Gareji Sagarejo / Georgia – 2033 Open Thread
January/February 2033 – Odds & Ends; Transfer News.
Stick or twist? As if we have a choice.
We’re all in on the Crusaders.
Accordingly, our transfer strategy has to focus on developing players for the national team, by signing: (1) the most promising young players we can find; (2) talented, established players from our domestic rivals who need refinement; and (3) certain former Gareji players who have found that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side…
Before we can put those plans into motion, however, we have two all-important draws — the Europa League knockout rounds and World Cup qualifiers.
First out of the gate is the Europa League draw, which sees us paired with Estoril Praia — a very favorable draw.
Seeded 4th for the World Cup qualifiers, we can only hope for a similar level of kindness. It is a much more measured draw, as we are placed into Group E with Bruno Labbadia’s Turkey, Heimir Gudjonsson’s Croatia, David “It Puts the Lotion on its Skin” Moyes’ Wales, Andorra and San Marino.
The GFF are merely asking that we “be competitive,” which should be well within our reach. One would hope.
With all of the sharks circling our key foreign players, the big surprise as the transfer window opens is the feeding frenzy surrounding Erekle Jalaghonia, who has been refusing to sign a new contract and could leave on a free in 12 months’ time. In the end, he joins Eddie Howe’s Luton Town for $5M, plus a 50% next sale clause, with a loan-back through the end of 2033. It’s a big loss, but the loan-back will ensure that we can plan for his departure, and continue his development in the meantime.
We also raid Dinamo Tbilisi for 2 players I have long coveted…in a Biblical sense. Georgian internationals Ricardo Duarte and Vakhtang Mukbaniani will step directly into our 1st XI — Duarte will be retrained to play at right wingback, and Mukbaniani as our mezzalla. They are direct replacements for Desire Kourouma and Jean Gnahore, who joined Osasuna and Frankfurt, respectively.
The other big signings? Luka Macharadze returns from his Perugian purgatory to replace the departing Sverrir Karason — the equivalent of throwing down a reverse Uno card on 2030. The best part of this move? Thanks to the 50% next sale clause in Macharadze’s transfer to Perugia, we get $875k of his transfer fee back.
The same accounting wizardry accompanies Giorgi Bedoidze‘s return from FC Koln (to replace the departed Alain Fokou), as we receive $165k of the transfer fee we pay ze Germans. It’s best if you don’t question the math.
Even in the absence of morally and legally ambiguous accounting methods, our transfer business is fully funded by sales.
Television rights payments continue their steady increase — the Erovnuli Liga rights rise to $315k per team, with the Erovnuli Liga 2 rights rising to $157k per team, up from $273k and $134k in 2032 (respectively).
January 2033 – Squad Review.
While we conducted a full-blown squad review last February, it strikes me as necessary to revisit and quickly take stock of where we are, now that our player development focus has shifted.
As noted above, we did not fight to keep several of our key non-Georgian players, leaving only 5 foreign players in a 24-man first team squad.
Though I am somewhat tempted to adjust our tactics to a Nagelsmann-inspired setup for the sake of the Crusaders, we will continue to play PM Draugrson at both club and country, the tactic originally developed during the beta and detailed here: The Night Is Dark & Full Of Terrors.
The only serious tweak is that I’ve begun using a combination of Guido’s short throw overload setup and a slightly tweaked version thereof.
Let’s dive right in, while keeping it brief.
As noted above, Luka Macharadze returns from Italy to resume his position as our Number 1. Mikheil Kublashvili (the 2031 Erovnuli Liga 2 Golden Glove winner) promoted into the senior squad last year to serve as our backup, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
At libero, Umar Adowa is our undisputed starter after an incredible debut campaign in 2032. Harutyun Esoyan will carry on with the 2nd XI for now, but his days are numbered. We need to develop Georgian liberos. Now. Revaz Rotiashvili, a $220k signing from Saburtalo, looks to be the most likely player to take up that mantle at this juncture. (Ucha Pataraia has been anchoring the U19s for the last 2 years, but looks unlikely to make the grade.)
Flanking Adowa in the first XI will be Joni Bebiashvili and Vasil Mikeltadze. Hilmar Arason will battle it out with Giorgi Beridze and Giorgi Beridze ($350k, Saburtalo) for spots in the 2nd XI. No, you aren’t seeing double. We really do have 2 centerbacks with the name. Don’t worry, they’re easy to tell apart. See, “Old” Giorgi wears number 26, whereas “New” Giorgi wears 62. Simples.
At right wingback, we have two new faces. The aforementioned Ricardo Duarte will retrain to play in our 1st XI — learning on the job, as it were — since we are in desperate need of a dynamic, attacking presence on the flank. His understudy will be Konstantine Malania ($400k, Lokomotivi). Given the dearth of quality for the national team, Malania may get a call up sooner rather than later if he can develop. (Papuna Lomsadze drops to the reserves, to see out his contract after his long-promised potential failed to develop yet again.)
Inverted on the left, Demur Kasrashvili takes over for Otar Tigishvil on both merit and due to the fact that Otar is dumber than a bag of hammers. I’ve offered Otar a new contract repeatedly, yet he insists on playing as a carrilero — a role we have never employed at Gareji, the name for which he can’t even properly pronounce. So, no. No new contract for you, Otar.
Long term, I have high hopes for Imeda Kobakhidze, an inverted winger who came on strongly last year for the U19s, claiming 10 goals and 7 assists from deep. He will start the campaign with the reserves, moving into the first team squad when Otar finally ****s off.
As noted above, we lose our two (non-Georgian) starting midfielders but have replaced them with quality — Vakhtang Mukbaniani and Giorgi Beridze. Again, we have strength in depth — Arman Avagyan and Aleksi Tebidze are the backups, with previously-announced Isaac Asamoah ($375k; Asante Kotoko) looking like an immense beast, who I’m hoping has a heretofore unknown Georgian grandparent…aunt. Neighbor. Something.
It’s a strong group, but we need more Georgian midfielders… Maybe I should stop retraining them to play elsewhere?
Up top, we have no change in the 1st and 2nd XI from last year.
Erekle Jalaghonia will play his loan-back year as the advanced playmaker in our 1st XI, flanked by Gela Keburia and Zura Chighladze. Giorgi Ugrekhelidze, Giorgi Dvali and Giorgi “Barbie” Barbakadze will be the front line in our 2nd XI.
Something has to give, however, as we have a wealth of attacking talent in our reserves and youth ranks. Led by Mark “the Kenyan Keanu” Kamau, it is a promising group — inverted wingers Bakar Gadebava, Boris Iliev, Giorgi Khardzeishvili and Gocha Guruli could each play for the 1st XI, if they meet their potential. We also have Gevorg Abrahamyan who is retraining to play as an advanced playmaker, who will face competition from Koba Bregvadze and Mamuka Mchedlishvili for minutes with the reserves and U19s.
(As mentioned last year, Basile Eklu ($75k; Maranatha) will also arrive in June, to give us even more depth in the attack.)
We are a long ways from where we want to be with the Crusaders. These feel like the necessary “next” steps to get us there, though. Raiding our chief domestic rival for talent that needs refinement. Scooping up the best young Georgian players we can find. Re-patriating players who have moved abroad, only to see their development languish.
In the process, we have sacrificed some of our quality. But we are not in this for short-term gains at the club level. We’re looking towards a far more distant horizon.
February 2033 – Europa League, First Knockout Round.
Ahead of the Europa League tie against Estoril Praia, we are named as narrow favorites to retain our Erovnuli Liga crown, with Machardze, Arason, Duarte, Avagyan, Jalaghonia and Barbakadze named to the pre-season Dream XI.
Some curious omissions, but the pundits are morons. It is known.
Off to Portgual we go. And it is a brilliant night, with a Player of the Match performance from Bedoidze, a solid night for Duarte at right wingback, and 90 minutes of sheer courage from Macharadze to deny the Portuguese in a clinical, 3-nil win.
Exactly the performance we needed. Except for the the injuries to Keburia and Chighladze, which rule them out of the return leg.
In Tbilisi, we’re having a poor night. In danger of blowing the lead we’d secured for ourselves. Until Mukbaniani decides to open his Gareji account in the 53rd minute — a sublime run into the channel (beating the offside trap), followed by a delicious chip. We lose 2-1 on the night, but are nevertheless through to the next round.
A tad lucky, perhaps, over 180 minutes. But we will not complain.
Not even when Lady Luck abandons us, abruptly. Without even leaving a fiver on the bedside table. We’ve draw Kevin Betsy’s Arsenal. ****.
March 2033 – Europa League, Second Knockout Round.
Ahead of the Arsenal match in Tbilisi, the club announces the sale of 1,119 season tickets, a solid 14.18% year-on-year increase from last year’s 980 season tickets. Excellent news, all around.
If only we had more to show them during the first leg in Tbilisi. A valiant, heroic effort sees Arsenal stymied for 90 minutes. We cannot find the net either, and will thus head to the Big Smoke with a chance for an upset. A remote chance, perhaps, but a chance nevertheless.
We concede early at the Emirates but recover to find our sea legs. We even look threatening once or twice. Until Mikeltadze hooks a clearance into the roof of our own net. ****. Down 2-nil at the half, there’s nothing to do but throw caution to the wind and chase the tie, even though I suspect the effort will end in screaming and drowning.
We chase. We harry. We press. We find our way back into the match, statistically. Barbakadze is denied a wondergoal by VAR in the 78th — a goal that would have shaken our hosts’ resolve.
Minutes later, it is all over as Shaquille Cumberbatch heads home from close range to make it 3-nil. (With a name that glorious, you’d expect Shaquille to be less of a ****. But you’d be disappointed.)
Pushing forward so aggressively was a risk. A calculated one, but nevertheless a risk that we took. A risk we do not regret taking. It nearly paid off. But instead we’ve paid the price.
We are out of Europe, 3-nil on the night and on aggregate.
We take out our frustrations on Dinamo Tbilisi in the Super Cup — a ruthless, clinical 5-nil win, that we’re hoping will set the tone for the campaign ahead.
March 2033 – World Cup Qualifying.
Mat is confident ahead of the Croatia match, sashaying around the house on Paper Street.
“They’re sitting 2nd in the table, Boss, beneath Andorra! Andorra! They’re underperforming. Ripe for the plucking. The table don’t lie, Boss!”
Of course, they’re only second in the table at the moment because the matches haven’t kicked off, and A comes before C in the alphabet.
But I don’t have the heart to explain alphabetization to him.
We create the chances we need, but do not take them. We fall, 1-nil, as a result. Though the result is not what we wanted, it is a promising performance. A moral victory, one might even say.
72 hours later, in Andorra, nothing less than 3 points will suffice. 3-1 is not the comprehensive annihilation I wanted. But, true to my word, it will suffice.
In the aftermath of the win over Andorra, we’re on cloud nine. Even though it’s just one game.
But after a much-needed result, it’s like everything else in life has the volume turned down. I can deal with anything. I even convince the Board to invest further in our youth academy, even if they resist investment in the training facilities more generally.
As our scouting network expands, I take what free time I have to travel around the country to get “eyes on” players. Mat is doing the same, leaving while I sleep; when I wake, I find domestic flight itineraries. Bus tickets.
I could look at 50 football academies, and somehow I just knew. Mat had been there.
I haven’t seen him in several days when — on a Friday night in Zeda Sazano, — I’m watching some U14s do their technical work. I know Mat was heading here the other day, based on our internal scouting database, but don’t know which players he was looking for. Or even if he’s already scooped them up, whisked them off to Fabrika for induction into all things Gareji. For some reason, that information was removed from the database. Odd, in the extreme.
When the coach ambles over, a wry smile on his face, I know. Mat was here. He recognizes me. And he knows why I’m here.
After the tedious exchange of banal pleasantries, I get right to the point. “I need to speak to Mat.”
The coach’s grin turns into a smirk.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know anyone by that name, sir.” The last word punctuated by a cheeky wink.
He knows exactly why I’m here. But he’s holding back for some reason.
“I just need to know if you’ve seen Mat.”
“I’m not supposed to speak any such information to you, nor would I, even if I had said information at this juncture, be able.”
The smirk remains. I take my leave. I’ve played this game before.
On the road between matches, seemingly chasing Mat’s shadow from one pitch to another, I’m living in a state of perpetual deja vu. Everywhere I go, I have been before. The smell of sweat and shoe leather, like fried chicken. A well-groomed pitch. The ambient warmth of floodlights, recently switched off. I am always just one step behind him.
In the end, it was inevitable that I would catch up to him. Not at the Davit Kipiani Cup tie “away” to our own reserves at the Arsen. No, at his deposition the day before. I knew about the deposition because Mat knew about the deposition. (The deposition has nothing to do with Gareji, thankfully. Rather, Mat is one of the lead plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit over the alleged excessive urine content in the soup at the recently opened Hotel Football in Gareji.)
He just shrugs, dismissively, when I try to confront him about his erratic behavior.
We’re supposed to be a team. A united front. The Georgian Clough and Taylor. Only, he’s disconnecting from me. Keeping secrets. Pursuing his own agenda, the exact parameters of which escape me.
May/June 2033 – European Review.
In the Champions League, Brendan Rodgers’ Juventus defeat Zinedine Zidane’s Virus, 1-nil.
Mauricio Pochettino’s Newcastle claim the Europa League title with a 3-nil (aet) win over Alberto Valentim’s AC Milan.
And, in the Europa Conference League, Sjors Ultee’s Napoli defeat Gareth Southgates Mohnkeyglooderback on penalties, after a 2-2 draw.
In the active leagues: Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool win their Premier League title; Zidane’s Virus reclaim the La Liga title; Valentim’s AC Milan win the Serie A title; Julian Nagelsmann’s Bayern did Bayern things; and, Roberto Martinez’s PS-****ing-G did PS-****ing-G things.
The Erovnuli Liga rises 2 spots to 38th in the competition reputation rankings, just behind the Bulgarian efbet League. Unfortunately that’s where the good news ends.
Gareji also drop to 33rd in the club coefficient rankings — sitting right behind Hertha Berlin and RB Salzburg…at least we sit 32 spots above Dinamo Tbilisi…
June 2033 – World Cup Qualifying.
Nothing less than 3 points against San Marino will do. Fortunately, the lads do not look past them as we run out 4-nil winners, with VAR working overtime against us.
A much bigger task awaits in Istanbul. Mikautadze hits the post early, it’s as close as we come. But it’s also as close as our hosts come. A scoreless draw is beyond what we could have hoped for.
3rd after 4 matches, with only 2 goals conceded? Yes, please.
Before the transfer madness kicks in, Mat is giddy. Back to his normal self.
The reports coming in from Fabrika are sublime. We may have a solid group of players coming on our hands.
It doesn’t change our transfer strategy heading into the window, which can be characterized as MBG — more, better Georgians. It isn’t very elegant. Not that it needs to be.
A spanner in the works, though, as Gela Keburia suffers a hip injury mere days after signing a new contract. He’s out for months, and has told the club he’ll be convalescing back at his sister’s place in Tbilisi.
Fortunately, we are nothing if not up to our necks in attacking midfielders. Khardzeishvili promotes from the reserves to the 2nd XI, with Dvali stepping into the 1st XI. Khardzeishvili is the leading goalscorer in the 2nd tier, so it isn’t as if he hasn’t earned this opportunity.
He is part of a strong youth core in the reserves — a group which leads the Georgian U21s on an epic run at the U21 Euros, before losing to France in the final, 2-1, behind the tournament’s leading goalscorer, Dvali.
Translating this success to success with the full national team is another issue, of course.
To do that, we must continue to nurture and develop Georgian talent. Which brings us full circle, back to the transfer window.
Avagyan, Adowa and Esoyan are the headline departures, leaving us without a first-team libero. Which is fine. We need to develop a pool of talented liberos for the Crusaders, anyways. We shift Tigishvili into the role with the 1st XI — cross-training him will serve multiple purposes, for both the short- and long-term view with the national team. We also promote Pataraia from the reserves, to play as a libero in our 2nd XI. In turn, Rotiashvili steps from the U19s to the reserves.
To fill the Tigishvili-shaped hole at left wingback in the 2nd XI, we promote Kobakhidze who has come on in leaps and bounds over the last 6 months with the reserves.
To replace Avagyan, we promote Toroshelidze from the reserves.
We also (eventually) secure the signing of the best young, Georgian player to have come through a foreign academy in recent years — Tornike Khukhua ($3.5M) from Sassuolo. Khukhua steps into the 2nd XI as our advanced playmaker, and will also play from the bench with our 1st XI. Khukhua is a big signing, on several levels. Not only have we saved him from languishing on a foreign shore; we can refine his development over the coming years. For, if he can meet his potential, he will be a force to be reckoned with for the Crusaders for years to come. When Jagalhonia‘s loan-back expires in December, Khukhua will take over in the 1st XI, with Bregvadze likely promoting into the 2nd XI.
Truth be told, I considered retraining Khukhua as a libero, but decided to keep him playing higher up the pitch given other options available to us.
(Ugrekhelidze has refused to sign a new contract, and will join Dinamo Tbilisi on a free at the end of the year. The ****. I mean, sure…we were going to move him on anyways, but joining our rivals is a betrayal of epic proportions.)
Finally, we bring in Tymur Slotyuk ($100k; Saburtalo) — pure potential, at this juncture. The U19 international will play with our reserves for now. If he can develop, he looks like he could play for the 2nd XI in due course.
An epic summer transfer window. The squad is coming together.
Optimism abounds, as we generally romp through the summer fixture list, not missing a beat. Even the Board is forced to reconsider its rejection of our request to invest in the training facilities, agreeing to do so after the window closes.
The calm before the storm.
The last few weeks of tranquility before World Cup qualifying and the Champions League Group Stage resume.
I told Mat he wasn’t allowed to buy the newly-released Crusader Kings 4, because we won’t be able to take advantage of this quiet time to sleep and prepare adequately for the tasks ahead.
Only, when I fell asleep early after the Lokomotivi match, he couldn’t help himself. I awoke to a chagrined Mat, sheepishly (and readily) admitting that he’d ****ed up.
We did nothing after the next few weeks but try to conquer the world with Count Eudes of Anjou, starting in 867. Mat chose the torturer lifestyle, as he is wont to do. He would have succeeded, if he hadn’t been caught trying to abduct the Pope.
Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that we conceded 3 to both Dinamo Tbilisi and Saburtalo.
At least we’ve drawn Patrick “Noodles” Rahmen’s Porto, Massimiliano Allegri’s Chelsea, and Fenerbahçe in the Champions League. So we’ve got that going for us.
September 2033 – World Cup Qualifying.
Ahead of the match in Swansea, I can’t avoid him. His eyes watch my every move. His lips, dry and cracked. His teeth, yellowed with age. When he introduces himself, it’s a raspy voice reminiscent of dry leather, crumbling. One that I know will haunt my dreams.
His hands are more moisturized than any I’ve ever held. And cold. It takes all of my willpower to not recoil in horror, as the scent of what I can only assume is eucalyptus lotion overwhelms me. Mat wisely stayed away.
Moyes’ Wales sit atop the Group. A result today (or back in Tbilisi against Turkey) would be a welcome surprise.
Truth be told, I just want to get out of here. I can feel his eyes watching me from the Welsh technical area. Even when we battle back from 2 (undeserved) goals down — through Jimothy and then Chighladze — still, he watches me.
(Mat swears he isn’t blinking, like a lizard. But that’s just the paranoia talking.)
I can feel his anger burning when, in the 90th minute, Ingram is dismissed for a dangerous, two-footed lunge. We have a 1-man advantage for time-added on. We do the only natural thing, and look to find the winner. We cannot, despite our best efforts. A 2-2 draw is an epic result. One we can be quite proud of.
After the match, Mat runs down the tunnel to celebrate as Moyes lingers near the tunnel. Waiting. As I approach, I can see a cold glint in his unblinking stare. A hunger, almost. Awkward, but no more so than the hoarse whisper, inviting me back to his suite for a glass of wine.
I demur and take my leave with as much haste as propriety will allow. When I explain the invitation to Mat, he is relieved beyond measure that I declined. “No man should have hands that soft. That…cold, Rezo. He’d have had you in the woodchipper for sure.”
Somehow, I don’t think the woodchipper is what he had in mind. Unless that’s a Welsh euphemism that I’m unfamiliar with.
As we leave the stadium, I turn back. High in the glass facade, I can see the outline of a man watching us drive away. Red eyes burning, watching us leave. Silhouetted against some internal lights. Mat sees it, too.
“Must be a trick of the light. Wales, yeah?!”
“****ing Wales, man.”
“Not even a proper country. Get your own Queen, yeah?!”
I can only shake my head. You can’t talk to him when he’s like this.
We’re off to Split. Away to Croatia. A big ask. Their campaign has not gone to plan, as they languish in 3rd after 5 matches.
Our gameplan doesn’t change. Whether they are ripe for the plucking or not, we will come after them. Hard. And in the first 45 minutes, we create a number of chances…but fail to capitalize. Until the 53rd, when a beautiful passage of play sees Mukbaniani hitting the gap at pace. He volleys home with authority, 1-nil.
Nervy times, these. We are denied a penalty by VAR in the 67th — the invisible hand of UEFA, intervening to spare our hosts’ blushes. It surely would have been a 2nd yellow for Franjic, too.
Minutes later, Jimothy is unjustly booked outside of our box. Vidovic curls it into the back of the net. The UEFA mafia, writ large…but we will not cower before their bureaucratic tyranny. Duarte threads a diagonal ball through to Mukbaniani a few minutes later — he slots it home to restore our advantage, before running to the UEFA box and performing a Ronaldo-esque diamond-cutter for the assembled dignitaries.
Reduced to 10 men with an injury to Miktaudze, still the Croatians cannot find their way through. 6 minutes of injury time? An utter farce. Rendered all the more so when, in the 94th minute, Khukhua is sent off.
Mat is incandescent with rage. Un-righteously so. It was a clear red. Every day. That doesn’t stop me from haranguing the 4th official, naturally.
Our energy translates to the players, who battle to the final whistle like warrior poets. A 2-1 win. The Croatians humiliated.
An historic moment. We climb above Wales on goal difference, sitting joint-2nd.
The fixture list ahead is favorable — 4 matches, 3 in Georgia. In October, we will host Andorra and travel to San Marino — an all-important six points. In November, the true tests await as we host Turkey and Wales in Tbilisi.
We land in Tbilisi, energized and ready for what comes next. I see a missed call from a +44 area code.
No means no, David.
September 2033 (continued).
While the press may complain about “bias” in the national team squad, one thing cannot be denied — the positivity emanating from the Crusaders carry over when the players return to Gareji.
And, it isn’t as if the players selected aren’t taken on merit.
Thus, even against Allegri’s Chelsea in the Big Smoke, we feel we can give them a run. No timidity. Punch, counterpunch. It isn’t that we consider ourselves invincible. Just that we no longer care to respect their respsective standing in the game. And, we’d rather see who is standing at the last.
Sadly, strong words and good vibes do not carry the day. Fate is a much more fickle **** than that. We fall, 1-nil. But we leave with our heads held high as we refused to lay down for our host. The best indication of our resolve? Unai Simon is named Player of the Match.
Our positivity (both tactical and emotional) carries over to Fenerbahce in Tbilisi — a 9-nil rout of the Turkish giants that is arguably the greatest performance in club history. (But only if we don’t consider karaoke night at The Chubby Pickle in Gori, across from the Stalin Museum. That’s always epic. Without fail.)
Our swashbuckling, attack-minded football isn’t just winning adherents across the continent — domestically, we’ve already broken our Erovnuli Liga goalscoring record with 124 goals in 28 matches, eclipsing our prior record of 121.
The Fabrika Class of ’33 also arrives to great fanfare, a potential “golden generation.” While we’ve produced numerous attacking players with promise over the years, this year we’ve cast a broader net. Aleksandre Sirbiladze and Georgian-Italian dual-national Luca Giannattasio lead the charge — both of whom should be pushing to join the first team squad within the year. Nikoloz Shengelia, Aleksandre Natroshvili, Aleksandre Jijelava and Farsley’s own Harry Makin could join them in due course.
October 2033 – World Cup Qualifying.
Ahead of the match against Andorra, the pundits are abuzz with rumors of our imminent sacking, as the GFF are “losing patience” with us.
Granted, I too would be more than disappointed if we were to do anything but annihilate them in Batumi.
So it goes when, on a night when we are in need of a big performance, the lads are sleepwalking. We prevail, 2-nil, and are never in danger. But it feels like a poor performance.
Away to San Marino, we again start brightly — only, this time we do not take our foot off the gas pedal so obviously. It’s 5-1 at the final whistle, meaning that we head into the final matches against Turkey and Wales in control of our own destiny.
Frankly, I’m beginning to think that the President of the GFF has a red-headed, n’er-do-well stepchild that he’s angling to put into the position.
October 2033 (continued).
I don’t know if it is complacency or the difficulties inherent in having a squad battling on three fronts, for club and country. But we are leaving points on the table this month — controlling matches, but not putting our opponents to the sword.
Porto annihilate us 3-nil on the night where we debut our new away kits, though I can’t for the life of me figure out why Mat chose to swap out our kits now. Regardless, we claim our 6th straight title on Matchday 33 at the Chele Arena.
Meaning that our focus can turn to the Champions League and World Cup qualifying.
November 2033 – World Cup Qualifying.
All roads lead to Tbilisi.
For this is where our fates will be decided, as we host Turkey and Wales over the course of 4 days.
While the Wales match is clearly what will define our final position, we cannot sandbag the Turkey match — Wales host Andorra that same day, meaning that if we lose to Turkey we will almost certainly find ourselves third heading into the final matchday.
Of course, those on the optimistic side of the spectrum realize that a win would see us draw level with Turkey on points. Surely, a win isn’t in the cards, no matter how comprehensive our recent humiliation of Fenerbahce was…and the fact that we managed a draw in Istanbul, in June… Though, a win is possible, isn’t it?
The GFF have swung from being critical of our performance to firing up the hype train, introducing new kits ahead of the Turkey match. They’re saucy. But the GFF is tempting the Football Gods now, all but demanding that we be struck down for their hubris. At least they didn’t brand them our World Cup ’34 kits…yet.
In the hours leading up to kickoff, the pundits are questioning whether we will abandon our attacking principles in favor of a more measure, practical approach. They clearly don’t know us at all.
Within the first 3 minutes, we’ve hit the post. Yet still, we concede first, against the run of play. I stand silent on the touchline, while Mat loses his damn mind next to me. Raging against the linesman who kept his flag down. Bastard.
Down 1-nil at the half, we’re not dead yet. We’ve created chances. One of them will fall our way.
Yet we are unable to find purchase in the 2nd half. With 30 minutes to play, we increase the intensity. Increase the aggression. Increase the risk.
Keburia finds the net in the 90th minute — as he wheels away in celebration, Mat notices the linesman’s flag is raised. Double bastard.
VAR confirms. Offside, by the slimmest of margins. It is all I can do to keep Mat from assaulting the linesman.
Khurtsidze launching the ball into orbit is the final kick of the match. We fall, 1-nil.
Wales defeat Andorra, which means we drop to 3rd.
Meaning that all will be decided against the Welsh. 90 minutes. All to play for. Anything but a win, and we’re done for. And even with a win, qualification is not assured.
The pundits are fully of criticisms, second-guesses and holier-than-thou pronouncements. The ****s.
I manage to avoid Moyes in the build-up to the match, but once kickoff arrives. I can feel him watching me. Waiting. When the Welsh hit the post early, I can hear him calling my name. When I don’t respond, he chuckles. “Don’t worry, Red…I’ve got my eyes on you.” Creepy ****.
At the half, we are dead in the water. Lacking a spark. Fire and brimstone ensues, metaphorically, as I hand the team talk off to Mat. It’s all a blur to me — but whatever he said, it worked. Jalaghonia smashes the crossbar in the 48th minute — a thunderbolt from distance. The Welsh cannot clear and Mukbaniaini is hammers home the loose ball, but the defense is adamant that he was offsides. VAR intervenes, in the favor of our more glamourous opponents. Moyes’ soft, raspy laugh is audible even above the din of the Paichadze, sending shivers down my spine.
As the minutes pass, our desperation goes. The more we attempt to increase the pressure, the more the Welsh look likely to find a goal of their own.
VAR intervenes yet again in the 83rd minute, as North flops to the ground feigning a push in the box. Penalty.
As torrents of abuse fly from the stands, Mamardashvili stands equal to the task, as Spencer dinks a cheap ball down the middle, only to be undone by his own arrogance. Moments later, Mikautadze forces a big save from the Welsh keeper, and our guests clear the ensuing corner.
Time is ticking away on our dreams. With 3 minutes of injury time, we cast our lot — pushing everyone forward with urgency.
To no avail. The whistle blows. The dream is dead. A scoreless draw.
I refuse to leave the pitch until several hours have passed, the floodlights long-since extinguished.
6 months ago, we would have bitten your hand off for a 3rd-place finish. Now, it feels like nothing less than abject failure, even as we celebrate Mamardashvili’s record-setting 112th cap.
The GFF are pleased that we managed to be competitive, though their kind words are tempered by the threat of the sack if performances don’t “improve.”
The only consolation? Wales fail to qualify through the second-place table, leading to Moyes’ resignation and retirement.
Two things are certain, as Mat and I finally climb into the car for the drive back to Sagarejo. First, we will be avenged. This aggression from UEFA will not be allowed to stand. Second, Khurtsidze will never play for the Crusaders again. Our failure to qualify isn’t his fault. But it is.
The let-down of the World Cup qualifiers is quickly put behind us. The media are all-too happy to have someone to blame, and they’ve adopted our line — Khurstidze is to blame. It’s wildly unfair. Not that I mind. He can do one.
Let Aleksandre content himself with his single Davit Kipiani Cup. We’re hunting bigger game — scalping the likes of Chelsea (2-1) in front of a record crowd of 18,343 and Fenerbahce (5-2) in Istanbul.
December 2032 – Season Review.
Is this stagnation? For the third straight year, we’ve finished 3rd in our Champions League Group. This may be our most successful campaign (with 3 wins), but it feels at times as if we are not making progress.
That is the cynical view, of course. We’ve also been shifting from a squad relying (in part) on talented foreign players to one dependent almost wholly on Georgian talent. Young Georgian talent, no less.
Doubts may creep in, but we are improving our lot. Slowly by slowly. For example, we managed to hit 149 goals during the league campaign, a delightfully absurd total in any league.
If we can continue along this path, there is reason for hope for both club and country. Progress is the key. Steady progress.
The Board — in their infinite wisdom — again agree to expand the stadium, adding 1,791 seats to reach a 5,000 capacity. It doesn’t match the ambition shared by Mat and I, but it is better than nothing.
For the 8th year running, one of our players claims the Jughashvili Medal — 18 year-old Giorgi Beridze, who fought his way into the 1st XI after arriving from Saburtalo.
Surprise in the Erovnuli Liga 2 awards, as Bidzinahsvili claims both 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, with Gabedava claiming the Golden Boot.
In the Erovnuli Liga proper, Mukbaniani celebrates having joined the club by claiming the Erovnuli Liga Player of the Year, with Luton Town-bound Jalaghonia taking home Young Player of the Year. 13 players are selected to the Best XI — 8 starters and 5 on the bench.
Goals for 2034: Win the lot, domestically. Qualify for the Champions League knockout rounds in 2034/35. Continue to identify and develop Georgian players, with an eye towards qualifying for Euro 2036.
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.
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.