Gareji Sagarejo – 2025 Open Thread
January/February 2025 – Transfer News; Odds & Ends.
With hostilities set to resume quickly and an expanded slate of league matches – 36 instead of 26 – we are immediately confronted by the need to add both depth and quality to the squad.
Our primary targets were 1-2 centerbacks and a right wingback, to strengthen our defensive line and unlock the untapped potential of our tactics on the right flank. While I adore Davit Mikadze on paper and extended his loan, his form on the pitch left something to be desired more often than not last year.
(While Saba Nadiradze is a natural on the right, I would prefer to deploy him as our inverted wingback on the left to exploit his right-footedness.)
In the end, we conclude the pre-season with a 19-man squad.
We have to count ourselves fortunate, in that the primary player I had my eye on decided to speak to us after our promotion to the dizzying heights of the Erovnuli Liga 2, when previously he had scoffed at our interest, questioning whether our stature matched his ambitions. (If I had a nickel for every player who was available on a free but declined our sultry advances, I’d be a rich man…in any currency.)
Our primary target, Nikolai Kuznetsov,was the first player to sign on the dotted line – an established Kazakh U21 international whose contract with Qairat had expired. He is an upgrade in every sense of the word, and will step directly into our 1st XI. Of course, he commands a hefty salary for having deigned to join us — at $400/week, he is our most expensive player, by far.
Uchana Janashia also joins on a free transfer following the expiration of his Sulori contract. He will retrain as a wide centerback and play from the bench, offering us depth at centerback and in the midfield. (We unfortunately missed out on our other centerback targets.)
We also won the race to sign Temur Vashakidze from Zestaponi – a wildly promising young attacker, who will be our primary option from the bench for both inverted winger positions, and may have the potential to crack the 1st XI if he can develop.
In terms of depth and squad rotation, we certainly do not have the need for 2 full XIs. But I think we are covered.
Kurdadze remains our starting keeper, with Tato Kupatadze promoted from the reserves to serve as his backup.
Our starting back 3 is familiar – Zurab Dadianidze at libero, with Irakli “Ibra” Ibragimovi and Ramin Əhmədov at centerback. Giorgi Sanikidze and Janashia provide coverage for the back 3, from the bench.
Kuznetsov and Nadiradze will be our wingbacks, supported by Mikadze (who is the 19th man on the roster, and thus will not be on the bench for most matches). Janiko Bezhanidze is our backup on the left, and will play from the bench to ensure coverage across the pitch (since Nadiradze can shift to the right if necessary).
Our central midfield pairing will again be comprised of Inal Pukhaev and Kirkitadze. Ivane Lotuashvili and Erkomaishvili will both play from the bench; the latter has immense potential, and will deputize both at mezzala and advanced playmaker.
The Board’s expectations are low – to fight bravely against relegation. And while I would set my sights much higher, the squad threw a fit when I suggested a top-half finish was possible.
Which is a problem we shall have to remedy.
March 2025 – Squad Assessment; Odds & Ends.
Though they are a notoriously unreliable barometer, I have to be pleased with our pre-season friendlies. We’re playing well, and the lads seem to have developed some camaraderie.
Yet, it isn’t just the Board and squad who see a relegation battle on the horizon. The oddsmakers have put us at 150-1 for the title, predicting a 9th place finish. We do not merit any mention in the media’s pre-season Dream XI.
We may need that camaraderie in the days ahead, should results start to go against us. Riding the wave of optimism from last year’s promotion, we sell 69 season tickets, which may not look like much, but it is a 56.81 percent year-on-year increase from last year’s 44. (I try to explain the concept of exponential growth to Avto, but he’s too busy jabbering about the new Katy Perry album to let it sink in.)
Our first match is away to last year’s Liga 3 champions, Zestaponi — a proper measuring stick if ever there was one. Let’s be honest, though, it was an ugly, cold night of sloppy football. Yet we claim all 3 points with a 1-nil victory, thanks to a debut goal from Vashakidze after our hosts were reduced to 10 men.
The home opener sees us square off against the Kibble Munchers, which prompts the supporters to gleefully sing about their captain’s preferences in the bedroom, set to the tune of the classic “My Bologna Has a First Name” ad. Unfortunately, it only served to motivate our visitors, as we created but could not convert numerous chances in a 2-1 loss.
The same story repeats against title-favorites Rustavi, on matchday 3. A 2-1 loss when a different result was in the cards, if only we’d taken our chances. We’re doing many things right, and are playing scintillating, attacked-minded football. The pieces of the puzzle simply need to come together.
After the draw with Skuri, I couldn’t sleep. We’d fought back from 2-nil down, but it wasn’t good enough. I scoured our meager scouting reports in search of an available centerback, to no immediate avail. The players who would improve our XI are not interested in joining a club of our stature.
Exhausted, in the cold light of the breaking dawn, I am at a loss as I go hunting for the first cup of coffee of the day.
The stress is truly beginning to wear on me, even as our fortunes improve.
When you have insomnia, you’re never really asleep. And you’re never really awake.
If only I had someone to share the burden with, to confide in. A significant other. A friend. An assistant I could trust to not go running to the Chairman. Anyone.
The reality is that I don’t think I’ve ever had a real relationship. Not really. Just before she was arrested for forging church relics, my last girlfriend accused me of only being attracted to a certain kind of girl. It was kind of hard to understand what she meant by it, though — she was pretty out of it on horse tranquilizers.
June 2025 – European Review.
In the Champions League, Massimiliano Allegri’s Manchester City defeated Julian Nagelsmann’s Bayern, 1-nil, to keep Ol’ Big Ears in Manchester.
Didier Deschamps’ Chelsea won the Europa League with a 3-nil win over Tite’s Athletic.
And, in the Europa Conference League, Ruben Baraja’s Valencia beat Patrick van Leeuwen’s Wolfsburg, 1-nil.
In the active leagues: Massimiliano Allegri’s Manchester City successfully defended their Premier League title; Carlo Ancelloti’s Real Madrid matched City, defending their La Liga title; Julian Nagelsmann’s Bayern did Bayern things; Abelardo’s Roma dethroned Pep Guardiola’s Juventus in Italy, leading to His Baldness getting sacked; and, Mauricio Pochettino’s PS-****ing-G reasserted their dominance in Ligue 1.
With insomnia, nothing is real. Everything is far away. Everything is a copy of a copy of a copy.
Desperate for a change of pace, anything to change the rhythms of my days, I move to a new house — 1537 Kaghaldis Kucha, on the outskirts of Sagarejo. A lone house in a quiet neighborhood, across the street from — as the name of the street would suggest — a paper mill, long-since shut down.
The lawn hasn’t been mowed in years, and is full of weeds. More to the point, the large three-story house is run-down; the leasing agent says it has been years since anyone lived here. Which is fine by me. I could use the space and the quiet. When you add in the basement (which tends to flood in the rain), I arguably have 4 stories, all to myself. The only noise is a city bus which passes by every hour or so, empty unless I’m on board.
Most of the windows are boarded up. The stairs creak and groan, ready to collapse at the slightest provocation. There’s dust everywhere. The rusty plumbing leaks. The electrical system is shot — turn on one light, and another light in the house goes out.
For all its flaws, it feels like home.
Even if I’m still unable to sleep.
Yet, we certainly aren’t getting any mileage out of the academy. We need to start attracting and developing better players.
I asked Aleksandre if we were using the Harry Potter grading system, upon receiving his report. He just looked at me as if I was the crazy one. Classic muggle nonsense, that.
The less I sleep, the more we win. Those appear to be the rules. The doctor tried telling me that you can’t die of insomnia, but I’ve done my research. Maybe I’m dead already.
With Khurtsilava‘s contract due to expire in a few months’ time, I’ve taken to informally interviewing assistants to find someone who I can truly rely on, going forward. I haven’t had any luck this far. Case in point? The last guy seemed like a decent fit until I realized that he looked like a Mormon Neville Longbottom. And then I couldn’t “unsee” it. That was never going to work.
You just can’t force these things, no matter how much I could use someone to deflect the stress.
The media’s incessant speculation about a possible takeover doesn’t help. Nor does Pukhaev’s sudden penchant for two-footed 300-inspired tackles, leading to dropped 6 points against Gagra and Samgurali as we were reduced to 10-men early.
Nevertheless, we still find ourselves perched precariously atop the table with 11 matches to play.
As the title race narrows in late September, I was desperate to ease the tension ahead of a title six-pointer away to Rustavi. I was willing to try anything.
On advice of counsel, though, I have to be clear.
I just went in for a sports massage. I didn’t realize it was that kind of establishment.
No, no. Our focus is on the last 4 matches, the first 3 of which will be at the Arsen.
With one match in hand, it’s all to play for, lads.
Last year, we managed to **** away the Liga 3 title outright, before securing promotion through the playoff.
This year, we once again hold our destiny in our own hands.
Gagra is a make-or-break 90 minutes. Yet neither side can make. Nor break. A 1-1 draw ensues. Lively, but not what anyone wanted…except for Rustavi, who claim a 95th minute winner to go 4 points clear.
Having secured a playoff spot, I should be happy. 9 months ago, I would have given almost anything to be where we are. But the margins are thin. I cannot bear the thought of failing to secure promotion at this point.
Samgurali is up next — our match in hand. We make it harder on ourselves than we have to. But 3 points are 3 points. 1 point off Rustavi, with 2 matches to play.
Against Bakhmaro, we are missing 3 starters due to youth international duty — Kurdadze, Əhmədov and Kuznetzov, the same three players who were missing when we squared off against Bakhmaro in September, a 3-2 loss.
Kupatadze needs a big night.
He doesn’t have one.
We concede in the 93rd minute, to draw 4-4. If we had had anything vaguely resembling a goalkeeper, it would have made the difference.
Rustavi, for their part, find a 90th minute winner despite being down to 10 men — meaning we are 3 points back, heading into the final matchday. Rustavi are away to Gagra, while we travel to Merani. We hold the head-to-head tiebreaker, having won 3 of our 4 matches this year. But now, we need some help.
The matches will kick off 48 hours after Rustavi‘s 1-nil (aet) win in the Davit Kipiani Cup final, meaning they will likely have heavy legs. There is, of course, the possibility that adrenaline will see them through.
For the first 45, though, it doesn’t matter. We are poor and concede early…and then again in the 52nd minute. There will seemingly be no miracles today…
In the 60th minute, though, Enukidze pulls one back and gives the traveling supporters a glimmer of hope. But that glimmer quickly fades. We fall 2-1, as Gagra find a late winner. If our late-season form had been only marginally better, we would be promoted as champions.
As it stands, we will face a two-legged playoff against Torpedo Kutaisi, to determine our fate.
December 2025 – Promotion Playoff.
In Kutaisi, we accept the challenge before us. Torpedo are favored and will come planning to dominate play.
But everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.
Just like with Chikhura last year, we need to strike first.
Yet Torpedo are no Chikhura, their high press is relentless. We concede early and it takes Kurdadze saving a penalty to keep us in the match, before Enukidze draws us level in the 59th.
Though Torpedo find a (deserved) winner, we are not dead yet.
The moment of truth arrives in Sagarejo, as takeover rumors once again wash over the local media.
Əhmədov smashes the crossbar in the 38th minute…close. But close is not good enough. We need a goal.
With 45 minutes to play, the tie hangs in the balance. Our aggression is nearly rewarded in the 60th minute, when Torpedo clear off the line. In the 66th minute, however, Enukidze comes good, firing home from 7 yards. It’s the goal we needed.
As much as Torpedo will now attack, we cannot take our foot off of the gas or sacrifice our principles.
The minutes tick past, but neither side finds the back of the net. We head to extra time. Both sides are exhausted. The entire campaign boils down to these final minutes.
Torpedo head off the crossbar in the 97th minute, from a corner. So close to a killing blow…which falls in the 101st minute, with Grigalashvili left free at the near post. We strike back on the stroke of the break, Kuznetsov finding Vashakidze at the back post. 2-2.
We’re not dead yet.
And just when the match seems destined for penalties, Torpedo fail to clear a loose ball. Vashakidze is the first to react, nodding home from 5 yards.
Batten down the hatches, lads. We are less than 4 minutes from the land of milk and honey.
Torpedo equalize in the 119th minute, a heat-seeking missile sneaking past Kurdadze, who has been brilliant all night.
Penalties will decide the tie. We take first, and Vashakidze hammers his penalty into the top right corner. Mukbaniani crumbles under the pressure, leaving Kurdadze to tip it off the crossbar. An early 1-nil advantage.
Əhmədov calmly places his penalty into the bottom left corner…before Kurdadze denies Bilotserkovets. 2-nil.
As Torpedo‘s players crumple to the ground, the Arsen erupts.
Someone pinch me.
The land of milk and honey awaits. We’re going up.
December 2025 – Season Review.
The flood of champagne covering the pitch at the Arsen says it all. In what was the biggest match in club history — so far — we stayed true to ourselves, went for it, and claimed a historic victory before a record crowd.
Several year-end accolades fall our way, with Dadianidze claiming the Erovnuli Liga 2 Player of the Year. Dadianidze is joined in the Erovnuli Liga 2 Best XI by Kurdadze, Enukidze and Apridonidze, while Manager of the Year is bestowed upon yours truly.
I’d be lying if I said I was content with what we’ve accomplished. I’m eager for the new campaign, though I can already feel the pressure mounting — for on the heights, the paths are paved with daggers.
It is imperative that we add depth and quality to the squad, especially at centerback.
The Chairman is already enthusiastically talking about a scouting trip he’d like me to take to East Africa, to watch a few players he’s found on YouTube. So much for a relaxing holiday period.
Goals for 2026: Battle against relegation. Make a run in the Davit Kipiani Cup (our record thus far is abysmal).
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.