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It Does Not Matter How Slowly You Go, So Long As You Do Not Stop

Gareji Sagarejo / Georgia – 2034 Open Thread

January/February 2034 – Odds & Ends; Transfer News.

The gut punch lands much sooner than I expected, with the Europa League draw seeding us against Zvonimir Soldo’s Eintracht Frankfurt.

A proverbial “mission impossible” in years past, “mission improbable” is the more apt description these days.

We’ve come so far. Yet have so much further to go. The criticisms are trite. Predictable.

I will not deny that — on occasion, during the dark days of winter — I, too, have had my doubts. Thankfully, Mat never wavers in his convictions that we are on the right path. At times, we clash like brothers over two fundamental question.

First, whether foreign signings will help or impede progress towards the lofty goals we have for both club and country — will they show our Georgian players the path, or stand in the way? Second, should we adopt a more pragmatic approach, tactically, or retain our swashbuckling, aggressive character?

At this point, the only thing that I can be sure of is that there is no objectively right answer to either question.

I can see that — perhaps — our Georgian focus has swung the pendulum too far in one direction. Not that we’re changing course in any meaningful fashion. A more measured approach may be called for — threading the transfer needle, so to speak.

Tactically, we have discussed plans for such a pragmatic approach, but I do not think Mat would let me betray our core principles in this manner. He recognizes that it would retain some of our panache. But neither of us is ready to take that step.

Not yet, at least.

Though I did find him arranging the Khinkali in a very Nagelsmann-esque fashion the other day, even if he would deny having done so.

Erekle Jalaghonia‘s departure for the green pastures of Luton Town is still imminent when the GFF announce that he has been named the Georgian Player of the Year and Georgian Young Player of the Year. Tragic, but we have young players at the club, ready to step in.

Giorgi Barbakadze, Aleksi Tebidze and Giorgi Khardzeishvili follow Erekle out the door, joining Santiago Solari’s Rennes, Bo Henriksen’s Brentford and Oostende, respectively, for a combined $6.9 million, each with 50-percent next sale clause.

To replace them, we promote Revaz Rotiashvili, Revaz Gogia and Bakar Gabedava from the reserves, and sign Beka Nikoleishvili ($240k, Saburtalo), leaving us with a strong squad, 3-4 players deep in each position.

Television rights payments continue their steady increase — the Erovnuli Liga rights rise to $372k per team, with the Erovnuli Liga 2 rights rising to $179k per team, up from $315k and $157k in 2033 (respectively).

February 2034 – Europa League, First Knockout Round.

Nerves abound, ahead of our showdown with ze Germans in Tbilisi.

Doubts creep in. The never-ending debate between pragmatism and romanticism. We decline the pundits’ invitation to prioritize pragmatism.

And for a time it appears to have been a wise decision. We take the lead on the hour through Pataria, but promptly concede the equalizer en route to a 1-1 draw.

In the second leg, we take the lead — not once, but twice — through Mukbaniani in the 17th and then Khukhua in the 27th, only moments after ze Germans had equalized.

But ze Germans can only be held off for so long. A Herrlich hat-trick sees us crash out, losing 3-2 on the night, 4-3 on aggregate.

After the match, I sit by the hotel pool. The sounds of the city in the distance my only companion, until Mat steps out of the shadows to join me in silent contemplation. I didn’t even hear him approach.

No words need be spoken. We know each other’s every thought implicitly. A German Shepherd randomly approaches, though where it came from we can only guess.

Mat speaks to it in broken German, leading to a wagging tail at the possibility of treats and belly rubs. After several minutes, it’s clear that Mat has taken a shine to the dog.

“You really like that dog, eh, Mat?”

“It’s nice to be affectionate to something German. You don’t get the opportunity that often, you know.”

“Well, wash your hands when you’re done. You know I’m allergic to anything German.”

“That’s ridiculous. What about Ilse, that we met at that hofbrau outside Munich?”

“I think she was Austrian, mate.”

“Ahh… Yeah, that makes sense then.”

Ahead of the Georgian Super Cup tie against Dinamo Tbilisi, we are declared the clear favorites to retain our Erovnuli Liga crown, with 9 players named to the pre-season Dream XI — Machardze, Pataraia, Arason, Beridze, Duarte, Mukbaniani, Khukhua, Chighladze and Divali.

Chighladze and Keburia are favored for top goalscorer, with Arason, Duarte and Macharadze favored for best player, and Arason and Beridze also up for best young player.

Against our rivals, there is no doubt. It is as comprehensive a 2-nil win as one can hope for. Thoroughly professional. Job done.

March 2034.

Ahead of the first match of the Erovnuli Liga campaign, the club announces the sale of 1,180 season tickets, only a modest year-on-year increase from last year’s 1,119 tickets. A reflection, perhaps, of the demographic “glass ceiling” on our local support.

In the absence of European football, the start of the Erovnuli Liga campaign is something of a dull affair. There are another 6 months until European football resumes…practically an eternity. It gives us time to mold and shape this young squad. But I am restless.

Giorgi Khardzeishvili is named #47 in the NxGn 2034 — the first time a Georgian player has claimed such an accolade. I do not begrudge Giorgi his moment, but I can’t help but be confused. He has yet to make an appearance for Oostende, and was 3rd on our depth chart as the left-sided inverted winger, with promising players coming up through the ranks who were bound to displace him…hence why we were ready to let him leave.

Speaking of our young squad — Hatami‘s extended trial finally comes to an end late in the month. He will join the reserves for the immediate future, with his position in the depth chart to be re-evaluated in the summer and at the end of the current campaign.

March 2034 – International Friendlies.

The World Cup comes ever closer. Not that it matters, given our absence from the tournament.

Instead, all we have to look forward to are friendlies against the kangaroo ****ers and Haiti, before the drudgery of the Nations League.

Yes, I am in a bad mood. Why do you ask?

April/May 2034.

Another long-term “trial” ends with Mark Kamau joining the first-team squad after scoring 54 goals over the course of 2 years with the U19s. The devil on my shoulder (aka, Mat) keeps telling me to retrain him as a libero. And I have to admit that I’m tempted…as much as I love the idea of Rotiashvili as a libero, there is no comparison between the two. Rotiashvili will return to the reserves for now, while playing from the bench with our 2nd XI.

Speaking of the U19s, no longer will the name of Gareji Sagarejo be seen as cannon fodder for the mighty in Europe — our investment and belief in Fabrika has seen us claim the UEFA Youth League, even though it wasn’t high on our to-do list.

A 3-2 win over Inter Milan in the final capped a brilliant run through the knockout rounds which included shootout victories over Villarreal and Dortmund, and saw the winning goal scored by recently-signed trialist (pending final signing) Anto Brkic. True, we dropped several 2nd XI players to the U19s for the final, but it was worth it.

Our facilities are in tremendous shape, but we use the UEFA Youth League title as leverage for further investment in both our training facilities and youth facilitiesFabrika has only just begun.

And with this victory, comes renewed interest from foreign youth who once scoffed at the prospect of a move to Kakheti.

Case in point? Achille Awoa. Already a Cameroonian U20 international at the age of 15, learning his trade for Canon Yaounde‘s academy. A well-rounded beast of a striker.

2 weeks ago? Not interested.

Now? Now he’s willing to negotiate. His opening demand is a 2-year contract at $500 per week, with relatively standard appearance clauses.

There’s only one thing to do. Mat takes over the negotiation, putting his arm around young Achille.

“5 hundo? No, no, that just won’t do. See, you need some walkin’ around money, when you hit the streets of Sagarejo. How does $800 per week sound, rising to $1.3k per week once you’ve played 30 matches, with a 10% raise each year?”

The cheeky **** makes sure to read the fine print, though, and realizes our offer is contingent on a 3-year contract, with a 3-year extension clause. He counters. $1k per week, rising to $1.2k after 20 matches.

I can’t sign the contract fast enough. Sure, he won’t arrive until January 2037, but he is a beast. The kind of player you build a team around. A player destined to conquer the footballing world as a libero for Gareji.

The GFF won’t mind if I manage Cameroon, too…will they? Maybe we just won’t tell them.

Paata doesn’t rate him. But that’s because Paata is, on his best day, an unsharpened pencil when it comes to spotting talent.

May/June 2034 – European Review.

In the Champions League, Julian Nagelsmann’s Bayern Munich defeat Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool on penalties, after a 1-1 draw.

2033/34 Champions League: Overview | Knockout Rounds

Zinedine Zidane’s Virus claim the Europa League title with a 2-1 win over Diego Simeone’s Atletico at the Boris Paichadze, thanks to an 86th minute own goal.

2033/34 Europa League: OverviewKnockout Rounds

And, in the Europa Conference League, Sergio Conceicao’s Wolfsburg defeat Patrick van Leeuwen’s Lazio on penalties, after a scoreless draw.

2033/34 Europa Conference League: OverviewKnockout Rounds

In the active leagues: Vincent Kompany’s Manchester City reclaim the Premier League title, 4 points clear of Vladimir Ivic’s tycoon-fueled Aston Villa; Zidane’s Virus defend their La Liga title; Didier Deschamps’ Juventus win the Serie A title; Julian Nagelsmann’s Bayern did Bayern things, albeit finishing a scant 3 points clear of Marco Rose’s Dortmund; and, Roberto Martinez’s PS-****ing-G did PS-****ing-G things.

Finally, we receive $18.95 million from UEFA — our allocation of left-over television revenue and coefficient ranking pool funds.

The Erovnuli Liga rises 5 spots to 33rd in the competition reputation rankings, just behind the Spanish second tier.

However, Georgia drops another 3 spots to 17th in the nations coefficients table — backsliding for the second straight year — meaning we lose a Champions League spot in the process.

At the least, Gareji reverse last year’s regression in the club rankings — rising to 28th in the club coefficient rankingsbehind Ajax and Rennes. The problem being that is where the good news ends. While we sit 50 spots above Dinamo Tbilisi, it’s because they and other clubs continue to struggle in Europe, falling down the rankings and tanking our national coefficients.

Looks like we’re going to need to carry this burden ourselves.

South Korea 2034 – World Cup Review.

The excitement was there to be had. Giants were slain. Legends, born. Hearts, broken.

The Spaniards just had to ruin it all. Like they always do. First, it was “don’t run through the house with a pickle in your mouth, Rezo, that’s misbehavin!” Then, it was “beating Poland 5-nil in the World Cup final.”


2034 World Cup: Overview | Knockout Rounds

June/July 2034.

While everyone’s eyes are focused on the World Cup, I can’t get over the reports coming in from Fabrika, about the quality coming through this year’s graduating class. Centerbacks and strikers? In the right world, they’re one and the same.

I had planned for a quiet window, but in early July the rumors heat up, and several players insist upon leaving for greener pastures in more reputable leagues. Tantrums are thrown. Unkind words are spoken, leaving all involved unhappy. Unsatisfied. In the end, Keburia, Duarte and Mukbaniani follow Asamoah out the door.

I always knew Duarte and Mukbaniani were mercenaries, anyways. Asamoah had not developed. And Keburia? We owed it to him to allow his departure, after all he has given for the club.

We won’t miss them, I tell myself. We promote Gocha Guruli, Mehrdad Hatami and Vakhtang Abzhandadze to the 2nd XI, to backfill the first-team squad. It’s their loss, not ours.

Of course, I tell myself that while a feeding frenzy ensues with various other players. Dvali and Beridze the key targets, but they have contracts through 2037 and 2038 (respectively), with extension clauses. They aren’t going anywhere, no matter how angry they get.

All of the transfer drama — the lack of loyalty — sours my mood, adding to the frustrations of the World Cup.

Thus, when the news arrives that Cameroon’s manager has resigned in disgrace following their early departure from South Korea (as one does), my interest is piqued. If our players are not going to be loyal to what we are building here in Sagarejo for the sake of the Crusaders, why should I be loyal to the GFF?

Meaning I faced a dilemma. Apply for the Cameroon job, and take the opportunity to guide young Achille for the next 15-20 years, for both club and country? Or, stay the course with the Georgians.

Mat and I talk a bit, before I decide to sleep on it.

Only, while I slept, Mat submitted an application in my name. (As one does.)

Within days, the offer arrives from Yaounde. Meaning tough decisions have to be made. Opinions, considered. Pros and cons, weighed.

There’s only one person I can talk to about these things. Even if he is an utter thunder****.


(Just last week, he made me take down all the mirrors at home and around Fabrika. Why? Because they make him “uncomfortable.” I don’t need a mirror to show me how I look. I transcend mirrors, beotch.)

“I really think the footballing world is beginning to consider me, Mat. Managerially.”

Mat just groans.

“I was wondering if I should make a move. Accept the offer. Take over the Indominable Lions, showcase Achille for 15, 20 years. Not just here in Sagarejo — for both club and country. Put the likes of Messi, Ronaldo and Pele to shame.”

“That’s a terrible idea, Rezo.”

“That’s exactly what I thought, because we have a contract with Georgia. Even if it is for 10k per week less than what Cameroon have offered…”

“That’s not what I meant, Rezo. You don’t even know if this kid can meet the potential you see in him. He could be the Cameroonian Ravel Morrison, for crying out loud.”

I just let his words wash over me. Silly words. Mat doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Achille is going to be the Cameroonian Ronaldo — the oily Ronaldo. Not the fat one.

No, this boils down to a simple matter of respect.

“You know me, Mat. Contracts have meaning. My word is my bond.”

He just nods, knowing the look on my face. I’m on a roll.

“I mean, I come from a family of honor.”

Mat chuckles softly, shaking his head.

“Ok. You know what? Fine. Directly, I come from a family of home invaders, identity thieves and — in my Uncle Giorgi’s case — the ‘Butt-Stabber of Zemo Alvani.’ But my lineage is one of honor. So, to clean the deck ethically, I’m going to ask the Federation’s permission to take some time and consider the Cameroon job.”

“Please videotape that exchange, Rezo.”

Suffice to say that it did not go the way I expected. Unkind words were spoken by all sides. And, in a rush of blood to the head, I tendered my resignation. They did not hesitate to accept it.

Which leaves the path clear for chacha football to take root in Cameroon.

Stepping aside from the narrative for a moment, there are two factors weighing on this decision. Maybe three.

My biggest regret from the FM21 cycle is selling a player who might be my all-time favorite player in FM — the legend that was Miguel “Katchip” Katchipwisayla. As discussed at the time, the only reason I sold him was that Duruji Kvareli was pivoting towards developing Georgian players for the Crusaders. While it made sense, narratively, I’ve always been frustrated that: (1) we didn’t find and sign him sooner; (2) I didn’t keep him around, because he excelled even in a tactical setup that used but did not maximize the impact of the libero, and (3) we later returned to PM Draugr, the spiritual predecessor of my current tactic, PM Draugrson, which did emphasize the libero‘s role.

In short, I feel like I had the libero of my dreams…and I wasted him.

I’ve been looking for the “new Katchip” ever since.

Accordingly, having stumbled across Achille Awao at the age of 15, I feel compelled to do everything I can to make him into the greatest footballer the world has ever seen. Foolish? Absolutely.

And, let’s be honest — doing something stupid like taking an objectively brilliant striker and trying to make him into a world-class, goal-scoring libero is deliciously fun.

Trying to get him 1000 appearances and 1000 goals in the process? Even better. Truth be told, I’ve never attempted to get a player to hit either threshold. And, it may be impossible to do with a libero. But that makes me only more interested in trying to make it happen with Achille. I also think that the Erovnuli Liga and Cameroonian national team is a perfect club-country combination to try it with.

So, let’s do this.

Maybe I’ll come to regret taking the Cameroon job.

But there’s no fun in not trying. We can always return to Georgia later in the save — and, as explained in the intro post — having won the World Cup with the Crusaders in both FM20 and FM21, that is not the focus this year.

August 2034.

Chaos reigns. I can barely tell which day is which — they all simply bleed together into one.

Sleep is but a distant memory. A fleeting moment on the best of days. The eye of the hurricane.

With Georgia’s tumble down the coefficient table, we face a 3rd Qualifying Round tie against Maribor, but make quick work of the…wait, where are they from? Mat doesn’t know either. Regardless, a 3-nil win at a cozy stadium somewhere in Europe is followed by a 7-nil romp back in Tbilisi.

Facing Breidablik in the Playoffs, I have little cause for concern and manage to sleep on the flight to Iceland following a 5-1 win in Tbilisi. (Mat insists that the in-flight movie, The Fast & The Furious XXVI — 2 Fast 4 Backlash, was epic. I’m skeptical, as they’ve been derivative **** since XIX, and the lazy title of this one gave me no reason to think that the Vin Diesel DnD storyline would be resolved.)

The 2nd XI are handed the job of finishing of our Nordic friends, and claim a 3-1 win to see us return to the Group Stage.

Our reward? I’m hopeful that — the Greeks and Austrians having gained an automatic first seed — a favorable draw will allow us to at least dream of reaching the knockout rounds, even if we do not belong there… Yet.

Those hopes are quickly shattered, as we’re drawn into Group E with Roberto Martinez’s PS-****ing-G, Diego Simeone’s Atletico and Basaksehir. **** my life.

September 2034.

A dream start to life with Les Lions Indomitable – 5-nil over Sierra Leone, and 3-nil over DR Congo – leaving us 3 points clear in AFCON Qualifying.  The media howled at my inclusion of young Awoa in the squad.  Rest assured, you jackals, we will have the last laugh.

The fading light of summer sees us welcome Basaksehir to our temporary home in Tbilisi, as club football resumes. A must-win match. No question about it. But the Turks fail to bow before us, having the temerity to fight back. Earning themselves a point in the process. 1-1 is not going to be good enough, lads.

The result is not good enough.  We will need luck to have any hope of advancing to the Champions League knockout rounds, as has long been our goal.

The annual youth intake arrives, and it has some promise for certain. 

Davit Khvaratskhelia could be immense – some say he is the most promising player in years.  But time has a way of breaking such promises.  We must be patient with Davit.

Other promising players include Niko Kharshiladze, Nika Dighmelashvili, Davit Baladze, and Lasha Abulashvili.

We do not need the distraction, but out of nowhere the media soil themselves as rumors swirl of a Qatari investor being in talks to take over the club. We do not need the money.  Nor do we want his money.  

We just want to be left alone, in peace. To conquer in our own way and time.

But we cannot control the media. Steady on, lads. Ignore them. We’re good for the title. As if the league was ever in doubt.

October 2034.

The news reaches us, last of all. Somehow, that strikes me as wrong. After all we have done for the club, we’re kept out of the loop.

The Qatari tycoon has completed his takeover of the club. “Things may never be the same,” the media cry, speculation rampant as to the hordes of headline signings that are in the offing.

Only, nothing has changed. Not a penny invested.

I’m too busy scouting Cameroonian U18s to care. And I haven’t seen Mat for days.

October/November 2034.

The pundits scoffed when we named Awoa to the Cameroon squad for our friendlies in October against Mozambique (5-2) and Kenya (2-1), and then handed him his first appearances, from the bench. Let them laugh.  They can’t see the brilliance that is within him, the talent he will become.

When November rolls around, I don’t hesitate to name Awoa to the squad to face Sierra Leone and Madagascar.  One win and we’re through to the Cup of Nations.  Simples.

He isn’t in the matchday squad against Sierra Leone, but a 2-nil win means we have qualified for Egypt.  Accordingly, I see a no-risk option to hand Awoa his first start.  My faith is repaid in the 47th minute, when he calmly steps forward to take a penalty – slotting it home for his first international goal.  Composure, personified. He claims his brace in the 88th minute, crashing home a header at the near post to finish off our 5-nil rout.

We qualify with ample room to breath.. 

It isn’t just his first international goals. Awoa is the youngest player to appear in a Cup of Nations qualifier, and the youngest goalscorer. Not a bad day at the office. Though his minutes may be limited in Egypt, Mat has a word with his club manager to get him minutes at libero before his move to Gareji in two years’ time.  For the greater good.

Domestically, the new Chairman finally invests in the club, not that we see it reflected in our transfer or wage budgets. The expansion of the Arsen is also complete, to a total capacity of 5,000 (3,800 seated).  With the financial backing at our fingertips, though, our dreams are much, much bigger.

Regardless, those dreams are for another day. We continue to romp domestically, while facing uphill battles in Europe. We took a shock, early lead against Roberto Martinez’s PS-****ing-G en route to a hard-fought 1-1 draw. We matched the determination of Diego Simeone’s Atletico, securing 1-nil losses both in Madrid and back in Tbilisi. Facing a loser-out match in Istanbul, we conceded 2 early goals before waking up and barnstorming our way to a 5-2 win over Basaksehir, securing pasage through to the Europa League knockout rounds.

Suffice to say, this is not the way we expected the year to go.  We get thumped 4-nil by PS-****ing-G on Matchday 6 to close out the Champions League Group Stage, securing our 3rd place finish.  Revenge is taken against Dinamo Batumi in the Davit Kipiani Cup final – hollow, perhaps, some small measure of revenge is better than none. 

Mat seems to be pouting, as I haven’t seen him lately.  Not that I’m too fussed, we’re busy and working hard, but the workload is manageable with him focused on the administrative and scouting efforts for Cameroon.  I don’t mind that he’s working while I sleep – it’s a balance that appears to be working…  

…except for when I woke up in the middle of a field the other day, with a disembodied voice talking to me.  Couldn’t figure that one out.  As always, best not to think too hard about that one.

Showing its ambition, the Board declares their intention to build a new stadium – mere months after our latest expansion (to 5,000) was completed.  No complaints from us, mind.  There is little they can do to improve our fortunes on the pitch, our finances, and our academy, so this is much appreciated.

The awards season is once again quite favorable to GarejiBregvadze claims the Jughashvili medal – the 9th year in a row one of our players has been deemed the most stylish youngster in Georgian football, home and abroad.

Gabedava claims the Davit Kipiani Cup Player of the Year, with 7 players named to the tournament’s Best XI and 7 in the Next XI

Bidzinashvili is named Erovnuli Liga 2 Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year, with Eklu claiming the second tier’s Golden Boot and Slotyuk securing the Golden Glove.  9 players are named to the Best XI, with 4 players on the substitutes bench.

In the Erovnuli Liga proper, we set a record for points and individual goals scored, through Dvali’s 34, claiming the Golden Boot in the process. Arason is named Player of the Year, Young Player of the Year and Foreign Player of the Year.  We put 8 players into the Best XI, with another 6 on the substitutes bench.

Finally, Khukhua is named the GFF Young Player of the Year and GFF Player of the Year.

When the champagne stops flowing, however, reality must return.  There is much work to be done in the new year ahead – not the least of which being another tilt at the Europa League knockout rounds and the Cup of Nations.

We draw PEC Zwolle in the Europa League – a very favorable draw, all things considered.  The only trick will be squad management, as Mat has been working feverishly to secure the signature of every promising young Cameroonian player he can find.  We have numerous players set to arrive in January, and will need to carefully consider our XIs.

Cameroon is placed into Group F for the Cup of Nations – another favorable draw, which will see us square off against Mali, Guinea and Cape Verde.

Goals for 2035:  Win the lot, domestically. Make a run in the 2034/35 Europa League knockout rounds.  Qualify for the Champions League knockout rounds in 2035/36. Identify, sign and develop promising Cameroonian players.  Make a run in the 2035 Cup of Nations.

Squad | Erovnuli Liga | Transfers
Finances | Income | Expenditure | Reserves | Awoa Watch

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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