Gareji Sagarejo – 2028 Open Thread
January 2028/February – Transfers, Odds & Ends.
Accordingly, instead of an eggnog-fueled holiday romp, this year it was football, football and more football. (I didn’t even go by the Starbucks to talk with Tamar.)
The Europa Conference League knockout rounds loom large. While we won’t know who our opponents are until late February, we need to prepare. With all of the additions over the course of 2027, however, there is little reason to dig into the transfer market. Instead, we merely look to strengthen the squad as a whole, while saying goodbye to the likes of Kurdadze, Dadianidze, Əhmədov and Lezhava.
(As for Kurdadze, we heard he went for a short holiday in the Maldives while considering a contract offer from Telavi. As a thanks for his years of service, Mat sent him a gift certificate for scuba lessons, with a card that simply read “I hope a shark tries to suck your ****.” He’ll know who it was from.)
We’ve signed 4 players to join the squad this year, after the addition of Ugrekhelidze, who completes his free transfer after a wildly successful year on loan where he was our leading goalscorer, despite operating primarily from he bench.
As a replacement for Kurdadze, whom I hope is bleeding out on a beach somewhere, we put in a cheeky bid for Georgian U21 international Luka Macharadze ($52k; Dinamo Batumi). I can’t imagine why Dinamo Batumi agreed to sell this lad — he could be a monster. We had to double his salary, but I do not care one bit about that. He steps directly into our 1st XI.
Vakhtang Kharshiladze joins on loan from Saburtalo, to give us depth in the back line. While he is technically here to play as a wide centerback with the 2nd XI, with Dadianide‘s departure he will deputize at libero on occasion, and could arguably step into the left wingback spot in a pinch. (It’s funny how, in the course of 2 years we’ve gone from having virtually no serviceable centerbacks to having, if anything, too many.)
Otar Tigishvili arrives on a free from Zestaponi. Ostensibly a central midfielder, Tigishvili was signed to play as a ball-winning midfielder. However, my plan now is to retrain him to play as our left wingback, replacing Nadiradze (who is looking more out of his depth with each passing day) and Harutyunyan (who is little more than a unibrow of unfulfilled potential at this point). Frankly, I’d even thought about retraining Tigishvili to play as a libero or wide centerback, but we have more than adequate coverage in the back 3. Bottom line, if he can retrain successfully, this is an immediate upgrade at left wingback, even if it leaves us with only 1 central midfielder in the 2nd XI.
Finally, Zura “Cheech” Chighladze arrives on a free from Chikhura — ****ing Chikhura. He’s primarily a striker, but will play as an inverted winger on the right, in the 1st XI, with Apridonidze dropping to the bench. When a player like Zura is available, you sign him. It’s that simple.
We thus enter the pre-season with a 22-man squad — the best squad we’ve ever had, even if we are lacking a ball-winning midfielder in our 2nd XI.
To try and remedy the problem (and prepare for the years ahead), we use the Europa Conference League proceeds to splurge on the worldwide scouting package. The Chairman may not be pleased at the expense, but he’s come to trust our judgment. (Well, he trusts my judgment.)
And it isn’t long before scouting reports start to roll in on players from around the globe. Sure, none of the players we are actually interested in are interested moving to Sagarejo. In due course, we will change their minds.
We show relatively well in our pre-season friendlies — fitness levels are where we want them to be, and we’ve looked good in our matches even if the numbers don’t always pencil out.
When it comes time for the draw for the Europa Conference League Second Knockout Round, I’m hoping for a little luck as there are a number of big teams we need to avoid. We are fortunate, and will face Slovan Bratislava. It is a winnable tie, on paper.
Once again, the Board have no confidence in our ability to guide the club towards the top of the table. They claim they’ll be happy if we simply avoid relegation.
The oddsmakers have taken note of our exploits, however — we are 25-1 for the title, with Mskhvilidze named to the media’s pre-season Dream XI.
In the first competitive match of the campaign, we welcome Telavi to the Arsen. The supporters welcome Kurdadze with a sea of shark costumes dancing out-of-synce to a Katy Perry medley, but Chighladze has a far better present for the man who was once heralded in Sagarejo as a hero — hammering home the first goal of the year (and his Gareji career) past the traitorous **** in the 5th minute.
We run out 4-1 winners behind a Chighladze brace and three assists from Tigishvili.
March 2028 – Europa Conference League, Second Knockout Round.
The shine has well and truly rubbed off the apple. If by apple, you mean the warm, fuzzy feeling generated by our curb-stomping of Telavi, as Lokomotivi slap us around on Matchday 2.
Not the result we wanted ahead of the trip to Slovakia. Yet it doesn’t seem to affect our spirit, as Iskakov takes the first chance that falls our way to give us an early lead. Aslan doubles our lead just after the break. The dream continues — a 2-nil win, proving just how far we can go, if the draw continues to work in our favor.
Back in Tbilisi, we fail to get out of 1st gear until the 2nd half, at which point an own goal (instigated by Chighladze) and a strike from Erkomaishvili complete the job.
The fairy tale continues. But at some point, reality must set in. We’ve drawn Ricardo Soares’ Sevilla in the quarterfinals.
Mat and I go out for a celebratory drink upon returning to Sagarejo. Though Mat is getting wound up, I retire early knowing that we host Batumi over the weekend and will need clear heads.
I hear him come home late at night — not alone. But I ignore the sounds from the next room and sleep the sleep of a content, happy man. Everything is coming together. Perhaps I need to get up my courage and talk to Tamar. Now’s the time, really.
The next morning, Mat’s door is closed. I decide to let him sleep it off, and head downstairs for a cup of coffee and to read the latest scouting reports. After a few minutes, I hear someone coming down the stairs and call out.
When there’s no response, I turn…to see Tamar walking into the kitchen, straightening her dress, her hair and makeup all askew.
My thoughts immediately return to the noises I’d heard the night before.
Oh ****. No. No, no, no…
I say nothing, though my jaw must be on the floor. She just looks at me, a saucy look on her face, as she saunters over to pour herself a cup of coffee.
“What a night, yeah? I can hardly believe any of it. The Europa Conference League, the club…after. I haven’t slept a wink.”
Another sly look as she takes a sip of coffee. A smile that I once would have mistaken for flirtatious.
The words are out of my mouth before I notice, even though I know the answer. “What are you doing here?”
The flirtatious look switches to confused, in a flash. “What do you mean, Rezo…?”
I can feel the anger, the hurt swelling within me, as I shout it out this time. “What the hell are you doing here?!”
She just looks right back at me. And I can see the confusion turn to hurt. Before turning to anger of her own.
She walks out the door without looking back. My heart is racing a mile a minute.
I turn to look up the stairs, and Mat is standing practically behind me, a smirk plastered across his face as he meets my eyes. He chuckles and moves to pour himself coffee. I slump at the table, picking up the scouting reports but not really reading them.
Mat sits down, reclines back into the chair and puts his feet up on the table.
“She’s a real piece of work, Rezo. Get this — I was about to leave the bar last night, and…”
I pretend to read, nodding and grunting amiably at the appropriate moments, even though I’m not listening.
I already know the story before he tells it to me. I just don’t want to hear the details.
If only I’d stayed at the bar, none of this would have happened.
We defeat Batumi on the weekend, but I’m still in a daze. I barely even notice when Bebiashvili and Mskhvilidze make their senior international debuts for Georgia, in a 3-1 friendly defeat of Kazakhstan, followed by Iskakov making his debut a few days later. The first time one of our players (three, actually) take this big step, and all I can think about is the hurt look on Tamar’s face, just before she left.
April 2028 – Europa Conference League, Quarterfinals.
We have no business being here. But I just needed to get out of the house.
Being at the house with Mat and Tamar, I’m brought back to my childhood. My parents pulled this exact act for years — except when they were ****ing, they were never in the same room. One comes in, the other disappears.
The day before the Sevilla match in Tbilisi, I’m ironing my suit for the game the next evening. In my boxers, the television on. I can hear her footsteps coming down the stairs. Alone.
She saunters in, eyeing me warily. She looks incredible.
“You know, I got this dress at a thrift store for one dollar.”
I put my head down and resume ironing. “Worth every penny.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I can see her moving closer. Her hands slowly raising the dress, as she leans in to whisper in my ear, seductively.
“It’s a bridesmaid’s dress. Someone loved it intensely for one day, then tossed it. Like a Christmas tree — so special, then, bam — it’s abandoned on the side of the road, tinsel still clinging to it…”
All of a sudden, I am acutely aware of the fact that I have no pants on.
“It suits you, Tamar.”
She leans in even closer, whispering hoarsely. “You can borrow it sometime… I’ve seen the way you watch me…”
I step away abruptly, uncomfortable for various reasons, not the least of which the fact that she just spent the night cavorting with my closest friend. I glance up briefly to see a hurt look on her face, before she scoffs and stomps back upstairs.
I hear a chuckle from the kitchen, and turn to see Mat in the doorway — shirtless, clutching a bowl of grapefruit, smirking.
“Get rid of her, will you, Rezo?”
I just shake my head in disbelief.
“We’ve got a big game to prepare for, Boss! Get rid of her! For the team!”
I sigh. Mat turns back into the kitchen, shouting over his shoulder while wielding a spoon like a dagger. “Don’t mention me, though, yeah?”
I just stand quietly for a few moments. In my boxers.
I’m six years old again, passing messages between my parents.
I hear Tamar’s footsteps, as she comes back downstairs. She steps into the room, looking for something.
Meekly, I speak up. “I…uhh… I think you should go now.”
She just ignores me.
“It’s time for you to leave.”
She continues to rummage through the mess on table behind the couch, as the sounds of Mat making breakfast in the next room reverberate around us.
“Don’t worry, Rezo, I’m leaving.”
She finally finds what she wanted — her cellphone. She steps closer to me, almost in my face. Anger and confusion manifest. “You’re such a nutcase, Rezo. I can’t even begin to keep up.”
She laughs sarcastically and stomps out, slamming the front door behind her. I can only watch her leave.
There’s nothing to do but join Mat for breakfast.
“Nice work,” he says as I enter the kitchen, passing me a plate of bacon and eggs.
“**** you, Mat.”
He just laughs amiably.
“Forget her, Boss. She’s a lunatic. Sevilla, yeah? Let’s focus.”
The same story unfolds at the Pizjuan — we are played off the pitch in what proved to be a serene 2-1 loss.
The tie was over before we stepped on the pitch. We never stood a chance. They never took us seriously. Thus, hostilities never began — it was clear they could have overrun us at any moment, had they bothered to try. Chighladze claimed the only real chance we had.
We know better than to let this get to our heads — if it wasn’t for a favorable draw, we never would have been here. But we are. And thus Mat and I spend the evening wandering the Santa Cruz district, enjoying the tapas and tempranillo, before watching the sun rise over La Catedral.
“Next time, Boss. We’ll do them, yeah?”
My heavy-lidded eyes are barely open, weighed down by excessive quantities of tempranillo.
“Next time, Mat. Next time.”
The fixture congestion catches up to us. With heavy legs, we control match after match, but find ways to drop points from positions of strength for several weeks in a row.
We up the lads’ grapefruit intake. And when that doesn’t work, we up it even further.
In search of a scapegoat, Mat fixates immediately on Kuznetsov and Khachatryan at right wingback. Kuznetsov has never been consistent, and Khachatryan has not developed.
This is why we invested in the worldwide scouting package. Desire Kourouma arrives in late June — a club record $100k signing from ASEC, he is an Ivorian youth international that wouldn’t give us the time of day 6 months ago, and puts Kuznetsov to shame. He will step directly into the 1st XI. Obviously.
Away to Aragvi in the Cup, we finally break the pattern with a 5-1 win. The next few weeks see a slower pace, allowing us to field the 1st XI consistently, with reasonable downtime in between matches. Once we had our confidence back, we turned it back on.
May/June 2028 – European Review.
In the Champions League, England’s dominance continues with Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool defeating Roberto Martinez’s Milan, 1-nil.
Pep Guardiola’s Newcastle claimed the Europa League with a 2-nil win over Thomas Tuchel’s Roma, avenging their loss in last year’s final.
And, in the Europa Conference League, Abelardo’s Everton avenged their loss in last year’s final, defeating Pellegrino Matarazzo’s Hoffenheim, 1-nil.
In the active leagues: Massimiliano Allegri’s Manchester City won their 4th Premier League title in 5 years; Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid won their 5th La Liga title in 7 years (6 points clear of Oscar Lopez’s Barcelona, meaning that a mere 8 points separate the sides, in aggregate, over the last 3 campaigns); Julian Nagelsmann’s Bayern did Bayern things, despite a stiff challenge from Jose Mourinho’s RB Leipzig, who fell off the pace in the closing weeks of the campaign; Brendan Rodgers’ Juventus defended their Serie A title despite losing to Gennaro Gattuso’s relegated Parma on the last day of the campaign, by virtue of head-to-head results with Martinez’s Milan; and, Mauricio Pochettino’s PS-****ing-G did PS-****ing-G things.
The big rise this year, however, came in our club coefficient ranking — rising 365 places to 150th. Dinamo Tbilisi are still the highest ranked Georgian club, but we are climbing the ladder. Shamrock Rovers best watch out…
Our run in the Europa Conference League, combined with Dinamo Tbilisi‘s First Knockout Round appearance, means that Georgia rises 8 spots in the nation coefficients table, meaning that beginning with the 2029/30 campaign, our Europa Conference League entrants will enter at the Second Qualifying Round.
With the summer break, the media jackals need something to write about. So when what we initially dismissed as rumors of an impending takeover persist, week after week…maybe there’s something in them, this time.
The timing could not be more off. Our star has risen in more than just reputation — we are putting together our best string of results since arriving in the top tier, sealed by a 3-1 win over Dinamo Tbilisi in the last match before the break. If only our investment in the youth academy would start to pay off…not this year.
No matter. Unless and until something happens, we have to ignore it. Separate and apart from the league campaign, our path is set in the Europa Conference League qualifiers, against Montenegrin side Decic.
Desire Kourouma arrives, at long last — a massive signing. He steps directly into the XI against Shukura after his unveiling. He doesn’t speak the language, or know anyone beyond the videos we’ve sent him. But his quality is such that we cannot ignore him. Glimmers of promise abound, though it is far from a complete performance from the young Ivorian.
July 2028 – Europa Conference League, 1st Qualifying Round.
We also secure Mskhvilidze’s signing on a free at the end of the year, with Bebiashvili signing on an immediate, permanent deal for $85k.
Another long-term target has been Giorgi Bedoidze who signs from Dinamo Tbilisi on a free transfer. The ****s initially demand $85k to sign immediately, which we reject without hesitation. Several days later, however, they let us know that $20k will suffice. Deal. Bedoidze will play from the bench with our 1st XI, and as the ball-winning midfielder in the 2nd XI.
(We also attempted to sign Kharshiladze on a free, only for Saburtalo to exercise a one-year option to extend his deal through the end of 2029. This is why no one likes you, Saburtalo.)
The takeover rumors simply won’t go away, either. Truth be told, I’m bored of them by now. It isn’t the first time I’ve said — put up or shut up, Nuzgar.
July 2028 – Europa Conference League, 2nd Qualifying Round.
The Irish prove little obstacle. We dominate in Rustavi but concede late to leave things open for the return leg. However, in Dublin, Chighladze strikes twice early to end the tie, before Koumoura claims his first goal for the club. 5-1 on aggregate.
We will face AEK Larnacas in the Third Round — another favorable draw, inching us ever closer to our goal of returning to the Group Stage.
The 2nd XI have stumbled domestically — to maintain our title challenge they will need to regain their footing.
We are far more prepared for a two-front battle this year. But we still have to stand up and be counted in the moment.
August 2028 – Europa Conference League, 3rd Qualifying Round.
We welcome the Cypriots to Tbilisi with a far gentler hand than I would have liked. The non-stop run of games is starting to take its toll. We claim a 2-1 win, but are not at our best. The second leg is much more straightforward once we score, however, as they chase the game in the 2nd half, leaving themselves wide open to our attacks — a 5-nil win is our just result. We are through to face Spartak Moscow for a spot in the Group Stage.
August 2028 – Europa Conference League, 4th Qualifying Round.
In Moscow, we have but one goal. Tell our former imperialist overlords to **** off. In footballing terms, of course.
Our legs are heavy, but willing hearts see us run out 3-nil winners to put one foot in the Group Stage.
We face two matches before the 2nd leg — and drop points against Saburtalo before a weak, rotated squad are eliminated from the Davit Kipiani Cup on penalties away to Dila Gori.
Fortunately, the Russians have no choice but to come at us in Tbilisi, leaving themselves exposed. Despite heavy legs, we punish them twice early, and then sit back to soak up the remaining hour of play, up 5 goals on aggregate. The match finishes 3-2 in our favor. It isn’t pretty. But we’re through.
We collect another massive check from UEFA, but at what cost? Prioritizing the Europa Conference League qualifiers has left us exhausted, out of the Cup, and falling off the pace set by Lokomotivi.
The Group Stage draw is not kind, despite our status as a 2nd seed. We draw Jose Bargues’ Valencia, arguably the best side in the competition. We can expect to do little more than battle Jagiellonia for 2nd.
72 hours after the 2nd leg of the Spartak tie, we host Dinamo Tbilisi at the Arsen. We’re 4 points off Lokomotivi and cannot afford to fall further behind. We snatch at our chances in a 2-nil loss. A catastrophe, as we were the better side and Lokotmovi conspired to lose to Tevali.
It’s a 3-team race in the league, with 10 matches to play. All 3 of us are also battling in the Europa Conference League, which may give Dila Gori a chance to sneak into contention.
After all, we are exhausted. I can’t imagine Lokomotivi and Dinamo are faring any better.
To be continued…
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.