Gareji Sagarejo – 2029 Open Thread
January/February 2029 – Odds & Ends; Squad Review.
When the post-holiday eggnog hangover wears off, a new headache arrives.
The Champions League qualifying rounds are on the horizon. 6 months off, perhaps. But still visible.
To help prepare, we welcome 4 signings in addition beyond Mskhvilidze‘s previously-confirmed arrival on a permanent deal.
We have a 26-man squad that is not as bloated as it might appear at first blush, with an unchanged 1st XI from that which saw out the stretch run of the 2028 campaign.
We continue to play PM Draugrson, the strikerless tactic which fueled our rise from the third tier and is detailed (and downloadable) here: The Night Is Dark & Full Of Terrors.
Every 2-3 years, I like to take a hard, close look at the squad. And while things have not changed substantially from 2028, we have come a long ways from January 2027, the last time we conducted a full-blown review.
So let’s dive in.
As frustrated as I was to lose Kurdadze at the end of 2027 due to his perceived need to join a bigger club, there’s no question that we’re better off with Luka Macharadze as our Number 1. Macharadze not only has greater potential, he compares quite favorably before we even begin to consider the intangibles that cannot be reflected in a snapshot of their respective attribute profiles. As things stand, Macharadze will be our starter for the foreseeable future.
Giorgi Chikobava continues his role as the understudy with unfulfilled potential. There is something of a dilemma was Chikobava, in that he needs minutes but is not good enough to earn them on merit. While I plan to get him more time with the reserves this year, he may simply be one of “those” players who do not develop. I am pleasantly surprised by the potential our coaches see in him (as the squad improves), but he doesn’t look like he will ever truly compete for the starting job.
As always, our defense (if not our tactic) revolves around the presence of an attack-minded libero. Daniar Omarov has been a fixture in our 1st XI since his 18th birthday, and will continue as such for the foreseeable future even though his development is progressing more slowly than I would like to see.
While we have previously relied on natural defenders for depth, this year we’ve brought in an understudy more suited to my preferred approach for the position — Beka “Jimothy” Jimsheleishvili, on loan from Dinamo Tbilisi, who insisted upon his status as a “squad member.” Unfortunately for them, they did not insist upon which position Jimsheleishvili would play, or which squad he would be a member of. He will play in our 2nd XI, but until fixture congestion starts to demand squad rotation he will serve as the libero for the reserves (for whom he has been playing during the pre-season). My scouts saw massive potential in him and saw no real downside; while my coaches seem to disagree on first blush, only time will tell. My plan is to offer Jimsheleishvili a permanent move on a Bosman; if Tbilisi extend his contract before then, I will try to extend his loan as I’ve done with various other players).
Our centerback pairing is a familiar sight — Joni Bebiashvili and Giorgi Mskhvilidze. They have been nothing short of brilliant. We have ample depth here, as well — Vasil Mkhiltadze, Mite Petkovski and Vakhtang Kharshiladze could each fill in without too much of a drop-off in quality. Like Jimsheleishvili, I anticipate Petkovski and Kharshiladze will see extensive time with the reserves during the first half of the season.
At right wingback, I am hopeful that Desire Kourouma will continue the steady improvement he showed after arriving last summer. If he can continue to put his early struggles behind him, he could be a massive player — and one we need on the right flank. Papuna Lomsadze arrives on a free from Samtredia to take up the role in our 2nd XI, with Gevorg Khachatryan a carry-over from prior seasons. I had once seen Khachatryan as a potential player of the future, but he simply hasn’t developed.
On the left, Otar Tigishvili was brilliant in his debut campaign for the club. Demur Kasrashvili arrives on a free from Rustavi to serve as the backup — taking over for Edgar Harutyunan, another player who has not developed to meet the potential we once saw (and still see) in him.
Our default midfield pairing sees Iurii Iskakov and Archil Gigauri as the mezzala and ball-winning midfielder, respectively. Iskakov had a brilliant campaign last year, pushing his way into the XI. Gigauri was originally signed for strength in depth but has made the right-sided position his own.
Their backups will be Beka “Captain” Kirkitadze (who has never captained the side, even ironically) and Giorgi Bedoidze. This will almost certainly be Kirkitadze‘s last year with the club — he simply isn’t good enough to carry us forward into an era when we are fighting on two fronts. Bedoidze could theoretically threaten Gigauri’s position in time; we will simply have to see how he develops.
(Kasrashvili and Lomsadze can also provide cover in the central midfield, as and if necessary.)
Up top, Giorgi Ugrekhelidze will play as our attacking playmaker, with Seyit “The Lion” Aslan and Zura “Cheech” Chighladze as our inverted wingers. It is a strong, productive front 3. Ugrekhelidze took over last year in the 1st XI (having been wildly productive from the bench as both a mezzala and advanced playmaker), with Chighladze also taking over on the right flank. Aslan has been a starter since his arrival; however, he no longer stands head and shoulders above the rest of the squad, in terms of his ability and potential.
Gela “Gelagoal” Keburia (aka “the Georgian Peter Crouch“) arrives on a free transfer from Dinamo Tbilisi to join (lead?) our 2nd XI. The Saburtalo academy graduate might be the best player on our bench, even if he has had a rough pre-season. He will have ample opportunity to strut his stuff over the coming campaign. Provided that he retrains quickly and develops, he could take over for Aslan on the left flank.
Joining Keburia in the 2nd XI are long-time members of the squad Givi Erkomaishvili and Omar Apridonidze — they have both been valuable members of the squad, and will play from the bench with our 1st XI. Whether their contracts are renewed past their current December 2030 expiration is another question entirely.
Finally, we have Temur Vashakidze providing additional depth — another player who has simply not met his potential, and fell down the depth chart with Aslan‘s arrival. Barring an injury crisis, Vashakidze will play primarily with the reserves this year and will not have his contract renewed.
As we rise up the domestic leagues and start to challenge for recognition in continental competitions, the one thing I want to avoid is stagnation in the squad. We need to be constantly evolving, growing and improving in order to build a foundation for long-term success.
Thus, while the 1st XI has not been overhauled (or revised) during the Winter transfer window, there are ample signs of progress. (Keburia, in particular, is a massive addition.)
One common theme that has had me worried? The sheer number of players who have not developed to meet their potential, or come anywhere close to it. This is likely due to several factors: (1) the state of our training facilities, which remain “below average” despite 2+ years of heavy investment; (2) a dearth of quality coaches (even though we have what is arguably the best staff in the Erovnuli Liga); and (3) the simple fact that several players need minutes that we can’t justify (risk) giving them. I’m looking at you, Gevorg.
My sincere hope is that, as the squad fills out, these struggling players can start to see consistent minutes with the reserves. While it may be too late for some of them to develop and meet their potential, our ability to nuture young players should be vastly improved going forward as we continue to invest in our facilities and staff.
Per usual, we schedule a straightforward slate of friendlies, none of which push us too hard. Fitness levels are good, though we are not facing the same onslaught of matches we’ve seen the last 2 years. A more steady, sedate pace is welcome…kicking off, of course, with the first Georgian Super Cup in club history against Dila Gori, hosted at the Arsen.
The Board have lofty expectations this year, relatively speaking, given their predecessors’ insistence that we were relegation-bound — a top half finish is all they’re looking for.
The oddsmakers continue to narrow the odds, however — we are 14-1 to repeat as champions, though none of our players make the media’s pre-season Dream XI.
The Board claims not to care about the Super Cup — and, truth be told, neither do we. But is a trophy to be won. On our home ground. Before our supporters. I don’t want to send them home empty-handed.
Which is why I have to restrain Mat as we waste chance after chance…after chance. Dila Gori played for penalties and got their wish. Sadly for them, Macharadze was equal to the task, saving their 3rd penalty to draw us level (after a bad miss from Mskhvilidze) before casually saving their 5th penalty — a cheeky dink down the middle, he didn’t even have to move his feet — to secure the match.
The first match of the campaign. In our new kits. In front of a packed crowd.
It wasn’t pretty. It didn’t need to be, in the end.
Results continue to pour in, as Mat raves about Jimsheleishvili‘s development, progress in training and performances for the reserves. There’s only one thing to do. Give him a run playing from the bench for the 1st XI, in place of Erkomaishvili.
(Mat’s meeting to give him the good news could have gone better; remembering the players’ names has never been his strong suit.)
Fortunately, the Board continues to see the value in investing heavily in our training facilities, youth facilities, and junior coaching. Though our facilities are far from world class, we’re getting closer to the project Mat and I have long envisioned. Fabrika — the Georgian La Masia, but more… Industrial.
Our unbeaten streak stretches into May. It is easily the best run we’ve put together during our tenure.
Yet warning signs are flashing. We dominated Lokomotiv, Sioni and Torpedo in three straight matches, but could not put them to the sword. 6 lost points.
Though we are eager for the Champions League qualifiers to begin, Mat and I fear what will happen when our squad rotation policy kicks in, in earnest.
May/June 2029 – European Review.
In the Champions League, England’s continued dominance has become farcical. Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool successfully defended their title, with a 2-1 win over Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United.
Steven Gerrard’s Atalanta claimed the Europa League with a 1-nil (aet) win over Abdullah Avci’s Real Sociedad.
And, in the Europa Conference League, Matthias Jaissle’s Bayer Leverkusen defeated Thiago Motta’s Bologna, 3-nil.
In the active leagues, wild finishes were the order of the day: Didier Deschamps’ Chelsea won the Premier League title when Klopp’s Liverpool were annihilated by Gareth Southgate’s Leicester on Matchday 38; Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid won their 6th La Liga title in 8 years, when Oscar Lopez’s Barcelona lost to Sergio Conceicao’s Atletico on Matchday 37; Roberto Martinez’s AC Milan tried to hand the title to Brendan Rodgers’ Juventus, shooting blanks on Matchday 38…only for Brendan’s lads to also draw, after the title went to a tiebreaker between the two sides last year when Juventus lost their final match; Julian Nagelsmann’s Bayern did Bayern things; and, Gerardo Seoane’s Lyon held their nerve, finishing 1 point ahead of Mauricio Pochettino’s PS-****ing-G, with 4 teams finishing level on 52 points in 4th-7th, with Brian Priske’s Marseille the-odd-man-out by virtue of goal difference.
The Erovnuli Liga rises to 61st in the competition reputation rankings, right behind the Portuguese Liga 3.
The big news, however, is that Georgia now sits 9th in the nation coefficients table, meaning that beginning with the 2030/31 campaign Georgia gains a 5th qualifying spot, such that: (1) two Georgian teams will enter the Champions League; (3) one Georgian team will enter the Europa League; and (3) only two Georgian teams will enter the Europa Conference League.
We recover our form, though Dila Gori manage to steal a draw. The worst part of the summer is that, despite investing literally millions in our youth academy, we get an academy class that can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.
The good news? We’ve drawn Zalgiris Vilnius in the Champions League. A very winnable draw.
July 2029 – Champions League, 1st Qualifying Round.
We will face Serbian champions Partizan in the Second Qualifying Round.
We acquitted ourselves well when we faced them 2 years ago, notwithstanding the fact that on paper they were (and are) a far more competent side.
July/August 2029 – Champions League, 2nd Qualifying Round.
Though the challenge is steep, I can’t help but think that we can sneak a result if the cards fall our way in Rustavi.
In the 4th minute, a card falls. Our way. (In case that wasn’t clear.)
Bebiashvili rises to head home a corner from Tigishvili — it’s early doors, but this is the start we needed.
Aslan nearly doubles our lead in the 30th, heading off the post from an oblique angle — a card that we needed to have fall our way.
Through 90 minutes, and 5 minutes of time added-on, we hold firm. A 1-nil win to send us to Belgrade with a slight advantage.
This means that Partizan will have to chase the tie. While they will be exposed at the back…they’ll be highly motivated to attack with abandon. Which…can’t be good.
Mat and I are confident that if we can keep them quiet for the first 15-20 minutes, we will weather the storm. And we’ve promised the lads a trip to Belgrade’s famed Itchy Kitty if they win (with VIP passes to the aeronautics-themed Cock Pit Lounge for all).
20 minutes. That will settle the nerves and quiet the crowd.
We don’t last 2. We melt under the pressure of Partizan’s high press like a stick of butter in the microwave. While we are level on aggregate, this does not bode well for the evening ahead.
We needn’t have worried long. Being level on aggregate did not last past the 21st minute.
Now, it’s our turn to chase the tie.
Ugrekhelidze hammers the crossbar from distance in the 33rd. Not good enough.
In the 47th minute, however, Iskakov hammers home a Tigishvili corner to draw us level. Epic.
On the hour mark, Mikeltadze and Chighladze enter the fray, followed by Apridonidze 10 minutes later. Partizan are allowing us possession, but they’re the ones looking dangerous. Not a good pattern.
And, as karmic payback for the goals we’ve claimed, they claim a simple tap-in off a corner in the 85th, to go up 3-2 on aggregate.
We are gifted 4 minutes of time added-on. They could have given us 40. It wouldn’t have mattered.
We are out of the Champions League. Not undeservedly so.
No trip to the Itchy Kitty, either. The Cock Pit Lounge is for winners.
We drop into the Europa League qualifiers, and will face Riga in the Third Qualifying Round — a draw much more in line with our capacities.
August 2029 – Europa League, 3rd Qualifying Round.
The Latvians are nothing if not an accommodating people. Both on and off the pitch.
As to the former, we smashed 6 past a Putin-look-alike goalkeeper at the Skonto. As to the latter, the waitress at the hotel restaurant intervened to steer us away from what we thought was grapefruit at the breakfast buffet the next morning. (We learned later that it was, in fact, grapefruit. It had simply been laced with a certain radioactive substance intended for a visiting dignitary — and Mat had spent dinner the night before flirting with her shamelessly.)
We will face Qurban Qurbanov’s Qarabag for a spot in the Europa League Group Stage, with the loser dropping into the Conference League.
August 2029 – Europa League, Qualifying Playoffs.
A false sense of security abounds after a big 3-nil win in Baku. We’re less than impressive in the 2nd leg. But are coasting to progression when, down 2-1 on the night in the 80th minute (but up 4-2 on aggregate), the Azeris have a goal called back for offsides…a goal that would have brought them within spitting distance of leveling the tie. We scramble. Somehow, we manage to avoid a catastrophic collapse and progress 4-2 on aggregate.
In the Group Stage, we will face Jagoba Arrassate’s Monaco, Leonardo Jardim’s Athletic, and Lausanne-Sport.
Realistically, we have no chance of finishing in the top 2. Monaco and Athletic should annihilate us without breaking a sweat. Our aim has to be for a solid 3rd place finish — hosting the Swiss on Matchday 1 is thus an opportunity to stake a claim on that spot .
An opportunity to, as Mat would say, “slap a mushroom print, right on their forehead.”
I don’t get it either.
For years now, Mat and I have discussed it. Dreamed about it. Planned for it.
So, several weeks after the pubic unveiling of our newly-refurbished training and youth facilities, the time has come to christen those facilities — a moment which coincides with the debut of this year’s academy class, which has the most potential of any we’ve seen to date.
Playing staff and coaches only. Huddled together inside the large auditorium, a muted violet painting the sky as the sun sets over the horizon. The last light of the day coming in through the floor-to-ceiling windows which look out upon a training pitch.
Mat stands at the front of the room silently, as everyone gathers around him informally. The shadows growing with each passing moment, as Mat has decreed that the lights not be turned on — save for a single, solitary, bare bulb that hangs down directly over his head.
A tad melodramatic, perhaps.
But this is his moment.
He has earned it.
I simply stand at Mat’s side, arms crossed, fixing the players and staff with a steady, solemn gaze. No one is watching me, though. All eyes are on Mat, as the staff and players exchange friendly nods and light chatter. The atmosphere in the room is one of eagerness. Determination.
They all know why they are here, on an otherwise normal Wednesday night.
The chatter dies down immediately as Mat calls for quiet, and begins to speak.
“Gentlemen! And ladies.”
Pausing for effect, Mat glances around the room, a deadly serious look on his face.
“Welcome to Fabrika.”
Nods all around. Fists, held by the side, are silently pumped.
They’ve been waiting for this moment, too, just like we have been.
Low chatter rises, until Mat raises an arm. A cough. Feet shuffle. Then, utter silence, as Mat begins to speak again, pausing for dramatic effect after each proclamation, layering each word with the full force of his undeniable charisma.
“The first rule of Fabrika is — you do not talk about Fabrika.”
The players and staff nod in understanding.
“The second rule of Fabrika is — you do not talk about Fabrika. The tactics we learn here, the techniques, the dietary regimen, are for Gareji and Gareji alone.”
Sharper nods, this time. Mat’s confidence and determination is nothing if not infectious — in a good, non-brain-eating amoeba kind of way.
“Third rule of Fabrika… Someone yells ‘stop,’ goes limp from exhaustion or tries to tap out, you pick him up and carry him on your back. We’re in this together.”
More nods, as the bulb above Mat’s hat sways as if buffered by a breeze.
“Fourth rule. Only 11 men to a squad. We’ll rotate as and if needed. But no one — no one — is bigger than the club, or bigger than the collective. To get where we are going, we must travel this path together.”
The swaying of the bulb stops, as everyone turns their heads to glance at the people around them, exchanging nods.
“Fifth rule. One match at a time, yeah? We will get nowhere if we’re looking ahead, down the road. The most important match is always the next one.”
The focus draws back to Mat, the dying light stretching shadows deeper into the room.
“Sixth rule. No Chikhura shirts, and no mercy for those ****s. Ever.”
A few chuckles, but the players and staff who have been around since the early years of our tenure silence them with a glare. We hate those ****s. Always and forever.
Mat chuckles dryly, before continuing on.
“Seventh rule. The seasons will go on as long as they have to. It’s a long campaign with few breaks. To get where we need to go, there are no holidays. Christmas? New Years? Not for us. We’ll be busy planning for an assault on those arrogant English ****s… The snide Spaniards… Ze Germans with their trendy moustaches… And don’t even get me started on the French.”
A short, determined cheer rises, which falls quickly silent as Mat raises a clenched fist.
“And the eighth and final rule.”
“If this is your first year at Fabrika, you have to sing for your dinner.”
Confused looks abound, as Mat gestures to the side. Flourescent lighting, recessed into the ceiling, suddenly washes over us, swirling hues of pink, purple and gold, much to the surprise of everyone but Mat and I — I knew the lights were there, because Mat knew they were there. The first notes of Katy Perry’s Roar fill the room as a deluxe karaoke machine is wheeled in, Mat grabbing the microphone with all the swagger and strutting jackassery of a young Mick Jagger.
We’ve come a long ways, marked by a big 6-1 win over Lausanne to kick off the Europa League Group Stage. The Erovnuli Liga title is virtually in our grasp. And we’ve assembled what has to be the most promising academy class the club has ever seen.
Though they are not ready for the first team, the likes of Davit Gelashvili, Manuchar Tvildiani, Beka Rukhaia, Giga Latsabidze, and Levan Japaridze provide some measure of hope for the future of Fabrika and Gareji.
The lads do us proud against the Basques in Bilbao — though we lose, 2-1, we were no shrinking violets. We play Monaco close as well, though we were lucky to snatch the goal we did — another 2-1 loss, far better than anyone would have predicted, especially when we lost Macharadze for a few weeks.
What can I say? Success breeds success. The reserves take their cue, claiming the Liga 4 (White Group) title, a feat we duplicate 1 week later away to Telavi, with that **** Kurdadze watching on. Priceless.
We leave it all on the field away to Monaco on Matchday 4, claiming 2 goals against the run of play, but it isn’t enough — a 3-2 loss is (again) a far better result than we could have hoped for. But it is
As the last weeks of the campaign rumble on, we look once again towards the future.
Our African-based scout has identified a gem for us, as well – Jean Gnahore ($180k, ASEC Mimosas). Young Gnahore will join our 1st XI immediately, partnering with Iskakov, who will shift to the ball-winning midfielder role. In turn, I expect Gigauri to pair with Bedoidze in the 2nd XI, with Kirkitadze dropping to the reserves.
(This assumes, of course, that our midfield remains intact. Porto were sniffing around Iskakov over the summer, but gave up when I rejected their inquiries. I don’t expect to be able to keep him for much longer, so we will need to re-think.)
We’ve also secured the signings of a number of young Georgian players, who will play for the reserves and U19s: Mikheil Kublashvili, Giorgi Beridze, Giorgi Dvalishvili, Vano Vashakidze, Konstantine Shubitidze, and Vakhtang Malania.
Joining these young Georgian talents will be 4 Armenian U21 internationals signed earlier this year, who will join the club on permanent deals when then turn 18 and are on extended trials until then: Arsen Sarkisyan, Harutyun Esoyan, Hovhannes Muradyan, and Arman Avagyan. Our scouts initially saw the most promise in Avagyan — while he has had a great year, the coaching staff see Sarkisyan and Esoyan as the most promising in the long-term.
Truth be told, beyond Gnahore I don’t have high hopes for this lot in terms of becoming first-team squad players. Rather, they are intended to bolster the reserves in Liga 3 next year, in support of our long-term goal of establishing the reserves in the Erovnuli Liga 2 as a “proving grounds” for the lads.
On the pitch, tired legs carry us through the domestic campaign, with strong performances from the 2nd XI even as we underwhelm in Lausanne — a frustrating performance, but one that sees us confirm passage to the Europa Conference League knockout rounds.
The final match is a dead rubber against the Basques in Tbilisi — they’ve already won the Group, we’re confirmed 3rd. A stale 1-1 draw plays out — a good result, albeit one where it feels like they could have run away with it if they’d had any measure of determination.
December 2029 – Season Review.
Another campaign which exceeded the dreams of even our most ardent supporters.
There is a depth and quality to the squad beyond anything we’ve had, to-date, and it shows in the results. Erovnuli Liga champions for the second year running. Our first Super Cup win. Into the Group Stage of the Europa League. The reserves winning promotion to the 3rd tier. Fabrika, up and running, as we take a firmer hand in the youth operations.
Everything is falling into place.
Macharadze claims the Jughashvili Medal, the first of several accolades to fall his way — the Golden Glove is also his, and he leads our selection of 11 players to the Erovnuli Liga Best XI, where he is joined by Mskhvilidze, Mikeltadze, Iskakov, Aslan, Ugrekhelidze and Apridonidze, with Keburia, Erkomaishvili and Omarov and Bebiashvili on the bench.
The trick now is taking the next steps in Europa — making more of a nuisance of ourselves against “bigger” sides, building our reputation and that of the Erovnuli Liga.
Goals for 2030: Defend our Erovnuli Liga title, scoring 100 goals in the process. Make a run in the Davit Kipiani Cup. Qualify for the Group Stage of a European competition.
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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