youth facilities, they categorically reject my assertion that our rivals will gain an advantage if we do not further upgrade our training facilities. It’s a function of us defining “rival” differently.
Aimilios “Amy” Nikolaou returns from his year on loan, having risen to the level of his rivals and earned 10 Cypriot caps in the process. While he is roughly on par with Ghonghadze and Skhirtladze, his potential is higher. When Oscar Fernandez’s Almeria negotiate up to $550k (plus a 30 percent sell-on fee) for Ghonghadze, I bite. Ghonghadze is off to Spain, with Amy taking over in the 1st XI.
Milosz Banach joins at the end of the transfer window, to begin the process of “re-education” as the libero in our 2nd XI, as we gear up to face Ferencvaros in the Champions League Second Qualifying Round.
To describe our performance in the 1st leg against the Hungarians as “poor” would be a kindness. We were woeful. The opposite of the horny football we’re typically known for. Flaccid, one might even say. Still, a 2-1 away win sets us up for passage through to the next round.
The second leg back in Georgia was more of the same. The result was never in doubt. Yet, we were poor. 5-nil on the night, 7-1 on aggregate. Not good enough.
We will face Astana in the Third Qualifying Round.
Kakha, for all of his befuddled idiocy, has finally gone too far. We’ve built a reputation on fearlessly taking on the biggest sides in Georgia, then in Europe. And he has to go shooting his mouth of with faux humility.
We annihilated Astana 12-nil (agg.) when we faced them 2 years ago, so why pretend?
I’ve seen enough. Kakha is sacked immediately.[Frankly, he should consider himself lucky that he wasn’t sent to Yemen on an urgent, open-ended “scouting” trip, like Vito.]
August 2034 – Champions League, Third Qualifying Round.
The last thing I want to do is make Kakha a prophet. Or a martyr.
Our woeful finishing continues in the 1st leg against Astana. We are left to rely on a 91st minute goal from Ghayas Vikskjold to win the match — one we utterly dominated, other than a thunderbolt from distance which drew Kazakh champions level late in the 1st half. We will take a 2-1 lead to Nursultan. Not good enough. Not by a long shot…no pun intended.
We strike first in the 14th minute, unlocking the Kazakh defense with an incisive display of the football we’ve become renowned for — slick, pass-and-move in close quarters in the final third — Ntombela playing Ivkovic through. Freidgeimas and Ntombela add to the tally to see us comfortably progress, 3-nil on the night (5-1 agg.).
We need to rediscover our ruthlessness in front of goal.
We will face the Irish champions, Stephen Bradley’s Shamrock Rovers, who eliminated Turkish champions Basaksehir, 5-1 (agg.).
Several days prior to the first leg against the Irish, we are able to announce the news. Kakha’s replacement? None other than Luke Shaw, the former Manchester United fullback and England international.
He arrives on a modest wage, a good sign. The last thing we need is another big, arrogant personality in the room. (I’ve got enough personality for 3, Gvantsa used to say…although I don’t think she meant it as a compliment.)
He’s been out of the game for a few years, and it shows — he arrives in Tbilisi looking like he’s been enjoying the carbs. I turn to Kessie, our Head of Youth Development and noted United supporter, who just shakes his head ruefully.
“Boss, it’s always like this with Shaw-zy. If I had to guess, I’d say he’s about… Oh, 20 pounds above his playing weight.”
“Yeah, about 40 pounds overweight, Boss.”
I sigh. This isn’t what I had in mind when I took the call. I wanted a former international, who’d played at the highest levels (if you ignore his inability to get on the pitch over a two-year spell at Rochdale, that is). An assistant who has seen it all, commands instant respect, and can show the lads what’s what if need be on the pitch.
Kessie can read my mind. He can see the disappointment in my eyes.
“I’ll get him on the treadmill, Boss. Don’t you worry.”
I nod and step forward to greet Luke with a warm smile and a firm handshake.
I hand him the reigns the next day at training. Seven-asides. Shaw steps onto the pitch, clapping his hands with the enthusiasm of a over-stimulated toddler.
“Alright, lads. Keep it nice and clean, and sensible. No 50-50s!”
Counting slowly on his fingers, Shaw notices that one side is short-handed. He jogs onto the pitch, glee shining from his eyes as he jabs a finger at Utsmuts.
“Right, I’ll play myself. You might learn something, Estonian. 2 goals in 220 league starts!”
He juggles the ball casually, turning to fire a shot at goal. He misses, well-wide, and falls to the ground awkwardly, screaming in pain.
The head physio just sighs and shakes his head at me, as he and his staff trot out to check on our new assistant manager.
August 2034 – Champions League, Qualifying Playoffs.
The first leg in Tbilisi is a blissfully one-sided affair. Shaw sits beside me on the bench, hooked to a steady morphine drip which dulls the glimmer in his eyes. His hair still looks ****ing fantastic, though. Very James Dean-esque.
In the end, we waltz to a 7-1 win. You wouldn’t know it from the behavior of the traveling supporters, who sing and dance their way through the match, merrily intoxicated, before spilling into the streets of the capitol for a night of revelry.
The Irish continued to put up the good fight in Dublin, even after falling behind 4-nil on the night. Whatever they may have lacked in talent, they made up for in spirit. We claim a 4-2 win (11-3, agg.) to advance to the Group Stage — for their part, the 23 traveling Duruji Kvareli supporters are treated to an epic night in Temple Bar with the locals. A trip well-worth making for Luka and the Kursha Road Brigade.
The draw is favorable in the extreme — Sporting, Shevchenko’s AC Milan, and Celtic.
Provided that we pack our shooting boots, this is a Group we could get something out of.
For his part, Shaw seems to agree, although I think he may have been concussed when he hurt his ankle in training — the glassy-eyed stare hasn’t gone away, even though he’s off the morphine. His rambling, profanity-laced monologue about hamburgers during the post-draw press conference didn’t help.
The physios confirm my suspicions. He’ll be kept under observation for the next 8 days.
We kick off the Group Stage with a trip to the San Siro. It has been three years since we faced Milan, losing both matches. I would settle for a point on the night, however, as my money is on Milan to win the Group…figuratively, not literally. (Thanks, Tripper…)
An early goal for the hosts (after a world-class save from Donnarumma) puts us on our heels, and the second right after halftime felt inevitable. Yet Milan’s second awakens something in us, and we immediately launch forward, with Ntombela playing an inch-perfect through ball for Ivkovic, who slots it past Donnarumma from close range. 2-1.
Nearly an hour gone and we have work to do. Cipot replaces Hristov; Libicki is on for Ivkovic. Rak later replaces Friedgeimas, who is gassed. It’s our final throw of the dice, as we push forward aggressively in search of an equalizer…
…only for Vinicius Junior to smash a piledriver from 30 yards. Untouchable. Milan have earned their 3-1 victory on the night. We were outplayed. Of that there can be no question.
Which is what makes Shaw’s post-match tirade all the more impressive. Blind devotion to the cause, mixed with just enough hyperbole, indignation, spittle and tinfoil-hat insinuations regarding the officiating crew to ensure that no one will spend any meaningful time dissecting the match itself.
Shortly after the match, Menendez proudly displays the latest crop of youth academy players. I have a strong suspicion that he hid the annual preview from us in June, because this is the first I’ve heard of it. At a glance, I can see why. They’re terrible. Davit Chiabrishvili, potentially one of the best players to come through the academy in years? Levan Talakhadze, Levan Katamadze, Akaki Nikabadze, and Ilia Abashidze?
To look on the bright side, the lack of natural, homegrown talent justifies our efforts to secure the signings of talented, young players from abroad. Kessie’s West African connections are proving invaluable at the moment, as we work to finalize several deals.
Shaw’s press conferences continue to be gloriously insane, which makes me question the competence of our medical team given the obvious, lingering symptoms of his recent concussion.
Case in point: following the 2nd XI’s win away to Torpedo Kutaisi, extending our record to 36 straight Ervonuli Liga wins, Shaw launches into a tirade which concludes with the bold proclamation that he prefers Jiri Rak to Barcelona’s Liam Martin, which is, well… I don’t even have the words for it, given all Martin has accomplished in the game, not to mention his $191M transfer to Barcelona. But the players love it. Rak would run through a brick wall for that scruffy, tubby Englishman.
So the tubby Englishman stays. And gets an extra scoop of ice cream with dessert tonight.
We claim the Erovnuli Liga title on September 30th, with 6-nil win away to Telavi. That’s another extra scoop for Shaw, as his relentlessly aggressive positivity is infectious. He’s earned it.
October 2024 – Transfer News.
There’s no question that, to catch the likes of Liverpool and Milan, we need reinforcements.
We tasked the scouting team with scouring African youth national teams in search of a deep-lying targetganche. The search took them further afield, but that is no matter.
In the last week, we’ve secured the signing of no less than 4 brilliant African youth internationals and 1 Iranian youth international, all 5 of whom have the potential to take us to another level. Available on free transfer, they’ve each joined on a trial, pending their 18th birthday. While they cannot play for the first team (and we are not permitted to direct their training), they are here accruing time towards their Georgian nationality and homegrown status, and can play for our youth teams.
Jalal Hosseinpour is a full Iranian international at the age of 16, who will compete with Sergei Utsmuts and Siyabonga Ntombela for the targetganche position in our strikerless tactic, PM Draugr. He will become eligible to play for the club in November 2035.
Richard Danso is a Ghanaian U20 international who will become eligible in April 2035. He is a natural midfielder, but will train as an inverted left wingback, competing with Koberidze and Mickovski.
Franck Kessie has been capped with the Ivory Coast U23s, and will become eligible in September 2035. A natural winger, he will train as a complete right wingback, competing with Davit Makaradze and Guram Oniani.
Michael Kyei is a hard-tackling midfielder who has been called into (but not played for) Ghana’s U20s. He becomes eligible in March 2035 and will play as a ball-winning midfielder, competing with Marko Cipot and Hristijan Hristov.
Finally, Mafa Kouakou, a centerback capped by Ivory Coast’s U23s, who will become eligible in September 2035. Kouakou will take over in the 2nd XI for Mikheil Zoidze.
It should be readily-apparent that these 5 signings are significant. Any doubts are put to rest by Hosseinpour claiming a brace in his first match for the U19s, while Kouakou claims player of the match.
(Interestingly enough, my scouts rated their potential far higher than my coaches appear to. That is because my coaches’ assessment of their potential ability is being filtered by my goalkeeper coach, Lasha Devidze, who is utter crap at assessing player potential.)
And, as has been previously noted, we have already confirmed the signing of Danish U21 international Frank Daugaard on a Bosman, after his Midgetland contract ran down. He will join in January 2035. However, since he was not available a free contract, I do not have the option to have him join on a trial in the interim.
We will kick off the 2035 Open Thread with a full-blown squad review, to assess how these players ultimately fit into my plans.
October 2034 – Champions League, Group Stage (Matchday 2).
In what can only be described as dangerous overexuberance, Shaw goes rogue and — after derisively dismissing Sporting’s chances in Tbilisi — submits a teamsheet consisting of our 2nd XI, before proceeding to give a rousing teamtalk, crediting me with a stroke of psychological genius.
Think Braveheart, but starring Nicolas Cage instead of Mel Gibson.
It’s too late, we’ve submitted the teamsheet to UEFA. We’ll be taking on Sporting with our 2nd XI. Inadvertently. The only good news is that I’ve never seen the lads this motivated.
Shaw just winks at me. At least, I think he was winking. He may have just been having an aneurysm.
Time will tell, I guess.
Incredibly, Sporting come out nervous. To say the least. Dahlen smashes one in the 10th minute, before Zoidze heads home a Banach corner in the 17th. It’s 2-nil. No one, least of all me, can comprehend what’s happening. Shaw just claps his hands and cackles amiably.
We continue to control the match, but Sporting snatch a goal in the 48th minute. We’re in danger of them discovering our secret — that there is no psychological masterplan. We’re merely treading water in the dregs of whatever sanity remains in Luke’s concussed skull.
Cipot reclaims our 2-goal lead in the 57th with a deft finish, having been played in by Utsmuts. It’s time to throw on our substitutes, as it will no longer look like we’re desperately trying to right a terrible wrong. Hjaltason, Ntombela and Oniani enter the fray.
As pants-****ingly insane as this gambit may have been, it appears to have paid off.
I wait for Shaw after the post-match press conference. We need to have a word.
From the hallway outside the press room, I can hear his praise for my psychological preparation, comparing me to a modern-day Bagrat III. Must be the concussion talking. Maybe the aneurysm. Both.
As he walks out of the room, he just looks at me with a wry, dazed grin. I go to grab his arm but he waves me away, matching my gaze, the glint having returned to his eyes which are now fully focused on mine. Unnervingly so.
“No need, Boss. No need. It’ll never happen again.”
I stammer. My prepared, self-righteous speech in tatters. His voice is utterly steady. Composed.
Sensing my confusion, Shaw just gives me a nod while tapping the side of his nose, knowingly. The glint in his eye is nearly blinding.
“Never again, Boss. I promise. Yeah?!”
I involuntarily nod in response.
Maybe it’s a trick of the light. But as he nods one last time and steps back, his eyes lose their focus on mine. His wry grin slackens into a humorous, twisted version of itself. His cackle renews, like that of a drunken hyena, and he steps into the locker room shouting curse words in broken, heavily-accented Georgian, to the great amusement of all inside.
Well, so long as he’s promised. Never again.
No harm, no foul. Right?
And, really, if you can’t trust Luke Shaw, who can you trust?
Our carefully-planned squad rotation system thrown out the window, there’s nothing to do but send the 1st XI out 3 days later to face Dinamo Batumi. They claim a 4-nil win against an opponent who didn’t bother to come out of their own 18. Luke cackles his way through the entire match, cheering the lads on with his relentless optimism.
After the final whistle, he catches my eye, shrugs amiably before tapping the side of his nose with his finger yet again, and then heads off to clap Vikskjold on the back, already regaling him with a story about the time Zlatan took the squad to the Red Light District in Amsterdam.
Again, if you can’t trust Luke Shaw… Well, I’m not really sure how to finish that sentence, if I’m being honest.
The madness from the start of the month has receded, thankfully, although the 2nd XI conspire to lose away to Saburtalo, ending our Erovnuli Liga record 38-match win streak.
The only Champions League match after the international break is in Tbilisi against Celtic. We greet them warmly, with Hjaltason lovingly finding the back of the net after 15 seconds on the way to a comprehensive 5-1 win. If we can find a win in Glasgow, we will be all-but through to the knockout rounds.
The lads turn in a thoroughly-professional performance in Glasgow, claiming a 2-nil win and — thanks to Milan’s win over Sporting — securing passage to the knockout rounds.
We miss the chance to battle Milan for the Group title, however, with a 2-1 loss in Tbilisi on Matchday 5 which saw us have 2 goals called back for offsides, along with a nasty deflection off Vikskjold to gift the Italians the winner. Unlucky, but we stood toe-to-toe with the Italian giants.
The UEFA mafia can look down their noses on such moral victories, but we will take them. We will be playing Champions League football in the New Year, and that’s all that matters.
3 matches to play — 1 for a trophy, 2 for pride.
December 2034 – Season Review.
The campaign culminates with little drama. 3 wins from matches, including a 5-nil humiliation of Sporting in Portugal and a 6-1 win over Saburtalo in the Davit Kipiani Cup final (to claim the domestic treble).
We have much to look back on with pride, including a 2nd place finish in Champions League Group D, a record-setting Erovnuli Liga points total (105), typing our goals scored record (137), and setting a new record for fewest goals conceded (12). We also had 2 players score 30 goals (Hjaltason and Libicki), with 4 other players hitting 20 (Freidgeimas, Rak, Ntombela and Ivkovic).
Despite all of the steps we’ve taken, all the progress we’ve made, the local council blocks expansion of the Tsentraluri for the seventh straight year. The new Chairman and Board did not wish to go down the road of a new stadium last year, but perhaps now they will change their mind.
With all of our incoming signings, the squad will be going through a transitional period next year. All year. Some thought must be given to how players will be integrated, and who will move on (or be allowed to leave) as the year progresses.
One player whose time has come, however, is Nukri Gordulova, who joined the club in 2026 on a free from Meshakhte. In all competitions, he registered 326 appearances and 182 goals in his 9 seasons at the club. He was our leading goalscorer in the 2027, 2028 and 2029 campaigns, and the suppoters’ Player of the Year in 2027 (the year we won our first Erovnuli Liga title). A verified club icon.
Gordulova wants to renew his contract, but that will not be happening. He’s fallen down the pecking order and has no role to play.
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.