Gareji Sagarejo – 2032 Open Thread
January/February 2032 – Odds & Ends; Transfer News.
Optimism abounds throughout the holiday period, kicking off in earnest with the Europa League knockout round draw, which pairs us with Jocelyn Gourvennec’s Nice.
Television rights payments continue their steady increase — the Erovnuli Liga rights rise to $273k per team, with the Erovnuli Liga 2 rights sitting at $134k per team, up from $227k and $112k in 2031 (respectively).
Other than the arrival of Hilmar Arason to replace Mskhvilidze (whose loan-back expired at the end of December), we have no plans to dip into the transfer market.
After all, why would we need to? The lads are happy. Content. New contracts have been handed out. And, we’re winning.
The stars are aligning for what promises to be a big year.
Daniar Omarov is allowed to leave, to make room for the promotion of 2031 Erovnuli Liga Player of the Year Harutyun Esoyan — Omarov eventually departs for Stephane Dumont’s Marseille, for $3.2 million plus a 50 percent next-sale clause.
We are thus prepared to see out the transfer window, secure in the fact that: (1) we have the financial wherewithal to resist the ever-increasing offers on the table for Jimothy and Keburia; and (2) their heads have not been turned.
In the last hours before the European transfer window closes, however, our carefully laid plans are torn asunder.
Jimothy is off to Jagoba Arraste’s Monaco. Without warning. Without any demands from the player or his agent. Betrayed by Zaza, our Director of Football.
I cannot blame Jimothy, who quadruples his salary and joins a club sitting 3rd in Ligue 1.
Zaza? Zaza, I can blame. He is sacked the very next day, for being a stupid, slapnut ****.
As if he gave me a choice.
Given the timing, we are unable to bring in a replacement before the Europa League registration deadline. Meaning we will face Nice without our talismanic libero or a first-team-ready replacement.
Nevertheless, we dip into the market immediately to secure the signing of Umar Adowa ($95k; Hearts of Oak), a Ghanaian U21 international that we have long coveted. He is a bargain. An immense player with tremendous potential.
And he never will be.
February 2032 – Squad Review.
Having been suddenly and unceremoniously disabused of the notion that our squad was set for the foreseeable future, a full-blown squad review seems both prudent and overdue ahead of the first leg against Nice.
We are carrying a 22-man first team squad, with less depth in the reserves than we had last year. (Last year’s depth was due in no small part to former first-team players dropping down to see out their contracts, as new signings joined the club.)
We continue to play PM Draugrson, the tactic originally developed during the beta and detailed here: The Night Is Dark & Full Of Terrors.
In between the posts, there is only answer for now — Sverrir Karason, the man who was brought in mid-season two years ago to be our Number 1.
We have 2 capable backups in Arsen Sarkisyan and Mikheil Kublashvili (the 2031 Erovnuli Liga 2 Golden Glove winner). I do not expect either to truly challenge Karason for the starting position. Kublashvili is likely the long-term backup, but he will stay with the reserves this year to continue his development.
At libero, we have little choice. Adowa will learn on the job. As noted above, Esoyan promotes into the 2nd XI, but he simply is not ready for the 1st XI. If Adowa can adapt over the next 6 months, we should be ok heading into the European campaign.
Flanking Adowa in the first XI will be Luis Robledo and Vasil Mikeltadze. Joni Bebiashvili and new arrival Hilmar Arason are very capable backups. I am hopeful that Arason will develop quickly, as we need a better player to pair with Robledo if we are to make a push in Europe.
At right wingback, Desire Kourouma continues to be the primary man. At one point, I thought Papuna Lomsadze had the quality to challenge for a starting role, but his development has stalled substantially. If he doesn’t kick on this year, he will be dropped to the reserves as soon as we can sign a replacement.
Inverted on the left, we have an altogether different problem, in the battle between Otar Tigishvili and Demur Kasrashvili for the starting role. I continue to prefer Tigishvili due to his superior mental attributes (though the margins are thin), but Kasrashvili will play a large number of minutes from the bench on both flanks.
(If we had not been able to secure a prompt replacement for Jimothy, Kasrashvili was a candidate to step in as a libero. Though he does not fit my ideal profile, he could do the job in a pinch.)
In the heart of our midfield, we have every reason to be happy. Jean Gnahore is everything I could ask for as a goalscoring, playmaking mezzala. His partner, Alain Fokou, is a beast. If we can keep them, this is a midfield that can take us quite far in Europe. (Again, I had considered both as options to replace Jimothy, if a replacement was not promptly sorted.)
Their backups are Arman Avagyan and Salif Karaboue. Avagyan had a good first campaign with the first team last year, but needs to develop what our coaches see as massive potential. Karaboue will likely never be more than the Ivorian Roy Keane — suited for kicking the **** out of the opposition, and little else — but that doesn’t mean I love him any less.
We’ve also secured the signing of Isaac Asamoah ($375k; Asante Kotoko), who will arrive in January 2033. Our scouts have nothing but praise for his potential. The only question seems to be whether he can meet it.
Up top, Erekle Jalaghonia took over as our starting advanced playmaker last summer, pushing Giorgi Ugrekhelidze into the 2nd XI. Ugrekhelidze always played above his attributes, but I could not deny Jalaghonia the opportunity given his relative form. While neither is world class, they are both very capable at our level. (Givi Erkomaishvili and Besik Kirkitadze have been demoted to the reserves, but are still available for deep cover.)
Our starting inverted wingers are Gela Keburia and Zura Chighladze. The sharks were swimming around Keburia throughout the January transfer window, but having signed a new contract last September he seemed more than willing to stick around. For now. I anticipate needing a replacement perhaps as soon as the summer. (In contrast, Chighladze is a player that performs brilliantly at our level, but likely is not going to take us any further or generate substantial transfer interest.)
Two academy prospects are our backups — Giorgi Dvali and Giorgi “Barbie” Barbakadze. Neither is particularly well-rounded. But they are extremely talented, with what our coaches believe to be sky-high potential. At this juncture, however, I do not see them breaking into the 1st XI as we need more than what they appear to have on offer.
Basile Eklu ($75k; Maranatha) will arrive in June 2033, to give us some depth. A Togolese U23 international at the age of 16, I cannot help but think he could be an impact player for us. He is also more well-rounded than Dvali and Barbakadze, though he is not at their current level.
The day before the closure of the transfer window, I would have told you I was quite content with the squad. Jimothy‘s abrupt departure has tempered my enthusiasm — both in terms of the objective strength of the squad, and the need for investment sooner rather than later.
Our pre-season results may appear impressive, but our opponents were little more than cannon fodder. Deliberately so.
To advance in Europe, we need to improve the squad. We also cannot count on Dinamo Tbilisi stepping on their **** again, or resting on their laurels.
February 2032 – Europa League, First Knockout Round.
In Nice, the stakes feel much higher than they are. Bebiashvili will serve as our libero tonight, given what I perceive may be a need for defensive solidity.
We look a little rusty, conceding early, but equalize on the half hour through Keburia. Things are going smoothly until the 51st minute, when Fokou sees straight red for a nasty challenge from behind.
The game opens up substantially at that point, as the French look to press their advantage and we seek to hit them in transition. Neither side can find the back of the net, however, until Kasrashvili finds Chighladze at the back post in the 73rd minute, to volley home acrobatically.
Much to our chagrin, Nice manage to find a 94th-minute equalizer. At 2-2, we should be happy, all things considered. Yet it still feels like a missed opportunity instead of a disaster averted.
Regardless, we know that in Tbilisi we will have our chances to bury the French. We trade early blows, before Nice are denied a penalty via VAR in the 20th minute, Karaboue‘s foul adjudged to have been outside the box. There’s no question, this time it is, in fact, a disaster averted.
We up the pressure and are rewarded soon thereafter, with Jalaghonia finding Keburia in space, the winger making no mistake — 1-nil on the night, an aggregate lead. Moments later, before the French regain their composure, Kourouma breaks into the box, drops for Chighladze, who finds Keburia at the back post. 2-nil.
We keep our foot on the gas pedal, and are rewarded through Chighladze in the 42nd minute, rising to head home a curling free kick from Kourouma. At 3-nil, surely there is no way back for the French, who are wilting on this cold Tbilisi night.
It ends 3-nil — the right result over the course of the two legs, and a result we needed.
For the Second Round draw, we can only hope for a miracle. There are massive clubs to be avoided. We manage to avoid the biggest fish, but are still tasked with a heavy burden against Javi Gracia’s Granada, who sit 5th in La Liga.
March 2032 – Europa League, Second Knockout Round.
Ahead of the Super Cup, we are named as narrow favorites to win the Erovnuli Liga for the first time, with Karason, Robledo, Kourouma, Gnahore, Kalaghonia and Keburia in the pre-season Dream XI.
The club also announces the sale of 980 season tickets, an 82.5% year-on-year increase from last year’s 537 season tickets.
In the Super Cup, Adowa picks up where Jimothy left off, slotting home an early penalty to lead the club to a comfortable 3-nil win over a 9-man Dinamo Tbilisi.
The primary task at hand, however, is Granada. In Tbilisi for the 1st leg, we are missing Jalaghonia and Keburia through injury; neither will be fit until after the international break. We need a strong performance.
We get it.
If you squint a little bit.
We are utterly outplayed. Outclassed. Yet we do not concede. And Chighladze manages to slot home one of the few decent chances that falls our way, while we stifle them in the back. We will take a 1-nil lead back to Andalucia.
Fixture congestion rears its head, however, as we face Dinamo Tbilisi away over the weekend. The 2nd XI are handed the task, and play admirably…if you look past the 4 goals they conceded. Separate and apart from those moments, though, it was an even match.
Up against it at the Nuevo Los Carmenes, we need a strong start. And, once again, we get it. Heavy pressure, putting the ball into dangerous areas. And while Xavi manages to block a close-range shot from Chighladze, Ugrekhelidze manages to get in the way of his subsequent wild, attempted clearance, deflecting it in to give us a 2-goal cushion.
Through the half, we stifle the Spaniards, denying them any real look at goal while looking dangerous, in turn. Even as they look to turn the screws, still we stand defiant. Our hosts’ quality shines through, leading to a simple-tap in in the 76th to bring them squarely back into the match. Squeaky bum time.
Chances fall their way, but it is not enough. We see out the match — a 1-1 draw, meaning we advance thanks to an ever-so-fortunate goal in Tbilisi.
Our reward is a tie against Torsten Frings’ Villarreal in the quarterfinals.
On paper, it is an easier draw than Granada, given that they sit 9th in La Liga. But they are no less menacing.
April 2032 – Europa League, Quarterfinals.
The one thing we cannot do against Villarreal? Concede early.
The one thing we (in fact) do against Villarreal? Concede early.
Ianis Hagi puts the Spaniards on the board early, but we fight back through Mikeltadze to draw level. Falling behind against, Chighladze breaks through the back line to dink over the onrushing keeper, to again draw us level. We begin to find our groove, and are rewarded with Kasrashvili hammers home the goal of his career — the match-winner, as it turns out. 3-2. An historic night at the Mikheil Meskhi.
Maybe we should concede early more often.
Then again, maybe not. Villarreal score twice in the opening minutes of the 2nd leg, and we are unable to get out of our defensive third. Keburia manages to get on the board, but at that point we’re 4 goals down on the night, with less than 20 minutes to play. The only purpose that goal will serve is to perhaps drive up his inevitable transfer fee. I’m not bitter, no.
The final score is a fair reflection of the match — a 4-1 loss. Though we can hold our heads high, I cannot help but feel frustrated at the manner in which we were so comprehensively dominated over these 90 minutes.
With our focus back on the domestic calendar, we begin to reel Dinamo Tbilisi back in. A narrow 1-nil win early in the month keeps things from getting out of hand. We simply need to continue turning up in the big moments.
June 2031 – European Review.
I am Boris Johnson’s cocaine-fueled fever dream.
England are back. Running yet another clean sweep.
In the Champions League, Massimiliano Allegri’s Manchester City defeat Roberto Martinez’s AC Milan, 2-1 (aet).
Didier Deschamps’ Chelsea claim the Europa League title with a 2-nil win over Thomas Thomasberg’s Everton.
And, in the Europa Conference League, Gareth Southgate’s Leicester City defeat Christen Michelsen’s Sampdoria, 3-1.
In the active leagues: Massimiliano Allegri’s Manchester City defended their Premier League title; Stephen Gerrard’s Barcelona reclaim the La Liga title; Pep Guardiola’s Inter Milan win the Serie A title; Julian Nagelsmann’s Bayern did Bayern things; and, Julian Stephan PS-****ing-G did PS-****ing-G things.
The Erovnuli Liga rises 3 spots to 4oth in the competition reputation rankings, just ahead of the English League One.
Georgia also climb to 11th in the nations coefficients table, meaning our seeding for the European qualifying rounds improves slightly, beginning with the 2033/34 European campaign. We’re only 1 spot off the Czechs, for an automatic spot in the Group Stage.
Finally, we receive $10.69 million from UEFA — our allocation of left-over television revenue and coefficient ranking pool funds.
One last push before the European campaign kicks off, and it seems like my every waking moment is spent either rejecting transfer bids for various players, or working to quell a possible a dressing room mutiny (caused by said rejection of transfer bids).
Ultimately, the only player we’ve allowed to leave (to date) is Salif Karaboue, who departs for $3.7m plus a 50% next-sale clause. To replace him in the 2nd XI, we promote Alexi Tebidze from the reserves. Now that the domestic transfer window is closed, my sincere hope is that our financial stability will preclude the forced sale of any players.
One bit of good news, amidst the transfer insanity? Fabrika continues to generate promising players, though our apparent penchant for developing strikers is unexpected, to say the least.
On the pitch, we are relentless — securing a 3-nil with at the Boris Paichadze to draw us within 1 point of our rivals, before they stumble again which allows us to go to the top of the table. The question going forward will be which one of us can better navigate the fixture congestion ahead.
The Board has done it again. Sold a player out from under us.
Robledo is gone. Only, this time they had the courtesy to do it long before the UEFA registration deadline. Bo Henriksen’s Brentford, was the culprit, this time. Followed by Rui Patricio’s Celta Vigo. In the end, though, he leaves for Marco Rose’s Dortmund, for $14.75M, plus a 50 percent next sale clause — a record fee.
Since the Georgian transfer window closed several weeks ago, we promote Giorgi Beridze to the 2nd XI, with Joni Bebiashvili returning to the 1st XI.
If only that was all that had been going on.
In the midst of the Robledo transfer drama (not to mention the transfer drama associated with other players), we’ve spent months wining and dining two brilliant U18 prospects recommended by our scouts. Once the contracts were signed, however, all Hell breaks loose. In a good way.
First things first, we draw Shamrock Rovers for the Champions League Qualifying Playoff — on paper, a relatively straightforward draw.
But that’s not the good part. (Seriously.)
Yuriy Vernydub leaves the Georgian national team, to take the reigns of his native Ukraine. We immediately register our interest, ready to go all-in with the Crusaders. No matter that we’ve signed two brilliant, non-Georgian prospects in Mehrdad Hatami and Mark Kamau.
Within 72 hours, the offer from the GFF arrives. We do not hesitate.
There is an incredible amount of work to do, as the Crusaders are ranked 90th in the world, without any tangible signs of progress over the last decade. A promising XI awaits, though we will need to work with them on our tactics…even if Mat’s newly-designed kits are the epitomy of class.
Of course, in the midst of it all, we labor to a 1-1 draw in…Shamrock. (That can’t be right, but Mat insists.) Back in Tbilisi, we again labor…to a 2-1 (aet) win thanks to a late Dvali goal, to progress by the narrowest of margins.
Yet, still the insanity will not subside. We’re struggling to pick our first squad for the Nations League when the Champions League Group Stage draw lands…and we come out of the hat in Group C, against Patrick “Noodles” Rahmen’s Porto, Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid (led by Erling Haaland), and Olympiakos.
Our hope is for a 3rd place finish, above the Greeks. But that is a worry for another day.
Our international debut looms large.
Our Crusaders’ debut is away to Sasa Ilic’s Serbia in Novi Sad. Far from an easy trip.
We will undoubtedly rely heavily on our captain and undisputed Number 1, Giorgi Mamardashvili. In front of him, Jimothy will step in as our libero, with additional experience in the form of Giorgi Kutsia, Kvicha Kvaratskhelia and Nika Ninua. Ricardo Duarte is another familiar face, albeit one we’ve only seen in the colors of Dinamo Tbilisi.
Many of the lads are all at sea, tactically. It’s one thing to admire PM Draugrson from afar. It is an entirely different thing to play it, against a superior XI.
Make no mistake — the Serbians are a superior XI. And their quality shines through, early and often. It takes a captain’s performance from Mamardashvili to claim a surprise point in a scoreless draw.
Not the most emphatic debut, I’ll grant you. But we are licking our chops, thinking about Michal Probierz’s Slovenia, whom we host in Tbilisi in a few days time. Turns out, we should have been less optimistic, as they bring a ruthlessness to their attack that we did not see from the Serbians.
It falls to Jalaghonia on the hour mark, to claim the first goal of the Georgian Gorlami era. We’re three goals down at that point. It is nothing more than a consolation on a bitter, frustrating night. A 3-1 loss. Not good enough, lads.
Our mood is lifted, however, with a vital 4-3 win away to Olympiakos, secured by a 92nd minute goal from Keburia after we’d nearly thrown away a three-goal lead. Our hopes of a repeat performance in Madrid were dashed early (and often), as Kublashvili was tasked with the impossible on his senior debut for the club, deputizing for the injured Karason. 5-1? That’s all? It sure didn’t feel that close.
Another year, another promising graduating class from Fabrika. Koba Bregvadze appears to be the cream of the lot. Zaza Tediashvili could be up for it, if he had any semblance of composure. Of the rest, Joni Kvirikashvili, Tornike Sibashvili, Balasz Poloskei, and Tengiz Khukhua will each be given a chance to impress.
Our hunt for an international win continues. We start well against Northern Ireland, but in the end are grateful to claim a 1-1 draw. Several short days later, Slovenia all but run us off the pitch in Koper — even if we managed to find our shooting boots — in a 4-2 loss.
It’s a silver lining.
With 2 matches to play, we are not yet consigned to relegation. A win would give our morale a boost…and perhaps send the Serbians down in our stead.
October 2032 (continued).
Reduced to 10 men early against Porto in Tbilisi, we are forced to hold on for dear life. We manage to do so in a scoreless draw, further separating ourselves from Olympiakos at the bottom of table. The chances of us playing European football after the holidays only continue to grow.
And, after facing our reserves 2 years in a row in the semifinals of the Davit Kipiani Cup, this time we’ll face them in the finals. Mat is plotting to “reward” the 2nd XI by allowing them to play the final…without telling them that he plans to field the 1st XI for the reserves. He has no logical thought behind this plan, other than “it would be funny.” To his credit, it would be funny.
The expansion of the Arsen is complete —adding 1,609 seats to the existing terracing. It will likely be the proverbial “squeaky bum time” for the first match against Dinamo Batumi, in late November — Dinamo Tbilisi are hanging close. But the schedule is favorable.
The title is ours to lose.
The rumblings have begun. The pundits can taste blood in the water.
We lose in Tbilisi on Matchday 5 to Serbia, 2-nil, to extend our winless streak. A poor start to life with the Crusaders, which has many questioning whether we were the right appointment, after all.
Even Mat is beginning to question whether it was a good idea, and his judgment has never been a good barometer of taste — he hasn’t been this depressed since his all-male, stage remake of Steel Magnolias (starring a out-of-work Ed Sheeran impersonator in the Shirley MacLaine role) was cancelled in Tbilisi’s nascent theater district.
Like so many things in life, though, all of our doubts were washed away over the course of a single evening in Belfast. A 26th minute blast from Mikautadze set the tone, and we refused to relent when the Northern Irish fought back to equalize. Mskhvilidze finds the net in the 69th, with Mikautadze claiming his brace a few minutes later after a misplaced backpass. A triumphant 3-1 win — the first of our tenure.
Though we are still relegated to the Nations League C, we desperately needed this ahead of the long, dark winter, if only to silence the critics. Chacha football is here to stay, whether they like it or not.
With World Cup qualifying just around the corner, we could not continue to wait for the squad and tactics to come together.
Matchday 4 in Portugal ends predictably — a 2-nil loss, albeit one where we were not annihilated as comprehensively as we once would have been.
The reserves follow-up on having reached the Davit Kipiani Cup final by winning the Erovnuli Liga 2 for the second year running. It’s a big feat. One that we are quite proud of. But it is not enough. It will never be enough.
Ahead of the all-important match against Olympiakos, we rotate the squad and send out the 2nd XI to face Dinamo Batumi on Erovnuli Liga Matchday 35…and promptly drop points in a 2-2 draw, allowing Dinamo Tbilisi to close within striking distance. We will be away to Dila Gori while our rivals host Lokomotivi — our 1-point lead more than enough to secure the title if we take care of business.
As we should. On paper.
But before we can think too much about Dila Gori, we need to host the Greeks. Once again, we pack our shooting boots and claim a 5-2 win which secures passage through to the knockout rounds. (Though we (miraculously) sit level with Porto, we face Real Madrid on the final matchday and will almost certainly fall into the Europa League.)
Leaving 3 matches, none of which are dead rubbers.
In Gori, the heavy legs of the 1st XI are enough to see us through to claim the Erovnuli Liga title — our 5th straight — with a 2-nil win — our 1-point margin mirroring that from 2030.
The 2nd XI are tasked with the Davit Kipiani Cup final against our reserves. It’s a packed house at the Arsen for what is little more than a glorified friendly, the only thing on offer being bragging rights around Fabrika. The result is as one-sided as we should expect, however — a 5-nil win in which the quality and experience of our 2nd XI shone through.
Against Zinedine Zidane and the Virus (ironically, the name of my favorite post-punk/emo fusion band in high school), we have little reason for optimism. We are through to the Europa League knockout rounds, but… If we can steal a result and get a little help from Olympiakos, we’d be through to the Champions League knockout rounds. We even strike first in the 7th minute, through Fokou, and then again in the 53rd through Jalaghonia.
Yet, like all dreams, this too had to end. We gift the Virus an equalizer through an own goal before conceding a 95th minute winner, as we go down 3-2.
December 2032 – Season Review.
In a year where we seemed destined to confirm our supremacy in Georgia, only one thing did not go to plan — the resurgence of Dinamo Tbilisi, taking us to the final matchday in the Erovnuli Liga. It might be time to cut them off at the knees, yeah?
Drunk on cheese, the Board confirm their idiocy by announcing their plan to capitalize on our continued success by downsizing the stadium, in order to add 400 seats.
The GFF and league do not hesitate to acknowledge our domination — the awards season is virtually all-Gareji.
Dvali claims the Jughashvili Medal for the second year running.
Redemption from the leagues, however, as Giorgi Beridze (recently promoted to the 1st team) claims the Erovnuli Liga 2 Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year, while leading a large Gareji contingent in the second tier’s Best XI and Next XI.
Adowa claims a trifecta, securing the Erovnuli Liga Player of the Year, Young Player of the Year and Foreign Player of the Year. Keburia claims the Golden Boot, with a Tigishvili strike deemed the Goal of the Year. 8 players are named to the Best XI, with another 5 on the substitutes’ bench.
Despite fielding both XIs in the Davit Kipiani Cup final, we only have 5 players named to the tournament’s Best XI, with 8 named to the Next XI (including 2 of our reserves). An absolute scandal, this.
Goals for 2033: Win the lot, domestically. Qualify for the knockout rounds of a European competition in 2033/34. Not embarrass ourselves in World Cup qualifying. Re-focus our squad building efforts on developing Georgian players, instead of importing promising foreign talent.
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.”
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