Gareji Sagarejo – 2027 Open Thread
January 2027 – Transfers & Squad Review.
2027 will be the most challenging year we’ve faced.
The days when we could surprise our domestic opponents have long since passed. We are a known quantity now. And, more to the point, we will have to balance our domestic campaign with the Europa Conference League qualifiers. Which means, of course, that we need to up our game.
We had already signed 5 players, due to arrive over the course of the campaign. We needed to backfill further, though, given all of the departures, and thus welcome 4 additional players to the squad — 2 loans, and 2 on permanent deals. Let’s pause briefly to take a look at where things sit in what will be a pivotal year.
Kurdadze has voiced some reluctance to signing a new contract. Accordingly, one of my priorities this year has to be getting Chikobava minutes — moonlighting for the 1st team and starting for the reserves when possible. I don’t want to be in the market for a new starter next year.
Zurab Dadianidze has been our libero for the last 3 years, each of which has seen him named as our Player of the Year. He has also secured his place in club history, earning club icon status — a testament to both his quality and the importance of the position/role within PM Draugrson.
The reality, however, is that he has taken us as far as he can. Our back 3 has been in desperate need of improvement, even if the wide centerback roles have been our weak points. Going forward, we cannot allow sentiment to guide us.
Fortunately, we secured a ready-made replacement last year — Daniar Omarov, who fits my preferred “deep lying advanced forward” archetype and has been playing at libero in friendlies with the reserves and U19s since his arrival last year (since we can’t set individual training regimes for players on trial). There is no question about it — Omarov will take over in the 1st XI the moment he becomes eligible.
At wide centerback, 2 loan signings will feature — Joni Bebiashvili (whose loan from Torpedo was extended through December 2027) and Giorgi Mskhvilidze (from Dinamo Tbilisi). One of our big goals this year is to sign one or both of them on a free transfer, once they become eligible to negotiate in July.
Their primary backup will be Vasil Mikeltadze (signed on a free from Varketili), with Ramin Əhmədov also available. Mikeltadze is a big upgrade in the squad. Last year, he would have stepped directly into our 1st XI; Mskhvilidze‘s arrival is the only reason he doesn’t do so now. Əhmədov‘s primary strength at this point is his versatility, in that he is capable of providing coverable across the back 3 and as a ball-winning midfielder. However, he is not good enough to remain with the squad as anything more than coverage, going forward.
Pushing Əhmədov further into the periphery? Mite Petkovski, who officially joins the squad in September. When signed last year, Petkovski was a sure-fire starter. Now? The questions will be: (1) whether Bebiashvili and/or Mskhvilidze accept our advances over the summer; and (2) how he develops vis-a-vis our loanees and Mikeltadze.
At right wingback, Nikolai Kuznetsov remains our starting complete wingback. I love him, but he’s very inconsistent. Gevorg Khachatryan will provide long-term competition for the role, joining officially in August; until then, Giorgi Bakhtadze will play with the 2nd XI. (Mat has open about his desire to banish Bakhtadze to the “shadow realm,” after binge-watching the Marvel movies over the holidays. I can’t disagree, in all honesty.)
At left wingback, long-time squad member Saba Nadiradze faces competition from Edgar Harutyunyan for the starting position. While the competition hangs in the balance at the moment, Harutyunyan seems to have vast potential. Regardless of who wins out, the “loser” will see minutes from the bench for the 1st XI.
With the non-renewal of contracts last year, we entered the 2027 campaign without a bona fide ball-winning midfielder.
Problem? Perhaps. Əhmədov is in over his head at this level.
The solution? Archil Gigauri, last seen squealing in anguish throughout Gagra‘s catastrophic, calamitous 2026 campaign which saw them relegated after claiming a mere 10 points, with a -61 goal difference. He had no shortage of suitors, so we’ve made him our second-highest earner (at $575/week). A big upgrade.
At mezzala, we are also thin thanks to the departures of various midfielders from our 2026 squad. Besik “Captain” Kirkitade continues on as our starter, backed up by Giorgi Ugrekhelidize (on loan from Dinamo Batumi, having declined our contract offer last year). Ugrekhelidze signed as a squad player, and should see significant minutes from the bench both in the central midfield and as advanced playmaker.
Iurii Iskakov officially arrives in late March, to serve primarily as a backup for Gigauri, but also at mezzala as needed. Either way, he will also get substantial minutes from the bench with the 1st XI.
It is a solid midfield 4, in which the 3 new players are all an upgrade on the players they’ve replaced from last year’s squad.
There will be no change up top, from the front 3 that lead our attack in the second half of the 2026 campaign. Givi Erkomaishvili will be our advanced playmaker, flanked by Seyit “The Lion” Aslan and Omar Apridonidze.
Aslan is our highest earner ($1k/week) and most dangerous player. We need a big year from him, to improve upon the 2026 campaign.
The urgent need, entering the transfer window, was to add quality to the 1st XI at centerback and central midfield. There can be no denying that we’ve improved the squad substantially since last year, and that we will continue to add both depth and quality over the course of the coming campaign.
February 2027 – Odds & Ends.
The last few weeks before the campaign kicks off in earnest pass by in a flash.
We implement a new training regime and secure funding from the Board to put the players on a full Telleusian diet — having introduced grapefruit to the club canteen last year, there is no room for half measures now that we’re in Europe.
As the old saying goes, “a grapefuit today wins a trophy tomorrow.” Imagine what 5 grapefruits per day will accomplish. It’s simple math.
Besides, Mat negotiated a great deal for a steady supply of fair-trade, conflict-free Spanish grapefruit on a weekly flight from Murcia (only the best for the lads). The only hitch? We had to pay for 5 years’ worth, in advance. (Mat put it on my club credit card, as if I wouldn’t notice.)
Fortunately, the bill arrived right after the Erovnuli Liga annouced that teams will each receive $111k for television rights this year, up from $108k in 2026. So the bean counters in Accounting were far less outraged than I expected.
I’d hoped that our pre-season friendlies would prove the value our dietary renaissance. We’ve been dominant. Yet we are not putting teams away in the manner expected of us, and we’re a bit leaky at the back.
But it’s too late to second guess ourselves now.
The Board lack our confidence. We are — once gain — expected to do nothing more than battle “bravely” against relegation.
The oddsmakers are equally pessimistic, albeit slightly less so than last year — we are 700-1 for the title, predicted to finish dead last. And, again, we do not merit any mention in the media’s pre-season Dream XI.
We look sharp in the opening matches — controlling play, creating chances. If only we were taking those chances…
But we are snatching at them. Dropping points from positions of strength (against Dinamo Batumi), and failing to turn our dominance into goals (Telavi and Dila Gori). There is, of course, a lot of football left to be played.
Some of our success is starting to pay off. The barista I’ve been admiring for years at the local Starbucks, Tamar? She must’ve heard about our forthcoming European campaign, because she gave me a little wink when handing me my drink today, a look of recognition in her eyes.
Mat tells me she isn’t interested and that it’s only customer service. If that’s the case, then why did Tamar ignore him? He was right there, but she only had eyes for me.
We talk and flirt a little over the coming days, but I just can’t bring myself to ask her out. I don’t want to make it awkward. (I already had to stop going to the Starbucks near the house, after I misread a similar situation. There are only 3 Starbucks in town, after all. I can’t be banned from 2 of them.)
June 2027 – European Review.
In the Champions League, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United won their 3rd title in 4 years, defeating Didier Deschamps’ Chelsea on penalties.
Ronald Koeman’s Arsenal avenged last year’s Europa League final loss with a 2-nil win over Pep Guardiola’s Newcastle.
And, in the Europa Conference League, Simone Inzaghi’s Bologna not only has a first name, they beat Antonio Conte’s Everton, 1-nil.
In the active leagues: Massimiliano Allegri’s Manchester City annihilated the Premier League, though nothing can wash off the stink of the 5-1 drubbing inflicted by Ole’s all-conquering United in the Champions League semifinals; Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid won their 4th La Liga title in 6 years, following last year’s runner-up performance on a tiebreaker (in other words, if we were to aggregate the last 2 campaigns, the Virus and Oscar Lopez’s Barcelona would be separated by a mere 2 points); Julian Nagelsmann’s Bayern did Bayern things; Brendan Rodgers’ Juventus reclaimed the Serie A title; and, Mauricio Pochettino’s PS-****ing-G did PS-****ing-G things.
The month does not start off on a good note. Kurdadze throws his toys out of the pram, insisting that he needs to move to a bigger club.
Chikobava is not ready to take over. And the cupboard is bare at the academy.
Alarm bells are ringing, Mat.
In the midst of the fire alarm caused by Kurdadze‘s almost certain departure in 6 months’ time, we are drawn to face Albanian side Teuta Durres in our maiden European voyage. It may not be glamorous, but it is a European tie — a winnable one, at that. We will take any little bit we can get, in terms of both prestige and financial windfall. In terms of our finances, we’ve somewhat stemmed the bleeding, but still find ourselves in the red on the year.
(In terms of finances, Dinamo Tbilisi are the only side in the top 2 tiers not to be running a significant deficit. At the same time, Bakhmaro are the only club to have reverted to semi-professional status, thus far.)
July 2027 – Europa Conference League, 1st Qualifying Round.
We come out the blocks stumbling against Teuta, nervous. Afraid. But the taste of blood in our mouth once our visitors struck meant we counterpunched with a vengeance. At 5-1, it may not have been the “perfect” European debut. Our passage to the Second Round should nevertheless be booked.
The second leg passes by in a blur, with little action of note even after the home side find a goal in the 2nd half. A 1-nil loss on the night means we progress 5-2 on aggregate.
We will face Lokomotiva Zagreb in the Second Round.
July 2027 – Europa Conference League, 2nd Qualifying Round.
The Croatians are a far tougher task than the Albanians. We are thus more than content to allow the first leg in Zagreb to be a stale, turgid scoreless draw. It meant that back “home” at the Poladi, we could be more aggressive.
We take our chances — a delicate chip from Apridonidze securing our passage in the 83rd minute.
We draw Ukrainian giants Zorya in the Third Qualifying Round — Mat initially scoffs at the suggestion that they are a “big” side, until I remind him that it is all relative.
However “unimpressed” we might be at their credentials and pedigree, I’m certain they are even less impressed by ours. And it isn’t like we can even argue that we’re “on form.”
Quite to the contrary.
August 2027 – Europa Conference League, 3rd Qualifying Round.
In Luhansk, it is readily apparent that Zorya‘s players are of a different caliber.
It is also apparent that they’ve looked past us. Erkomaishvili strikes in the 6th minute to give us a surprise lead (a surprise, that is, to our hosts and the hipster neutrals watching the stream who only just learned where Georgia is on the map)
Our hosts fight back and draw level, all is set for a draw when we burst into life in the dying minutes. Iskakov in the 87th, to finish off a ruthless counterattack. Then, Aslan in the 89th. I would’ve bit your hand off had you offered us a draw before kickoff.
But we will be taking a monumental 3-1 win back “home,” to the Boris Paichadze.
We expect an avalanche of Ukrainian fury. All bets are off if we can hold the line during the first half, or snatch a goal…
…in the 4th minute, a deft chip from Omarov hits Aslan in stride. 1-nil on the night. Epic.
At the half, we can almost taste it. We have no business being 3 goals to the good, on paper. 45 minutes to play.
On the hour mark, Kirkitadze makes it 2-nil on the night as we break forward at pace, an intricate pass-and-move sequence allowing our diminutive mezzala to hit the gap.
15 minutes later, Zorya‘s defense dither on the ball in their own defensive third, and then play a square ball across the back — substitute Ugrekhelidze reads it all day, and punishes them accordingly. Before the Ukrainians catch their breath, Ugrekhelidze has his brace. Mat cavorts in glee in the touchline, but its almost as if no one can see him — for all eyes are on young Giorgi, who only recently signed on the dotted line to confirm a permanent transfer (on a free) at the end of his contract.
It is arguably the best performance of our tenure.
Belenenses await in the next round.
August 2027 – Europa Conference League, 4th Qualifying Round.
Ahead of the trip to Lisbon, we confirm the extension of Bebiashvili and Mskhvilide‘s loans through the end of the 2028 campaign. Our goal had been to sign them on free transfers — Torpedo Kutaisi and Dinamo Tbilisi put an end to that, however, by exercising their 1-year contract options. Meaning our plans are simply delayed for a year.
Khachatryan also officially joins after his extended “trial,” to give us official depth at right back.
We sit 180 minutes from a possible berth in the Group Stage. We’ve tried not to talk about it. To dream about it. But it is tangible. Within our reach. In theory, at least.
Like Zorya, Belenenses seem to underestimate the threat we pose. Gigauri disabuses them of any such notions in the 7th minute, stepping in to dispossess Namaso. He lays it off for Nadiradze, who immediately feeds Aslan in the channel. 1-nil.
Again, like Zorya, the Portuguese fight back and bring the match back on level terms. But we are not done for, not against a team that continues to sit deep. Tentative. Wary, at having been stung once by Aslan. And we sting them again — Aslan finding a second in the 35th after being set free by Erkomaishvili.
Belenenses refuse to break, however, and fight back to secure a 3-2 win. Having twice taken the lead, the final scoreline is a kick in the gut — not an undeserved one, mind. But still a kick in the gut.
Our fortunes rest on 90 minutes in Tbilisi. We do not have a squad truly capable of mounting a battle on 2 fronts. Advancing in Europe would be a financial windfall the likes of which we can barely wrap our heads around. Yet, it would possibly come at the expense of finishing in the European positions for next year, as we sit 1 point off Dila Gori in 3rd.
Notwithstanding this practical reality, Mat and I are of one mind about the situation — as we are about so many things. We will go for it. Better to go down swinging having dared to take a punch, than to surrender meekly.
Less than 3 minutes after kickoff, the first chance falls our way — Olivera saving from Erkomaishvili, with the rebound falling to Aslan. 10 minutes later, Nadiradze curls one off the post as Erkomaishvili goes close minutes later. We are in a groove.
In the 27th minute, Aslan whips a corner to the near post, where a poor defensive header sees the ball fall to Kirkitadze at the top of the box. He picks out the top corner with an awkward volley to give us a 4-3 lead on aggregate.
I sit back and let Mat take the halftime team chat. With 45 minutes to play, he has the measure of the room — his brand of righteous, poetic fury striking the perfect tone.
As expected, Beleneses come racing out of the gates — a wide open match ensues, Erkomaishvili hits the post in the 50th minute. It’s a cliche, but the next goal could be everything.
With 20 minutes to play, the tie still hangs in the balance. 2-nil in our favor on the night. The tension rising. Ugrekhelidze enters the fray, to maintain our press and threaten in transition and possession.
In the 81st minute, Vestergaard hammers home a corner to bring the visitors back level on aggregate. We immediately counterpunch, Aslan found in a sliver of space at the back post…only for the goal to be called back for offsides.
And just when it feels like extra time is inevitable, Apridonidze heads past Olivera from close range…the Portuguese are irate, screaming for offsides. Truth be told, it is a close call, but the goal stands. 3-1 on the night, 5-4 on aggregate…at the death.
Belenenses collapse at the final whistle. An epic, historic night.
When the team bus arrives back in Sagarejo at 5am, I hand Mat the keys for the drive home. I don’t trust myself behind the wheel. I’m still too euphoric.
I close my eyes as we drive in silence. After a few minutes, I ask Mat if he has any plans to deal with the squad rotation over the next few months, as we fight on two fronts. I laugh weakly, daunted by the task in front of us. He doesn’t respond. I assume he’s just thinking, until I hear horns honking and the unmistakable sound of our dilapidated Lada Niva accelerating rapidly.
I open my eyes to find us careening down the middle of a dark road outside the city, Mat sitting beside me with a wild look in his eyes.
“What are you doing, Mat?!”
“What do you wish you’d done before you died, Rezo?”
I don’t respond. As a car goes flying by, inches from where I sit, Mat repeats the question, shouting this time.
“I don’t know, Mat! Paint a self-portrait?! Build a house?!”
Cars continue to fly past us, heading in the other direction. Mat’s grin only widens, so I turn the question back on him. He just shrugs.
“I don’t know, Rezo.”
Now it’s my turn to shout. “Get in the right lane, Mat!”
“You have to know, Rezo! If you died now, how would you feel about your life?!”
The eerie, steady calm in his voice is almost hypnotic. If we weren’t doing 105 on a dark road, heading straight towards oncoming traffic.
“I don’t know, Mat. Nothing good! Is that what you want to hear?!”
“Come on! Not good enough, Rezo.”
“Stop ****ing around, Mat! Steer!”
“Look at you, Rezo. Advancing to the Group Stage isn’t a weekend retreat. It’s not a squad rotation seminar. Stop trying to control everything and just let go!”
Cars continue to fly past on either side, we’re inches from a headlong collision.
“Let go, Rezo!”
And with that, he lets go of the steering wheel.
We begin to slowly drift fully into the left-hand lane, as the lights of a truck approach rapidly, horn blaring.
What must have only been a few minutes later, I awake. Upside down in a muddy drainage ditch. Somehow alive, but pinned in the car, as the engine sputters its final breath.
I’d never been in a car accident before. Mat was nowhere to be seen. The passenger door is open, so I figured he’d made his way out.
When I finally manage to extricate myself from behind the steering wheel, I find that we crashed only a few blocks from home.
I stumble in as the sun rises, to find Mat cutting grapefruit in the kitchen. Just as muddy as I am, still with a wild look in his eye.
“That, Rezo, was a near-life experience, yeah?!”
I say nothing. Still in shock, perhaps.
He just claps me on the shoulder amiably and heads off to his room to take a nap.
“Feel better, Rezo. We got Saburtalo on Sunday, and the Chairman called. A big check arrived from UEFA, sounds like.”
One surreal day after another. The check from UEFA clears our accounts and, overnight, we become the second richest club in the country (behind Dinamo Tbilisi), with more than $3M in the bank.
A strange sense of dissociation washes over me as we watch the draw from Nyon — and a very favorable draw it is. Though I would have preferred Group B, we avoided the “big” Spanish, German and British clubs, and will face Partizan, Slavia Praha, and Oleksandriya.
We’ve vastly over-performed even the most wild expectations on the continent. Our only goal during the Group Stage is thus to not **** ourselves. Literally or metaphorically.
Domestically, we’re locked in a 4-way race for 3rd. The 2nd XI will be responsible for all Davit Kipiani Cup matches and certain Erovnuli Liga matches. We may pay the price for this, of course — the squad lacks the depth that we need to rotate XIs as often as Mat and I would like.
Stepping aside from the narrative for a moment, this qualifying campaign confirms (yet again) something I have firmly believed for years about FM. Specifically, that the AI does not see low-reputation clubs as a threat and often becomes both complacent and incredibly vulnerable to hyper-aggressive tactics in a “David vs. Goliath” situation.
Scanning through the Zorya and Belenenses players, if they’d set out aggressively and tried to take the game to us, they could have steamrolled us. At any time. By sheer force of will. By playing us “straight,” it gives us an opening. All we have to do is take it, which is by no means a sure thing.
In contrast, now that we’re past our 1st year in the Erovnuli Liga, Georgian clubs seem to do a far better job of nullifying us, in possession, and exposing our weaknesses.
Maybe it is just confirmation bias. But this is how I’ve played as an underdog in saves for years — the more aggressive I am, the better it seems to work during this initial phase, when our reputation is far beneath that of our opponents. (Once that gap narrows, we typically enter another phase for 1-2 years, where we are reputable enough for our opponents to take us seriously, but lack the quality to break them down.)
This isn’t unlike real-life, where teams are often accused (rightly or wrongly) of looking past smaller opposition. Where, once the first domino falls in a particular game, it is hard to interrupt the pattern.
9 matches in one month is a big ask. At least they’re all at home. Except for the two matches at the Boris Paichazde, which counts as our “home” for the night.
Yet we show up. A 2-1 win over Slavia on Matchday 1 of the Group Stage sees us collect $594k in prize money — a massive windfall, given our total income in 2026 was $751k — on top of a record $24k gate receipts. We repeat the feat against Oleksandriya, which allows us to start dreaming about the knockout rounds.
October 2027 – International Break.
I cannot get the club’s newfound riches out of my mind. There’s only one thing to do.
(No, Mat. We are not asking the Chairman to give us our paychecks in singles.)
They deny our request to expand the club’s scouting range, but no matter. Mat will convince them eventually. One way or another.
The November international window arrives at the conclusion of yet another tough stretch of matches.
Hammered in Belgrade — the 2-nil scoreline not revealing the extent to which we were taken apart. We did the Serbians on Matchday 4, though — claiming a hard-fought 2-1 win to all but guarantee passage to the knockout rounds.
Utterly surreal, as we simultaneously battle for 3rd and nearly have it in our grasp, notwithstanding a loss to Dila Gori. Narrow margins.
Once again, we are left frustrated by the youth academy graduates — Amiran Adeishvili being the only player of note this year. It is disappointing, to say the least. It’s perhaps time to put someone else in charge…but only when the turmoil dies down, as takeover rumors have once again surfaced.
We secure arguably undeserved wins in Prague and then in Politekhnik, along with a come-from-behind 4-2 win over Dinamo Tbilisi to close out the Erovnuli Liga campaign, as our reserves claim the Regional Eastern Zone title on the final matchday. And epic few days to conclude the campaign, which I would like to think serve as a marker for all that is to come…
…even if we have yet to claim a trophy during our tenure.
Notwithstanding all that we have accomplished, Kurdadze remains unwilling to sign a new contract.
December 2027 – Season Review.
There can be no dispute. We have arrived.
Though we haven’t won anything (technically), I’d like to think we’re winning. At football.
Not actual competitions, no. Winning in a more generalized sense.
(This was the part of my end-of-year dinner speech where Mat threw Cheetos at my head and boo’d loudly, much to the delight of the U19s. I can’t blame him. It was a very “unintentional Brendan Rodgers” moment.)
The comedic break was welcome, to be honest. It’s all gotten a little awkward, in terms of our inability to claim silverware… Less Brendan-lad, and more “Ole Gunnar Solskjaer before he started winning all those Champions Leagues with United,” you know?
The accolades are thin this year despite all we have accomplished. Mskhvilidze wins the Erovnuli Liga Player of the Year, Young Player of the Year, GFF Young Player of the Year and the Ioseb Jughashvili Medal, in addition to be named to the Erovnuli Liga Best XI. All of which explains why we will open the checkbook next summer to sign him on a free transfer, if Dinamo Tbilisi fail to extend his contract.
Ugrekhelidze and Chikobava are named to the Davit Kipiani Cup Next XI — a less prestigious award, perhaps, but not one to laugh at. I’m proud of them, even if I still refuse to hand the No. 1 jersey to Chikobava for the coming campaign.
Goals for 2028: Win something. Challenge for the Erovnuli Liga title and Davit Kipiani Cup. Qualify for the 2028/29 Europa Conference League Group Stage.
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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