Gareji Sagarejo – 2024 Open Thread
It began like it always did. With an attempt to impress a girl.
Ok, to be fair, not a girl.
Yet my prowess on the pitch did not match my ambition. Nor did it impress anyone — least of all my widower father, for whom disappointment in his only son is a perpetual state of being.
Still, someone saw something in me. And, in time, when the old goat was ready to retire, the local club had few options available to them beyond the kid who had been dutifully setting out the cones these past few years. Me.
After all, who in their right mind would take a job in Kakheti, at the wages they’re offering in this economy, to guide the fortunes of a struggling, third-tier team?
Now, I’ve been accused of many things in my life. Being of sound mind? Not one of them.
Dressed in a crisp new suit, a new era begins here in Sagarejo. Today. The Rezo Gorlami era.
Gareji are a club struggling with 2 straight mid-table finishes after relegation, perhaps, but with a framework to move forward. The Board’s expectations and vision are modest, which is appreciated given our 14-man senior squad (one of whom has already signed for Merani Martvili).
It’s a big ask, this Liga 3 lark — the reserves from Dinamo, Saburtalo and Lokomotivi should be favored for promotion.
We will need a tactical spark to secure an advantage — for which we will turn to PM Draugrson, a fever dream sketched out before my abrupt expulsion from Telleus’ Academie. (The disappointment in Hakan’s eyes was nothing if not familiar.)
For now, I have more important tasks ahead.
The lads will not return to training until the 22nd, so I have ample time on my hands.
My first task? Pick out new office furniture, courtesy of our sponsor — a burgeoning, local furniture company that has attained cult-like status throughout the region.
I’d never bought the hype. But as I glanced through the website on my club-issued 2016-era smartphone, like everyone else I quickly become a slave to the IKHEA instinct.
I see something clever like a coffee table in the shape of an ear, and I have to have it.
Like the Johanneshov armchair in the green stripe pattern. Or the Rislampa wire lamps, with the environmentally-friendly unbleached paper. Even the Vild hall clock of galvanized steel, resting on the Klipsk shelving unit.
For hours, I scroll through the website wondering, “what kind of conference table defines me as a football manager?”
I used to look at pornography on the internet. Now, I look at build-it-yourself furniture that “fell off the back of a truck.” Allegedly.
Claims of blatant intellectual property theft aside, it is quality furniture. And you can’t beat the prices.
(Of course, a certain, not-to-be-named, omnipresent Swedish furniture manufacturer has filed suit in the Georgian courts on various grounds, not the least of which being trademark violations, intellectual property theft, and…well, actual theft. Good luck, Ingvar. You’re going to need it. Our courts are nothing if not friendly to the local crime syndicate, whose brazen schemes are taken straight out of the first 20 minutes of Goodfellas.)
January/February 2024 – Squad Assessment; Odds & Ends.
Having seen me lay out the cones for years in a most unassuming fashion, the lads are somewhat taken aback by my commanding tone of voice in our first meeting and training session. After the initial shock, they take to it like a duck to water.
They need to know that this kitten has claws. Mission accomplished.
I’d like to say I spent hours painstakingly assessing the merits of the squad before deciding upon my XI, but that wouldn’t be accurate. It isn’t hard when you have only 14 senior players (one of whom is leaving), a handful of promising younger players, and no transfer budget.
The squad practically builds itself. Not that I’d admit that to the Board. Instead, given some of the obvious deficits in the squad, I dip into the loan market to sign four players I hope will make an impact.
(Note: One of the joys of managing in Georgia is that all clubs are largely struggling, financially. There are an incredibly vibrant free transfer and loan markets in-game, provided that you can identify your targets early. Alas, having taken over in January, that is decidedly not the case this year.)
We head into the season with a 19-man squad.
Between the sticks, we’ve brought in Giorgi Kurdadze on loan from Chikhura. He is a big improvement on Levan Kurashvili, who would have otherwise been our starter. My plan with Kurdadze — as it is with all of our players on loan — is to seduce him (metaphorically) and eventually get him to sign on a free, for the 2025 campaign.
Zurab Dadianidze will be our libero — not ideal, but we lack a better option at this point. He should serve for this level, but we will need to improve this position going forward. Lasha “Biggie Smalls” Chakhidze (on loan from Saburtalo) and Irakli “Ibra” Ibragimovi will be our wide centerbacks, with Giorgi Sanikidze deputizing as needed.
At wingback, Saba Nadiradze has speed to burn on the right (while providing coverage on the left), with Janiko Bezhanidze inverted on the left. Giorgi Bakhtadze is our primary cover on the right, which speaks volumes about our lack of depth. We should be fine for the year with these 3, but this is an area crying out for improvement. Nadiradze is arguably the only serviceable one of the 3, looking ahead to 2025 and beyond.
Inal Pukhaev is our best player, on paper. I’d have played him as our libero if we had more squad depth. As things stand, we need him to get further forward. He will pair in the midfield with Besik “Captain” Kirkitadze, who arrives on loan from Chikhura. It’s a solid midfield, with Ramin Əhmədov (our most promising young player) and Tornike Mosiashvili providing coverage from the bench…
At least, that was the plan until Mosiashvili pulled up with a hip injury during pre-season. With Əhmədov recovering from an injury, we needed coverage — meaning we picked up Ivane Lotuashvili on a free. Not ideal.
Up top, Giorgi Enukidze will start as our advanced playmaker, flanked by Omar Apridonidze (our third loanee from Chikhura) and Lasha Nanobashvili. I’m excited about this trio, who should have more than enough quality to wreak havoc in Liga 3. Nika Khavdagiani and Guga Shalamberidze provide additional depth for the front 3.
The pre-season friendlies show echoes of promise (especially in a 1-1 draw with Erovnuli Liga side, Rustavi), but we have to resist the temptation to read more into them than we should. Bottom line, we were not really ****, but not all that great either.
Ahead of our first competitive match away to Saburtalo‘s reserves, the oddsmakers have us finishing in the bottom half with no one in the Pre-Season Dream XI. Proper motivational stuff, this.
The club also makes a show of announcing our season ticket numbers. Only, we’ve only sold 44 season tickets, the same number as last year.
(I’m not entirely sure why this is something we should highlight, and am less than convinced by our press officer’s insistence that “any press is good press.” Gvantsa did not appreciate the various examples I offered to counter her point.)
The next day, we draw Dinamo Tbilisi in the Davit Kipiani Cup. “Good press” will surely follow.
And just when I’m ready to dive into the match, Bezhanidze tries to show off in the weight room. The end result is predictable. He’s out for 2 months with a stress fracture. We’ve gone from 3 wingbacks to 2, and it’s too late to enlist a new signing for the trip to Tbilisi. An ill omen, to say the least.
We start well, however. Full of passion and determination. In the 32nd minute, we earn a penalty and Nanobashvili proves he has ice in his veins, calmly chipping down the middle with Meghelishvili diving to his right. 1-nil.
Nanobashvili strikes against before the half, and Enukidze supplies the finishing blow in the 70th minute.
3-nil. A result beyond our wildest dreams.
While there are dissenting voices, we have no choice. Back to the market we go. The best option? Tsotne “Patsy” Patsatsia from Tbilisi City. Oddly enough, when Patsy arrives at the Arsen for his first training session 48 hours before kickoff against Kolkheti-1913, I can’t shake an intense feeling of deja vu. As if we’ve met before.
But I can’t place it.
No matter. We are dominant in a 4-nil win. The best home debut we could have asked for. And while we go off the boil against Guria, we recover our composure to claim 3 wins from our first 4 matches. A welcome start, indeed.
When Chikhura‘s manager rang up, angry that Kurdadze wasn’t playing as a goalkeeper, I thought it was an obvious prank.
Angry words were said. But not before the damage was done. Kurdadze has been recalled, leaving us without a competent goalkeeper 48 hours ahead of our trip to face Dinamo Tbilisi.
The transfer window is closed and there are no serviceable goalkeepers available in the free transfer market, meaning I have to call up Nariashvili and apologize to him. **** that he is.
It takes some begging, and a few promises I have no intention of keeping, but Kurdadze will rejoin us at the end of June.
Needless to say, my determination to steal him away from Chikhura has become an obsession.
June 2024 – European Review.
In a Champions League sure to aggravate and delight the pundits (in equal measure), Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United beat Pep Guardiola’s Juventus, 1-nil.
Ronald Koeman’s Arsenal won the Europa League with a 3-nil win over Patrick Rahmen’s RB Leipzig.
And, in the Europa Conference League, Abdullah Avci’s Trabzonspor beat Jon Dahl Tomasson’s Fiorentina, 1-nil.
In the active leagues: Massimiliano Allegri’s Manchester City claimed the Premier League title; Carlo Ancelloti’s Real Madrid reclaimed the title in Spain; Julian Nagelsmann’s Bayern did Bayern things; His Baldness’ Juventus won their 3rd straight Serie A title; and, Mauricio Pochettino’s PS-****ing-G choked on matchday 38 to hand the Ligue 1 title to Peter Bosz’s Lyon.
As the days turn into weeks, however, the anticipation grows. Kurdadze returns the morning of the transfer window opens, mere hours ahead of a visit from Kolkheti-1913. The mood is instantly brighter, even for Kurashvili, whom all are relieved to see return to the bench — himself included.
The tone is set by Avto, our PA announcer, who insists on playing Katy Perry’s Never Really Over during the pre-match festivities to honor Kurdadze. The only hitch being that it was all he played. On repeat. For 90 minutes.
(What can I say? He likes him some Katy Perry.)
Our visitors are befuddled, but take an early lead thanks to a penalty that Kurdadze nearly kept out. And, just when it looked like we would crash and burn on the day of his return, the lads stepped it up. 2 late goals to stun our visitors — the second of which was punctuated by more Katy.
Which was only fitting, under the circumstances.
With 11 matches to play, we’re 4 points off Zestaponi for the automatic promotion spot, and 11 points clear of Varketili in 4th.
It’s early to start thinking about it, but I can’t help myself.
Will it be Champagne Dreams next year in the Erovnuli Liga 2?
****. I’m sorry.
Maybe I should listen to less Katy Perry.
Tick tock. With contracts expiring in 6 months’ time, we’re on the prowl for free transfers.
Our first target? Kurdadze. Because **** Chikhura, that’s why.
But that’s not the end. We also sign Kirkitadze and Apridonidze on free transfers, with Givi Erkomaishvili added in for good measure. That’s Chikhura‘s 4 most talented youngsters, all joining us on free transfer at the end of the year.
My thirst for vengeance has been satiated. For the moment. (Yes, I am nothing if not petty and vindictive. Some would even say they’re my best qualities… Wait… Why do you ask?)
To support our push for promotion, we sign Davit Mikadze on loan from Dinamo Tbilisi‘s reserves. He will take over as our right wingback, with Nadiradze shifting to the left. A modest yet important upgrade.
With the growing buzz around the club, a record crowd of 139 are present to see us blow a 2-1 lead against 3rd place Guria at the Arsen Mekokishvili. Not good enough, lads.
The business end of the campaign arrives, yet we continue to struggle to turn our control of matches into results. Carelessly dropped points are the story.
We’ll never impress Katy this way, lads.
We’re 5 points off Zestaponi, with 5 matches to play — the next one, against the league leaders in Sagarejo. If we can avoid the lottery of a playoff, that’d be ideal.
The biggest match of the year. A chance to put ourselves in contention for the only automatic promotion spot. Zestaponi at the Arsen, with Katy Perry blasting throughout the pre-match festivities.
Not good enough.
Words that also apply to the graduating class of our academy.
Something has to be done. This will not suffice. Thoughts are swirling in my mind, plans to develop an academy to rival La Masia. Foolish, perhaps. But I cannot help but dream.
The Chairman refuses to listen. He lacks imagination and ambition in equal measure.
But I can see it in my mind’s eye. Fabrika. We will build it. In due course.
For now, we have 3 matches left in the league campaign. While little hope remains of claiming the top seed, one point will secure our position in the two-legged promotion playoffs. We need all of our focus.
A solid win over Aragvi starts the month off right. It’s only when Katy Perry starts playing at an intolerable volume that word begins to filter through the locker room.
Zestaponi have been held, away to Kolkheti-1913. 3 points separate us, with 2 matches to play.
I guess it’s never really over.
We are away to Tbilisi City and Varketili — Zestaponi host Guria before traveling to Kolkheti Khobi. Anything is possible. We’ve drawn both matches 1-1, so if we finish level on points it would come down to goal difference, on which we have a narrow edge (+29 to +27).
Meaning we need a result in the capitol, and for Zestaponi to lose their nerve. In the 43rd minute, we’re coasting, up 2-nil, when word passes through the crowd. Kolkheti Khobi has taken the lead, 1-nil, on a 39th minute penalty. As things stand, we are promoted as Liga 3 champions.
But there is a lot of football to be played. We concede in the 44th minute. Not good, lads. Yet, Varketili are reduced to 10 men in the 49th minute, before another red card reduces them to 9 men on the hour mark.
Our path is clear. If the result in Khobi holds.
With 15 minutes to play, the line still holds. We have not buried Varketili, but we are in the clear. 10 minutes. 5.
In the 90th minute, disaster strikes. Vasadze levels for 9-man Varketili, against the run of play.
There will be 4 minutes of injury time. But it is all for naught. We cannot find the back of the net. Zestaponi blew it. But we well and truly ****ed it. A 2-2 draw sees us fall into the promotion playoff.
Where we will face the club that I’ve come to loathe over the past year. Dirty, dirty Chikhura. Hateful place. Hateful, spiteful place.
Dirty. Dirty Chikhura.
December 2024 – Promotion Playoffs.
It is often said that the opposite of love is indifference.
Once, I was indifferent to Chikhura. I didn’t give them a second thought.
Now, I loathe them with every fiber of my being.
The feeling is mutual. The saga of Kurdadze loan, followed by our stealing their 4 most promising young players on free transfer, means that this two-legged playoff will be personal in the extreme.
All the more challenging? Kurdadze, Kirkitadze and Apridonidze are ineligible to play against their parent club. Meaning we will be fighting with one arm tied behind our back. (Metaphorically and literally, since Kurashvili is about as useful as a one-armed keeper — and that was before he spent the last 6 months eating khinkali on the bench.)
And as tempted as I am to start the internal inquest into our failure to secure the Liga 3 title outright, I know we have to wait. Our focus must remain on the playoffs. We have home field advantage, technically, given that the second leg will be at the Arsen. But we can take nothing for granted.
We start on the front foot in Ivantsminda and are rewarded for our aggression with a 20th minute goal from Enukidze. Chikhura equalize in the 30th, after we carelessly lose possession in the build-up. This isn’t the Liga 3, lads. We need to sharpen up.
Nadiradze restores our lead in the 39th — a gorgeous, team goal — before Pukhaev makes it 3-1 on the stroke of halftime…and then 4 in the 3rd minute of injury time. 4 vital away goals, as Chikhura are falling apart.
The home support are silenced in the 48th, when Enukidze finds our 5th, before completing his hat trick in the 85th. We have been nothing if not ruthless in front of goal, and Kurashvili has more than enough time to sneak a cheeky khinkali that he’d hidden by his goalpost, toasting the 65 traveling supporters as he does so…though his lost focus leads to Chikhura claiming a late consolation goal.
This is why you’ve been stuck on the bench, Levan.
Following an ideal away leg, we simply have to maintain our nerve back at the Arsen. And keep Levan away from the dumplings. Lotuashvili is banned due to an accumulation of yellow cards, which is almost laughable under the circumstanes.
The Arsen is awash in a sea of Katy Perry’s greatest hits ahead of the second leg. Some would say that we are foolish for persisting with our aggressive tactics, given the scoreline from the first leg. And they’d be right… From a purely strategic standpoint. But our goal is not to simply defeat Chikhura. We are here to bury them. And then **** on their grave.
It’s a mild-tempered affair, all things considered. Until Devdariani launches a two-footer on Nanobashvili, and is shown a straight red…at which point, Avto locks the door to the soundbooth and cranks up Katy Perry’s Roar.
As one does.
As the halftime whistle blows we all know it’s over. Not even a 78th minute goal for Chikhura can hold back the tides, much less stop the “you’re getting sacked in the morning” catcalls at my nemesis.
We’re going up, lads.
December 2024 – Season Review.
Like an epic night in Bangkok, the morning after brings a measure of blurry clarity and a relentless headache.
We have steadily claimed points throughout the campaign — prior to the 2nd leg loss to Chikhura, we had not lost since July. Yet, the warning signs have been there. Had we been more ruthless, we would have won Liga 3 outright. Yet, we drew against 9-man Varketili, to let the title slip away. We lost to 10-man Chikhura, after humiliating them in Ivantsminda.
My father will never let me hear the end of it.
There are no excuses. As thin as the squad was upon my arrival, we brought in 7 players at my insistence. There are holes in the squad. Especially as we promote into the second tier, where the opposition will be of a higher standard. We will need to up our game, accordingly.
Goals for 2025: Consolidate our position in the Erovnuli Liga 2. Make a run in the Davit Kipiani Cup.
Finances | Income | Expenditure | Reserves
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 Straight Outta Sagarejo is explained here, and each installment in Rezo Gorlami’s journey can be accessed through the Straight Outta Sagarejo Archive.
You can also join Seattle Red in his dedicated DtG discord channel, to discuss any and all things related to his saves, tactics and anything else under the sun.