Duruji Kvareli – 2035 Open Thread
December 2034 / January 2035 – Odds & Ends.
Attending the Champions League draw in Nyon will never get old. Peter Crouch is as affable as ever, doing the honors and pulling the balls out of the hopper.
Just like 2 years ago when we drew ze Germans, there is no “good” draw here. It’s all bad. But just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does. When Crouchy looks at you with pity, you know.
Upon returning to Kvareli and taking in the sight of the Tsentraluri, I make straight for the Chairman’s house. Enough is enough. How can we expect to take on European footballing royalty, when our stadium has a capacity of 750, none of which are seated (unless, of course, they bring their own). When we are forced to “host” our European matches 2 or more hours away, at times on the other side of the country?
If the local council will not let us expand the Tsentraluri and make it a home worthy of a club of our aspirations — and, let’s face it, after 7 years of rejection, it seems unlikely they will — perhaps we need to think bigger. Take a different approach. Build anew.
I beg. I plead. I am Alan Johnson talking about spreadsheets. It is a thing of persuasive beauty. Sitting on the couch behind me, Shaw plays with matches — lighting and flinging them onto the carpet, seemingly oblivious to my ranting, while muttering ominously to himself.
To my surprise, the Chairman agrees, notwithstanding his past resistance to the idea. We plot all night, having distracted Shaw with a David Moyes voodoo doll that smells like eucalyptus oil for some reason.
In the end, we settle on a new ground with an approximate capacity of 16,000. The Chairman’s enthusiasm and ambition is much appreciated, even if the two-year planning period seems excessive.
The Erovnuli Liga also announces that each club’s respective share of the television revenue for 2035 will be $10.03M (up from $8.52M in 2034). In glancing around the league, every single club is running a massive profit, and transfer activity is on the uptick. With any luck, they will start investing in their facilities so that the pool of quality Georgian players increases.
February 2035 – Squad Review.
Three years on from our last squad review (in 2032), it is time to pause for a moment and take stock of where Duruji Kvareli sit.
Yet, at the same time, we have yet to reach the quarterfinals of any European competition. With a two-legged date against Real Madrid on the horizon, this is only the second time we’ve reached the knockout rounds of the Champions League, having lost to Bayern in the First Knockout Round in 2032/33. And, we have not progressed beyond the Second Knockout Round of the Europa League or the Europa Conference League.
This presents a unique challenge, though. We are at a point where dropping to the Europa League (or, urCristiano forbid, the Europa Conference League) is highly unlikely in the absence of a truly horrific draw for the Champions League Group Stage. Meaning that, if we are to make a run in the knockout rounds of a European competition, it will almost certainly have to be the Champions League.
I don’t think we’re far off being able to do that. We simply need a favorable draw, and for the Football Gods to bless us with some good luck.
So, let’s light a beef-scented candle in honor of urCristiano (who, in-game, is the current manager of Real Sociedad, only just now laying the foundations of his Ibiza-headquartered cult), and dive in.
We are currently carrying a 23-man squad first-team squad, with 5 players having arrived early on trial, and a handful of players in the youth system that likely won’t make the cut, but are worth mentioning.
My plan is to rotate 2 XIs throughout the campaign, adding the 5 new players to the 2nd XI upon their arrival. (While these 5 players are at the club “on trial” pending their 18th birthdays, I cannot set their training routines, register them for Europe, or play them in competitive fixutres.)
We’re playing PM Draugr, the strikerless tactic that I have detailed in The Long Night Is Coming, And The Dead Come With It.
We have utterly romped through our pre-season friendlies, and seem to be ready for the campaign. So, what are we working with?
In goal, we have a 2-man battle for the number 1 jersey that continues to be closer than I would have expected.
Aimilios “Amy” Nikolaou was signed with the expectation that he would be our starter, taking over soon after his arrival. But, he spent the first 18 months of his career with us out on loan.
Amy will remain our starter for the same reason the role was handed to him last summer — our scouts and coaches have always maintained that he has greater potential than Tornike, and seems to be more consistent. Granted, my coaches are idiots, with Lasha being the frequent target of ridicule for his assessment of our field players’ ability.
In the U19s, Iuri Lomidze seems to have bags of potential but I sincerely doubt he will ever truly join the first-team squad.
Our libero are Ghayas Vikskjold and Milosz Banach, both of whom are converted strikers and fit into the “advanced forward” profile I prefer for this position (as opposed to the “deep-lying playmaker” profile). There isn’t much room between them, but Vikskjold gets the nod for now.
Flanking Vikskjold in the 1st XI will be vice-captain Kjartan Stefansson and Frank Daugaard (aka, “the Danish Cannavaro”). The Scandanavian trio at the heart of the defense is solid, and I have nothing but the highest of hopes for Daugaard. The backups here are Ervin Kodermac (who drops to the 2nd XI in favor of Daugaard) and Skerdi Shiba, both of whom are capable of stepping in on a moment’s notice.
Effective September 16, 2035, we will also have Mafa Kouakou as a backup centerback. My plan at this point is to allow Kodermac to leave either late in the summer transfer window, or in the 2035/36 winter transfer window, with Kouakou stepping directly into the 2nd XI at that point.
Our starting wingbacks are Guram Oniani on the right and Miroslav “Mickey” Mickovski on the left (inverted). They’re a solid pairing, even if Mickovski doesn’t look like much. If you think about it, though, on the “Charlie Adam” scale, Mickovski’s throw-ins alone are worth $10M.
Gia Koberidze and Davit Makaradze have been our backups at wingback, but neither is truly capable of stepping in, in the heat of battle. Koberidze is a converted mezzala/inverted winger (which is ideal for an inverted wingback, in my mind), but lacks the potential for growth. Makaradze’s pace is a killer in the Georgian domestic competitions, but just isn’t good enough to take us anywhere in Europe. And this is where our next two trialists come into play.
Franck Kessie becomes eligible on September 5, 2035; Richard Danso will be eligible April 30, 2035. As shown in their profile screens, our goalkeeping coach doesn’t think much of them. But my scouts certainly thought they have as much potential as anyone in the squad and (as noted before) Lasha is relatively useless when it comes to assessing player ability.
Danso, in particular, looks like the kind of player I want as an inverted wingback — a box-to-box midfielder, who can do it all — provided that he can develop. I’ve been making sure that they play for our U19s in the correct positions, and am pleased to see their positional familiarity increasing slowly.
Barring some unforeseen development, Koberidze and Makaradze will be allowed to leave in the next 6-12 months.
The right-sided midfield position is our ball-winning midfielder. Hristijan Hristov has been our starter there for some time now, and is entering his 7th campaign with the club. Marko Cipot is his very capable backup (although it did take him a while to start developing).
Michael Kyei will join the club in one week’s time, on March 2, 2035. Let’s be honest, Kyei is not ready to supplant Cipot. But he does need games to have a chance to develop. And I’m loathe to send him out on loan right away. Kyei will likely play as the 24th man in the squad until we can see where his development is going. I also would not have much heartburn over selling Cipot, if that is what it came down to.
Our starting mezzala is the player I can still hardly believe we have, club captain Magnus Oliver Hjaltason. He is one of my favorite players at the club. I intend to keep him here as long as he will stay. Marius Dahlen is his immediate backup — a dual-national we poached from Dila Gori. Gela “Diggy” Dighmelashvili is the nominal 23rd man in the squad — one of our better youth academy prospects, who is too good for the youth teams but not good enough to supplant Dahlen. I’m willing to let Dighmelashvili go out on loan again this year, but we will have to make a decision between the two, at some point.
Siyabonga Ntombela took over last year as the fulcrum of our attack, the deep-lying targetganche. The man he replaced is Sergei Utsmuts, who dropped to the 2nd XI. Ntombela finished the 2034 campaign strongly, which was critical. He had struggled since his arrival, and neither he nor Utsmuts was performing at the level we require. In my mind, last year was Ntombela’s chance to take over and…eventually…he took it.
When Utsmuts arrived in 2030, he was a marquee signing. He remains a solid, dependable player. But I’ve known for the last year or two that he seemed to have reached his ceiling — both developmentally, and in relation to our competition. I would have been content playing him on the bench for a long time…
…but then my scouts uncovered Jalal Hosseinpour, who earned a full Iranian cap at the age of 16. As you an see, Hosseinpour’s development took a massive hit recently, which is odd because he has been immense for our U19s. My hope is that this is just a speedbump, because everyone agrees that his potential is through the roof. He will become eligible for to play competitively on November 13, 2035.
At left inverted winger, Miroslav Ivkovic has been a mainstay in the side for the past few years. He’s a well-rounded, effective player, contributing both goals and assists. His understudy is Miroslaw Libicki, a Polish wonderkid who co-led the team in scoring last year (30 goals in all competitions), and has a lot of room for growth. Ivkovic has the edge right now, but I’m interested to see how Libicki develops over the next 12-24 months.
Another player who is on my “he will stay forever if he wants” list is Valdas Freidgeimas, our starting right inverted winger, who has claimed fans’ Player of the Year in each of his four, full campaigns with the club (2031-34). Freidmeigas has won the Champions League Golden Boot twice, even if many of those goals came during our annual romp through the qualifying rounds.
Jiri Rak is Freidgeimas’ capable backup — arguably the best player our academy has produced to date, Rak suffers the fate of being an understudy to a verified club “legend.” Interestingly enough, while Freidmeigas is the only “legend” playing for the club right now, Rak is the only verified club “icon.”
We have three additional attack-minded players in the U21s and U19s that I’m also keeping an eye on: Goga Tabukashvili, Beka Khurganashvili and Pavle Dartsimelia. None are in the mix right now, but if they continue to develop, they may get a chance.
This squad has grown immeasurably since the last time we took a close look. That much is clear.
Are we good enough to knock off Real Madrid, in 4 days’ time, and then back at the Bernabeu? Not on paper. But that doesn’t mean we can’t claim a scalp, if the Football Gods will look on us with some kindess…Shaw has been lighting candles and saying his prayers, so now we just need to let our football do the talking.
February 2035 – Champions League, First Knockout Round (1st Leg).
The 2nd XI take care of business in Tbilisi, knocking off Dinamo 4-nil in the Super Cup. Far from a priority, but it is important to keep Dinamo in their place.
We greet the Spanish giants on the frozen pitch at the Mikheil Meshki, before a capacity crowd of 25,453. Sadly, we do little more than greet them, as Madrid waltz to a 2-nil win. Libicki manage to pull one back in the 82nd with a delicate chip over the onrushing keeper, but it was chalked off by VAR.
Meaning that we will face an impossible task in Madrid, in three weeks’ time.
We find cold comfort in the record-setting 25,453 crowd, with concomitant record-setting gate receipts of $875k. The UEFA representative didn’t think it was funny when I asked for it to be delivered in singles, acting all innocent as if he didn’t understand. You can’t stuff a large novelty check into a G-string, you bureaucrat. Trust me, I’ve tried. (It’s a long story.)
We will have to take our frustrations out on our domestic competition. The Chairman sends word that our season ticket numbers are up — rising to 466, up from 446, and that average single-match tickets are going for $27.57, with season tickets running $185. (He’s much more excited about this than he probably should be.)
March 2035 – Champions League, First Knockout Round (2nd Leg).
Surprising no one, we travel to Madrid and run straight into a brick wall. The only bright spot being a 65th minute goal from Libicki, after he was set free by a beautiful through ball from Freidgeimas.
We crash out of the Champions League, losing 3-1 on the night (5-1, agg.). Another taste of the bright lights. Another disappointment. The only upsets in the round come at the hands of Andrea Pirlo’s Juventus, Julien Stephan’s Leeds United, and Erol Bulut’s Hoffenheim.
There’s nothing to do but pick ourselves up off the floor, and prepare for the 2035/36 qualifying campaign. Of course, we also have several months of domestic fixtures during which we can sharpen our blades.
It takes some pressure, but the Board eventually agrees to invest further in our training facilities.
The more we push to establish ourselves on the continent, the more we need to keep up appearances. It’s like the old adage, dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Well, the job we want is that of Champions League winners. So we’d better be looking sharp-ish.
What resistance we used to face domestically has long since fallen by the wayside. The current campaign marks a new demonstration of force, however, as we sit with a perfect record after 14 matches with a plus-68 goal difference (70 for, 2 against) in Erovnuli Liga matches.
June 2035 – European Review.
Let’s hit the pause button for a moment, while we take our annual look at what has happened around Europe in the active leagues.
In the Champions League, Julien Stephan’s Leeds United beat Andrea Pirlo’s Juventus, 1-nil, meaning the Old Lady finishes as runners-up for the second year in a row.
Hansi Flick’s Bayern claimed the Europa League title, beating Pep Guardiola’s Roma on penalties, after a 1-1 draw.
In the Europa Conference League, Brian Priske’s Aston Villa beat Ruben Baraja’s Valencia, 3-nil (aet).
In the active leagues, Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid reclaimed the La Liga title; Mauricio Pochettino’s Manchester United won their 5th straight Premier League title (the 9th year in a row that the title has stayed in Manchester); Patrick Vieira’s PS-****ing-G won their 3rd straight Ligue 1 title; Pep Guardiola’s Roma won their 3rd Serie A title in 4 years; and, Hansi Flick’s Bayern did Bayern things again.
While we receive an additional $7.42 million and $7.82 million from the UEFA mafia (the latter being a sizeable increase from last year’s coefficient ranking pool money), the coefficient gains are modest, at best. The Erovnuli Liga rises to 32nd in the UEFA competitions rankings, up 1 spot from last year, overtaking only the Austrian second tier. Duruji Kvareli rise to 25th in the club coefficients table, up 3 spots from last year.
The most anticipated moment of the summer — our annual youth intake preview — arrives, to great disappointment.
At least results on the pitch have been consistent, even if we were somewhat leaky at the back this month.
We also bid adieu to Gia Koberidze, who leaves for Chateauroux. 300k plus a 50 percent sell-on clause for a player whose contract was due to expire at the end of the year, and who would be featuring from the bench in our 2nd XI for the next six months? We won’t say no to that.
July/August 2035 – Champions League, Second Qualifying Round.
We draw Lithuanian champions Riteriai at the first hurdle. Whatever love Freidmeigas may hold for his former club, it does not prevent him from stepping up in the moment. He claims 2 goals in the first leg, a 6-nil win in Rustavi, before opening the scoring back at his old ground, a comfortable 3-nil win even after we are reduced to 10 men.
We will face Belarussian champions BATE in the next round.
August 2035 – Champions League, Third Qualifying Round.
We throw a bit of a wobble to start the qualifying tie against BATE, going behind in the 1st half (against the run of play), before rampaging back to claim a 3-1 win, in Borisov.
Though we look good value for money, Shaw thinks we need to give the lads a lift. A boost. “Something to wet their beak a little, Boss. Trust me. I know a guy.” I just nod and give him the go-ahead. After all, I’m sure he’s just going to leverage his British contacts to set up some performance-based sponsorships…as I think about the phrasing, though, I begin to get concerned. And the more I think about it, the more worried I get. I’m only moderately certain that drugs and high-class escorts will not be involved.
I resolve to keep a close eye on things. All goes quiet, but there’s a slight furor in the press area outside the Tsentraluri after the 2nd XI’s 7-nil win over WIT-Georgia. Shaw just waves me away, saying he’ll handle it.
It wasn’t until the following morning, when I opened the paper to see the news. We’ve hired Rigobert Song?
I get Menendez on the phone, who can’t understand my confusion. “What was I supposed to do, Goose?! Mr. Shaw said you had signed off on it.”
There’s only one thing to do. I catch Shaw on his way into training, away from the others. He is appropriately apologetic and I, for one, feel a little bad after the things I said about his mother. Shaw was just trying to help. He knows I’ve been re-working some of the backroom staff (adios, Lasha). More to the point, signing an international footballer with Song’s experience is no small matter for a club of our stature and ambition. It’s not just a step in the right direction, it’s a coup.
In the end, we’re left laughing like brothers over the situation. Still, I cannot help but ask.
“How do you even know him, Shawzy? It’s not like your playing careers intersected.”
“Are you kidding, Boss?! Me and Riggy go way back. We met at the shark fights in Macau back in ’23, I had 60 large on this snaggle-toothed Great White named Fizzer, see, and Riggy…”
I let the words wash over me, nodding and smiling amiably like Colonel Gaddafi’s psychotherapist. The less I know, the better.
August 2035 – Champions League, Qualifying Playoffs.
We start slowly against the Turkish champions, and it takes a winding, solo run from Oniani in the 30th minute to open the scoring. We are firmly in control, but need to make that control count for something.
Moments later, Freidgeimas opens up the defense with a 35-yard dagger, slicing through the heart of the defense to find Hristov hitting the gap. He strikes it first-time, smashing it in to double our lead…but it doesn’t last. The game is now wide-open, and Basaksehir claim a goal in the 37th.
We reassert control, but can only begin to breath easy when Hjaltason hits a 50-yard, diagonal Hollywood ball to Freidgeimas behind the opposition line, burying it at the near post to make it 3-1.
We do not take the chances we’re given to bury them, but are well-positioned for the trip to Istanbul. If we cannot defend a 3-1 lead, we don’t deserve to advance, regardless.
The opening stages in Istanbul are all Duruji. In the span of 5 minutes, the tie is over after a quick-fire double from Ivkovic and an incisive finish from Hjaltason at close range. Freidgeimas, Hjaltason and Libicki add to our tally in the 2nd half, as we claim a triumphant 6-1 win on the night (9-2, agg.).
That $17.94M deposit is one I never get tired of seeing.
For the Group Stage, we draw Pep the Bald’s Roma (who have won 3 Serie A titles in 4 years), Erik ten Hag’s Dortmund (runners-up in the 2034/35 Bundesliga, having finished in the top 3 for the last 5 years), and two-time defending Scottish champions, Rangers.
I’d be lying if I said this was a favorable draw. Rangers do not concern me. The only question in my mind is whether we can pip Roma or ze Germans to the 2nd position.
And, for the record, no. I do not want to talk about the Batumi match.
This is the time of year where players’ legs start to get heavy, right in the thick of the fixture congestion caused by our progression in Europe. You can see it in some of our results even if we continue to meet (if not exceed) expectations.
As an example, after 29 matches we have set an Erovnuli Liga record for goals scored in a single campaign, with 142. To their credit, Dinamo Tbilisi have hung on bravely, but they cannot match the pace we’ve set. The draw with Dinamo Batumi in August was an aberration to say the least.
We also kicked off the Group Stage in style, smashing Rangers 4-nil in Glasgow — a win that felt so deliciously vicious, I fear we may need to seek a Papal indulgence, or pay for it in the afterlife. The next 3 matches will determine our Champions League — hosting ze Germans in Tbilisi, before back-to-back matches against Roma.
In the midst of all the madness, the youth academy graduates step forward to be counted. Among them, Volodymyr “He Who Shall Not Be Named” Shevchuk stands head-and-shoulders above the rest — a natural-born Ukrainian-Georgian dual national born to be a mezzala, even if questions abound regarding his intentions for the muggle-born among us.
Nika Bregvadze is the other player to watch, a natural finisher who — if he can develop — may have a role to play in the squad.
Zaza Dvalishvili, Manuchar Gulordava and Levan Kvirkvelia are the only other players worth mentioning. I find it unlikely that any of these three will progress beyond our U19s, but they’ll be given a chance to develop.
A month of contrast. We continue to march our way through the domestic campaign, with our 2nd XI ruthlessly burying Dinamo Tbilisi 5-2, in Tbilisi. Dinamo are our closest rivals, and have managed to stay somewhat close to us this year, but with 152 goals in 32 games, it is going to take a lot to stick with us.
In Europe, however, we’re the ones running headlong into a brick wall. Ze Germans are ruthless, smashing us 3-nil in Tbilisi on Matchday 2. We follow that up with a trip to the Eternal City, where we manage to hold Guardiola’s Roma at bay in a 2-1 loss, but we were utterly outclassed over the entire 90 minutes. Matchday 4 is both an opportunity for revenge, and (perhaps) our last realistic hope for staying in the fight for the Champions League knockout rounds.
In a year where we’ve been indominable in front of goal, the 2nd XI smash 11 past Samtredia at the Tsentraluri on the penultimate day of the Erovnuli Liga campaign, taking our tally to 174 on the year. The previous record was 137; we’ve been more leaky at the back this year, but this has been a campaign to remember.
Again, the contrast is stark between the domestic and European campaigns. Roma once again control the match, claiming a 2-1 win in Tbilisi. Meaning that our match against Rangers is a must win on two separate levels; win, and we guarantee progression to the Europa League knockout rounds at a minimum, while still being in for Europe provided that Dortmund don’t gain a point against Roma.
Ivkovic opens our account in the 3rd minute, after Rangers fail to clear the ball. It’s all too easy, isn’t it? As if to prove my point, Hjaltason scores in the 4th minute only for it to be chalked off by VAR. But VAR doesn’t chalk off his 7th minute thunderbastard of a volley from close range. 2-nil, and my eyes immediately turn to Rome, where Pep the Bald is hosting ze Germans for tea and crumpets. Still scoreless. We need a result for the Italians.
Hristov makes it 3 in the 26th, with a delicate chip. This is the form we needed to bring against Roma and Dortmund…only, they’re not Rangers. 4-nil, as Daugaard hammers home a Freidgeimas corner, but still no news from Rome. The crowd is in full song as the Scottish keeper flaps at a cross, Ivkovic flicking it past him for our 5th.
At halftime, we learn that Dortmund have taken a 1-nil lead shortly before the half. That dampens the atmosphere, as it gives them a 6-point lead over us, drawing them level with Roma.
Hjaltason and Daugaard add to our tally early in the 2nd half, but the roar of the crowd is not for our Danish centerback, but the news from Rome — Pep’s lads have drawn level. We’re not dead yet. The scoreline in Rome hasn’t changed when Libicki smashes our 8th, in the 86th minute.
An 8-nil win. Epic. But it is not enough. Dortmund hold on to draw. We are eliminated from the Champions League.
There are 3 matches left to play, only one of which involving stakes greater than our pride.
December 2035 – Season Review.
The campaign ends on a high note, as we smash Torpedo Kutaisi and then dominate Dinamo Tbilisi in Davit Kipiani Cup. We finish the domestic campaign unbeaten for the first time. A record-setting year in the Erovnuli Liga, as we claim an absurd 180 goals with a plus-159 goal difference, finishing on 106 points.
Valdas Freidmeigas claims his 5th straight Player of the Year, while Sergei Utsmuts faces the end of his tenure at the club like the beast that he is, tearing apart the domestic competition — he has scored 164 goals in all competitions for the club to-date, an absolute beast for this level.
We are determined to go down swinging in Germanland on Matchday 6 of the Champions League, the final match of the campaign. We snatch an early goal through Hristijan Hristov, but ze Germans will not be denied. A well-earned 1-1 draw, which stands as a marker for just how far we’ve come over the years.
While we will drop into the Europa League as 3rd place finishers, my hopes are high for a favorable draw, to ease a path towards the latter stages of the knockout rounds.
As we look towards the distant future with a new stadium (which is awaiting planning permission), perhaps we will have a squad ready to challenge in Europe at its grand opening.
Goals for 2036: Reach the 2035/36 Europa League quarterfinals. Reach the 2036/37 Champions League knockout rounds. 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.