Gareji Sagarejo – 2026 Open Thread
The red-eye flight back from Tanzania would be more tolerable, but for the fact that the trip was an utter waste of time.
“Go to Dar es Salaam,” the Chairman said. “Great young talent at Young Africans, ready to sign for us. Name is Athens, or summat. Might be part Greek. I dunno.”
Only, upon my arrival, Tanzanian U21 international Hassan Athans had no clue who I was. He’d certainly never heard of Gareji Sagarejo. And he had no interest in getting on a plane with me, a complete stranger, no matter how much cold, hard cash I tried to press into his hands. (In hindsight, that probably just made it much, much weirder for Hassan.)
I tried showing him the highlights of Kurdadze’s penalty-shootout exploits on YouTube, but even before I hit play, I knew it was a lost cause.
Back to the airport, for another 12 hour flight.
I’ve been on the ground for less than 6 hours. I didn’t even pack an overnight bag.
Not that I’ve slept more than a handful of hours in the weeks since promotion was secured.
As my Giorgi Air flight departs Julius Nyerere International Airport — think Ryan Air, but with less emphasis on customer service — I’m barely aware of the world around me, much less the people next to me as I’m sat in the middle of three seats.
Just another day, blending from one to the next. The fasten seatbelt light flicks off a few minutes later, a pleasant chime ringing throughout the cabin over the din of the engines, as my fellow passengers rise for one reason or another.
From the window seat to my left, a barbed voice I vaguely recognize. From somewhere. Some hazy memory in the distant past, that I can’t quite place.
“There seems to be a problem with the plane.”
Confused, I can only mumble a vague “what?” as I turn to look at the man next to me. His face is familiar, though I cannot quite place it.
“You know that bird that Mr. Bean voiced in The Lion King?”
The sheer randomness of the question catches me off guard. Certainly, I have a vague memory of the animated classic, one I probably haven’t watched in 20 years. “Oh, I love that little, blue guy…Zazu, right?”
“So, yeah. Three of those got caught in the engine.”
(That is how I met Matsil — or, as he preferred, Mat.)
The silence drawing out between us, Mat continues. “You know why they have oxygen masks on planes?”
This new, sharp turn in the conversation continues to confuse and confound in equal measure. “No…to supply oxygen?”
Mat just chuckles as he grabs the emergency card from the seatback in front of him, opening it to pointing at the passive faces on the cartoon figures drawn within. “Oxygen gets you high. In a catastrophic emergency, we’re taking giant, panicked breaths…suddenly, we become euphoric and docile. We accept our fate. Emergency water landing, 600 miles per hour. Blank faces — calm as Hindu cows.”
I chuckle nervously. Am I sitting next to a madman? I try to change the conversation, to bring us back to safer ground.
“So…uhhh… What do you do, Mat?”
Mat just grins. “What do you want me to do?”
“I mean…for a living.”
Mat scoffs. “Why? So you can say, ‘oh, that’s what you do’ and and be a smug little **** about it?”
I chuckle awkwardly as Mat reaches for a briefcase under the seat in front of him.
He turns back, a questioning smirk on his face. “You have a kind of sick desperation in your laugh, Rezo.”
He points to his briefcase and nods down towards mine.
Realization dawns in my sleep-deprived brain. Eventually my mouth reconnects and I mumble out an apologetic acknowledgement of this bizarre circumstances of fate. “Ahh…I get it. We have the same briefcase.”
Mat turns his briefcase towards me, nodding amiably. “Open it.”
Clearly, this man is a lunatic. Nevertheless, what am I supposed to do? We have nearly 12 hours left on this flight.
Best to humor my new friend.
I pop the latch and raise the lid, only to find a stack of scouting reports on Eastern European U15s — many of the same kids I’ve been hearing about.
As I look up, there’s a twinkle in Mat’s eye.
“Football, Rezo. The yardstick of civilization. I’ve been a player…but now, I find, develop and manage…talent. If you were to add a few of my players to any team, any club…you could challenge for titles. With enough of my players, one could blow up the footballing world… If one were so inclined.”
Mat snaps the briefcase shut, winking at me. “No peeking, Rezo. This is my business, after all. The football business.”
We sit quietly, looking at each other for a few moments, before I arch an eyebrow and start shaking my head slowly.
“Mat, you are by far the most interesting ‘single-serving’ friend I’ve ever met.”
Now, it is Mat’s turn to arch an eyebrow at me. But…he seems confused. Perhaps…
“You see, Mat. When you travel and work like I do, everything in life has to be small, self-contained–
“Like a spork. I get it. You’re very clever.”
“How’s that working out for you, Rezo?”
His eyes don’t leave mine.
“Well, uh… Great. Got promoted last year, on penalties.”
Mat nods, a wry grin across his face. “Keep it up, then, Rezo. Keep it right up.”
We pass the rest of the flight in amiable silence.
When we land, we go our separate ways.
Days pass, and there is an itch at the back of my mind. I can’t tell you why I called him.
But I did.
While the trip to Africa did not result in me signing a player, perhaps I’ve solved my problems regarding an assistant.
January/February 2026 – Transfers; Odds & Ends.
My sincere hope was that upon our ascension to the Erovnuli Liga, the floodgates would open such that we would be inundated with promising talents.
Suffice to say that has not happened. Literally or metaphorically.
Mat and I have our work cut out for us. Our immediate focus was on signing a new backup goalkeeper and starting centerback, and we fortunately have been able to secure our primary targets in that regard. Not world-beaters, but sensible signings that give us depth.
Mat’s resourcefulness proves to be the tipping point in getting these signings over the line. He is a night person — while the rest of us are sleeping, he’s working.
Joni Bebiashvili arrives on loan from Torpedo to take over as one of our starting centerbacks, replacing Ibra. (This could have been awkward, but I left it in Mat’s hands. He had a few words with the management in Kutaisi, and suddenly they’re willing to make this happen.)
Giorgi Chikobava signs on a free from the Kibble Munchers, replacing Kupatadze as our backup goalkeeper. Poor Kupatadze…he’s makes senior 2 appearances, both against Bakhmaro, conceding 7 goals over the course of 90 minutes to see us drop 5 points, arguably conceding the Erovnuli Liga 2 title to Rustavi as a direct result. Mat has vowed that he’ll never play for us again.
I find that, with Mat’s arrival, things are becoming less hazy. I’m able to sleep. De-stress. He is the answer to all of my prayers.
Amidst the newfound energy and spirit brought by Mat’s arrival, takeover rumors begin anew. News also filters through that we will receive $103k for television rights this year, more than double the payments in the second tier. It is welcome, but it will take more — so much more — to set our finances right.
Mat’s primary job over the next few months is to identify a number of players we can sign on a Bosman, to continue strengthening our defense and improving the squad, as a whole. The matches will come fast in thick in the Erovnuli Liga, as we must respect the international windows scattered across the calendar. No more of this “one match per week” nonsense for an entire season. Not for the likes of us, no.
Our pre-season friendlies have gone well. Yet Mat and I cannot help but be nervous. We know it is a big step up to the top tier.
The Board have little hope. We are expected to battle “bravely” against relegation. Again.
The oddsmakers are equally pessimistic, putting at 1000-1 for the title, predicting a 10th place finish. We do not merit any mention in the media’s pre-season Dream XI.
Notwithstanding the pessimism of all and sundry, our supporters are boarding the hype train in droves. We sell 171 season tickets, a massive year-on-year increase from last year’s 69 tickets.
And in the first match away to Dinamo Batumi, we prove that there may be reason for optimism after all — a narrow 1-nil loss where create chances and nearly equalize at the end.
Thankfully, we don’t have to wait much longer for the first Erovnuli Liga goal in club history, as Nanobashvili heads home in the 7th minute of our home opener against Lokomotivi. We settle for a draw in the end. Frustrating, but a fair result on the night.
Late in the month, reinforcements arrive in the shape of Lasha Lezhava, to give us a 20-man squad. Truth be told, we failed to secure 2-3 additional, immediate signings as they opted to join other clubs who have — in their estimation — better squads.
They may be right. For at least a while. And dying in their beds, many years from now, Mat and I know that they would trade all the days from this day to that, for one chance — just one chance — to come back here and tell our enemies that they can offer them contracts, but they’re signing for Gareji.
Mat has enjoyed far more success in securing future signings — putting those scouting reports of his to good use. To be fair, Mat has admitted that the easiest thing to do sometimes is to let others do your scouting for you. To that end, he has secured the signings of Mite Petkovski, Gevorg Khachatryan, and Edgar Harutyunyan — U21 internationals from North Macedonia and Armenia who are currently unattached, each of whom has arrives on a long-term trial in advance of formally signing on their 18th birthday.
These 9 weeks have passed in a blur. The matches approach with virtually no warning.
Though we remain in desperate need of defensive signings and reinforcements, we’ve managed to make ourselves hard to beat by having a stingy defense — conceding only 18 goals, second to Dila Gori. I’m not entirely sure why we’re so strong defensively, after leaking goals last year. But I’m not going to complain.
Dinamo Tbilisi have stumbled the last few weeks, but are poised to run away with the league while the rest of us fight over the scraps from their table — the margins have truly been thin in most matches. Only Gagra appear to be out of their depth, though Rustavi have begun falling behind the pace set by the mid-table clubs.
But we have to focus on ourselves. With the summer break granting some respite and a more relaxed pace ahead, it is time to renew contracts to the extent possible. And, if it is not, to start working to secure replacements.
June 2026 – European Review.
In the Champions League, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United continued the city’s dominance in the competition, claiming United’s 2nd title in 3 years with a 2-1 win over Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool.
Abelardo’s Roma won the Europa League with a 2-nil (aet) win over Ronald Koeman’s Arsenal.
And, in the Europa Conference League, Steven Gerrard’s Atalanta beat Pedro Martins’ Sevilla, 1-nil.
In the active leagues: Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool ran away with the Premier League title; Oscar Lopez’s Barcelona claimed the La Liga title by virtue of the head-to-head results with Carlo Ancelloti’s Real Madrid; Julian Nagelsmann’s Bayern did Bayern things; Roberto Martinez’s Milan won their first Serie A title in 15 years; and, Mauricio Pochettino’s PS-****ing-G did PS-****ing-G things.
Mat’s plan to rely on the scouting efforts of others? Nothing short of ****ing genius.
We’ve signed two U21 Kazakh internationals, who arrive on long-term trials pending their 18th birthdays — Iurii Iskakov (note: the third ‘i’ is silent) and Daniar Omarov. Iskakov will join our central midfield, obviously. For Omarov, however, I have far grander plans.
We’ve also secured the signing of Sevit “The Lion” Aslan on a free from Fenerbahce — an established U19 international, he will arguably be the best player at the club when he arrives. While I had to think long and hard about his wage demands (in excess of $800/week, he will be our highest earner), in the end I had to agree with Mat — young Sevit could be an exceptional player.
Mat is also quite optimistic about the forthcoming academy class, and we’ve started making plans to implement my long-term strategy for youth development. We’re of like mind about that, we are.
2026 World Cup Review.
Hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico, the first 48 team World Cup played out in a relatively straightforward fashion.
Peter Bosz’s Holland took home the title, putting paid to decades of frustration, defeating Stefano Pioli’s Italy, 2-1.
Honorable mentions to the likes of Turkey, Norway and Austria, who reached the quarterfinals. A frustrating Group Stage for the African contingent, however, as Senegal, Ghana and Nigeria all failed to advance from ther respective, forgiving 3-team groups.
A solid run of form sees us with breathing room, 14 points above Dinamo Batumi and Rustavi, who are level on 21 points. (Mat’s implementation of training routines he found on YouTube has worked better than one might have expected.)
There’s a media furor building over whether we can sustain a push for Europa Conference League qualification. As much as we would love to set out for foreign shores, we do not want to put the cart before the horse.
If we remain focused on the here and now, we will get there. But if we buy into the hype, we will stumble. It’s that simple.
The unpredictability of Georgian football has taken its toll these past few weeks, as we claim and are denied results unexpectedly.
Saburtalo offered their managerial vacancy, but at a when they were 16 points behind us, firmly in the relegation zone. (Not tempted in the slightest, brother.)
6 matches later, we’ve annihilated league leaders Dinamo Tbilisi 4-nil at the Arsen (after they were reduced to 10 men) and sit level with Telavi and Lokomotivi on points, while also having gotten hammered by Torpedo in the Davit Kipiani Cup quarterfinals.
Truth be told, the loss to Torpedo hurt. Not because of any lingering grudge or ill will, but rather because I felt the competition was up for grabs given the remaining sides. There’s always next year.
If we are to qualify for European competition, we’ll have to do it the old fashioned way — grinding out results in the league.
Our academy class is far less impressive than we had hoped. The only player worth considering is Giorgi Bachiashvili.
Speaking of which, everyone is stumbling towards the finish line in the Erovnuli Liga. With the 3rd and final Europa Conference League spot guaranteed to be awarded through the Cup, we need to finish in the top 3. Telavi is right on our backs, but we are 5 points clear of Dila Gori and Lokomotivi.
3 matches to play. Whether we finish 2nd or 3rd is of little consequence.
We simply need to secure the Europa Conference League position that is within our sights.
We utterly choke against Saburtalo, losing 3-1 and falling to 3rd. A late win against relegated Gagra on Matchday 35 pushes us back to 2nd, confirming a Europa Conference League spot…so, why do I feel so empty over losing to Telavi, to fall back into 3rd?
If anything, the $12.37k in prize money feels like — dare I say it — too much. We don’t deserve it.
I don’t deserve it.
We cannot drop points like that, if we hope to accomplish our goals.
December 2026 – Season Review.
I usually can rely on Mat for nothing if not a bleak, pessimistic outlook on life. He’d call it “realistic.” But often he’s just being a negative ****.
I am thus thankful for his optimism as the curtain falls on our first year in the top tier. He argues that we have accomplished far more than we had a right to dream of. And that the squad is on the verge of dramatic improvement thanks to the talented young players he has signed, joined on extended trials, and will formally join the first team squad over the course of the 2027 campaign.
The more I think about it, the more I realize how right he is.
Good vibes only for the holidays this year.
Helping with those vibes? Bebiashvili extends his contract, shortly before being named the Erovnuli Liga Young Player of the Year and being awarded the Ioseb Jughashvili Medal, given to the most stylish young Georgian footballer in the world. (The award criteria is rather vague, if you ask me — hairstyles and fashion senes, for a football award?)
Chikobava, Erkomaishvili and Kirkitadze are also named to the Davit Kipiani Cup Next XI.
We are turning a page. We do not intend to renew the contracts of Sanikidze, Ibragimovi, Janashia, Bezhanidze, and Pukhaev — they simply are not good enough. What got us where we are, will not get us where we’re going. (Lezhava would join them, but for the “avoid relegation” extension clause in his contract.)
For their part, Nanobashvili and Enukidze have been offered new contract terms, but they refuse to accept a reduced role in the squad. They may have been “star players” in the past, but the past is past, lads. Absent agreement on a reduced role, they’re gone. We’ll backfill with free transfers.
The future is bright.
Goals for 2027: Challenge for the Erovnuli Liga title. Not embarrass ourselves in Europe. 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.
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