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[FM22] The Fourth Glass, Vol. III: Straight Outta Sagarejo


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August 2083 - Sagarejo, Georgia.

We were once young men together, Matsil and I. 

Now, I am just an old man, filled with regret. Waiting to die alone. 

I have not seen or spoken to Matsil – or Mat, as he preferred – in years.

I've never told our story before, and I doubt I will ever tell it again.

In some ways, it began when I first heard his voice at the fields – twinning, mixing with my own. His voice was like a portrait of his soul – wild as a fire, sharp as shattered glass. Though I did not know Mat then and would not come to know him for many years, in hindsight I recognize a piece of myself in the echoes of his barbed voice.

No.  It began later, at Telleus’ Academie, where I went to learn football of the sort they talk about in stories.  Yet still Mat was as distant from me then as an estranged lover…

But what would my father say if he heard me telling a story this way? “Begin at the beginning.”

Very well, if we are to have a telling, let’s make it a proper one.

Let us pass over innumerable boring stories, the rise and fall of empires, sagas of heroism, ballads of tragic love.

Let us hurry forward to the only tale of any real importance. 

Mine.

My name is Rezo Gorlami, pronounced nearly the same as "salami." 

Names are important as they tell you a great deal about a person. I've had more names than anyone has a right to. An elderly woman in Ushguli once called me Maedre. Which, depending on how it's spoken, can mean “the Flame,” “the Thunder,” or “the Broken Tree.”

"The Flame" is obvious if you've ever seen me. I have red hair, bright. If I had been born a couple of hundred years ago I would probably have been burned as a demon. I keep it short but it's unruly. When left to its own devices, it sticks up and makes me look as if I have been set afire.  

"The Thunder" I attribute to a strong baritone and a great deal of shouting.  At the opposition, referees and my own players, in equal measure.  

I've never thought of "the Broken Tree" as very significant. Although in retrospect, I suppose it could be considered at least partially prophetic.

My first mentor called me a **** because I was clever and I knew it. My first real lover called me Galileo Humpkins because she liked the sound of it. I have been called Ovaltine “Smallpox” Jenkins, Squirts MacIntosh, and Trapezious Milkington. I have been called Gorlami the Bloodless, Rezo the Earnest, and Reezy G. I have earned those names.

Bought and paid for them.

But I was brought up as Rezo. My father once told me it meant “wealthy” or “successful.”

I have, of course, been called many other things – most of them uncouth, although very few were unearned.

I have stolen titles from complacent footballing kings. I burned down the town of Oostende. I engaged in a week-long rap battle with Antoine Griezmann and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from Telleus’ Academie at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have danced the tango with urCristiano, loved beautiful women, and claimed victories that made grown men weep.

You may have heard of me.

 

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Posted (edited)

The Fourth Glass, Vol. III: Straight Outta Sagarejo

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And so the story of Rezo Gorlami begins in Georgia -- a breathtakingly beautiful country lying at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, a country with a rich history.

An unlikely setting for a footballing revolution. Yet another footballing revolution.

During the FM20 cycle, in need of a break from the Nearly Men, I was struck with a burning desire to manage Duruji Kvareli -- a Georgian club from Kvareli, a town of less than 8,000 residents nestled in the foothills of the Greater Caucasus.

On the FM20 version of this save, my manager was Giorgi Amirani -- named for the mythical Georgian hero who defied the Gods. Over a 22-year stretch, Amirani did the impossible (improbable?). When he took over in January 2022, there were only 3 senior players (2 of whom were goalkeepers) on the roster, and no first-team staff.

By the time Duruji Kvareli were eliminated from the Champions League semifinals in May 2044 (at which point the save went on hiatus), they had claimed 3 Champions League titles, while the Georgians had claimed the 2042 World Cup title.

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It was an epic journey -- easily one of my favorite saves of all time -- and is documented on FtCS in the Fourth Glass archive.

So, when FM 21 rolled around, I had no choice. I had to return to Georgia and once again try to conquer the world, this time under the leadership of Levan "Goose" Akhobadze and his trusted lieutenant, Luke Shaw. This time around, we claimed no less than 7 Champions League titles in a 28-year run that culminated with the 2050 World Cup title.

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Unfortunately, however, one long-term goal eluded Goose. While Duruji Kvareli became the best club in the world over the course of the save -- documented in the Duruji Subsequent ThreadSave archive --the Erovnuli Liga's reputation did not rise above that of the "big 5" European leagues.

Mission? Not accomplished. (*Sad Tom Cruise noises*)

So, with the dawn of the FM 22 cycle, there really is only one thing to do.

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This time, however, we've resisted the temptation to return to Duruji Kvareli.

Instead, we're going to begin the save at the club that is the closest thing to a real-life version of my in-game Duruji Kvareli -- FC Gareji Sagarejo, a club that once graced the heights of the Georgian regional championship in the Soviet pyramid, but found themselves in the 5th tier as recently as 2018. That year, however, everything changed when they won promotion to Liga 4.

In 2019, Gareji they finished a highly credible 3rd in Liga 4 -- much more than had been expected of them. They also made a fairy-tale run to the semifinals of the Davit Kipiani Cup, even taking an early lead against Lokomotivi before losing, 3-2 -- the furthest any team from the 4th tier has ever gotten.

The fates continued to look kindly on Gareji, with FC Tskhinvali unable to meet their financial obligations to compete in Liga 3 for the 2020 campaign -- Tskhinvali were expelled, and Gareji were promoted to take their place.

Again, little was expected of them in the rarified air of Liga 3. Yet, again, Gareji did not disappoint. They conquered, winning the league outright. And, as the end of the 2021 Erovnuli Liga 2 campaign draws near, they find themselves (at the time of writing) 4th, a mere 4 points off Merani Martvili for the final promotion playoff spot to the land of milk and honey, the Erovnuli Liga.

A brilliant rise to the 2nd tier. But there is much more to be done... So much more.

But before we head off to Sagarejo to drink chacha with the Devil, let's take a step back and set the stage.

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The village of Ushguli, nestled deep in the heart of the Greater Caucasus.

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You Don't Come To Georgia For The Snow, You Come For The Heat.

Sagarejo is a town of nearly 11,000 people, situated 36 miles east of Tbilisi in Kakheti -- the easternmost region of the country. (Kvareli is also in Kakheti, approximately 90 minutes away.)

The town dates back to at least the 11th century, at which point it was known as Tvali (literally, "an eye"). The modern name "Sagarejo" translates to "of Gareja," signifying that it belongs to the David Gareja monastery -- a remote, rock-hewn, Georgian orthodox monastery located on the half-desert slopes of Mount Gareja along the Azerbaijan-Georgia border. Founded by Assyrian monks in the 6th century, the monastery consists of more than 21 separate sites, including chapels, refectories, libraries and watchtowers, as well as more than 5,000 cells carved into the mountainside.

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The David Gareja monastery complex, which can be reached from Sagarejo via a rough, 45km road (Road 172).

In addition to giving the town and club their names, a stylized profile of the rock-hewn monastery also adorns the Gareji badge.

Gareji play at the Arsen Mekokishvili in the heart of Sagarejo. Mekokishvili was an Olympic gold medalist freestyle wrestler during the Soviet era, who hailed from Giorgistminda -- a town immediately to the east of Sagarejo, which is also part of the 51,761-person Sagarejo administrative district (1 of 8 districts in the Kakheti region).

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The Arsen Mekokishvili in all its glory, photos courtesy of the Georgian Groundhopping site.

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Once again, I aml be using @Weiry brilliant 5-tier Georgian pyramid (FM 22 version downloadable at FtCS, with permission from Weiry: link; the FM21 version is downloadable from Steam or the SI Forum). This year, I was able to contribute a fair amount of detail to the file (not the structure, for which Weiry gets all the credit).

The broader goals will remain the same as always -- conquer the world of club and international football, starting at Gareji and (eventually) with the Georgian national team. One new wrinkle? Gareji's reserves play in the 5th tier, meaning I will be focused on strength in depth this year, and working to ensure our reserves climb the competitive ladder domestically.

To ensure longevity of the save as time progresses, unlike prior iterations of the save, this will not necessarily be a one-club save. Similarly, while the focus will be on eventually taking the reins with the Crusaders, I will consider managing any smaller or mid-size nation that strikes my fancy. In particular, I am hoping to take over one or more African nations -- I've long enjoyed managing in Africa and African national teams, so this is a natural fit with the "anything goes" nature of player registration in Georgia.

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A Georgian monument to the mythical Amirani. Suck it, Zlatan.

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Posted (edited)

Did You Ever Dance With The Devil In The Pale Moonlight?

My Georgian saves are serialized under the moniker, "The Fourth Glass," a name I took from a Georgian legend related to the country's claim to be the birthplace of wine.

Specifically, Georgian legend tells of how God created wine to remind the world of Heaven. After creating wine, God invited His angels and the Devil to taste it, with all agreeing that it transcended the divine, such that it returned anyone who drank it to Heaven, if only for a short period of time. This, the Devil could not tolerate. He created his own alcoholic beverage from the remains of crushed wine grapes -- chacha, a potent, fiery drink. Returning the courtesy, the Devil invited God to sample chacha. God drank one glass of chacha. Then a second. A third. A fourth. Finally, God leaned over to the Devil, drew him close and declared that "those who will drink three glasses of chacha may be on my side. After that, they are yours."

As per usual, there will be no no hard-and-fast rules beyond the general concept of the save. I will not adhere to any particular transfer policy, beyond my standard preference for developing youth. I will loaded the FtCS-branded reduced injuries file upon release to cut down on injuries across the board, without giving myself any "advantage" over the AI.

I will also use the FtCS-branded Georgian graphics pack to bring additional depth to the in-game world, and swap Duruji Kvareli into the 5th tier (replacing Merani's 3rd team) for the sake of sentiment.

Finally, to ensure a unique playing environment and vibrant in-game world, I will: (1) holiday out a few years with the top leagues in England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain active (alongside numerous view-only leagues); and (2) utilize a large database/pool of potential players, including all internationals worldwide and all players from clubs in European, African and South American continental competitions.

Up next: we venture forth and take stock of the footballing world in January 2024, when Rezo Gorlami's journey begins in earnest.

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Posted (edited)

Time continues to skip forward randomly. Details at elev...

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Our story begins on a cold Sunday morning in January 2024.

Maybe robots have taken over. Maybe they haven't.

I don't know.

It's the future, and this story isn't about that.

I have holidayed out a few years (per usual) to create a unique playing environment. I have loaded the top leagues in England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France as active, with a large database/pool of potential players, including all internationals worldwide, and all players from clubs in European, African and South American continental competitions. I have also loaded a number of leagues as "view only," for the sake of having a vibrant world.

Before we dive into the first chapter of Rezo Gorlami's story, however, let's briefly take a look around Europe to see where things sit.

(As previously noted via Twitter, we encountered a bug in June 2024 which necessitated a complete reboot of the save, after further revision and testing of the editor file. The following results are from the re-launch of the save.)

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European Competition, 2021-23

In the Champions League, Pep Guardiola's Manchester City and Julian Nagelsmann's Bayern Munich claimed the 2021/22 and 2022/23 titles, respectively.

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(Before anyone asks, I'm using the AlexMorak skin.)

Mauricio Pochettino's PS-****-ing-G and Didier Deschamps' Lazio have claimed the Europa League glory, with Frank De Boer's Roma and Uncle Brendan's Leicester taking home the first two Europa Conference League titles.

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2022 World Cup

In an annoyingly-predictable beautifully-insane 2022 World Cup, Nigeria Brazil defeated France 3-2 after an epic run through the knockout rounds that saw the Super Eagles eliminate Croatia, Italy and Argentina.

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European Leagues, 2021-23

Thus far, the Erovnuli Liga title has been in the hands of a real-life rising power, Dinamo Batumi, the country's historical power, Dinamo Tbilisi, and Dila Gori. Something we shall have to remedy, yes?

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I do not like Dinamo Tbilisi. I do not like them here or there. I do not like them anywhere.

In the Davit Kipiani Cup, Dinamo Tbilisi has shared the spoils with Shukura Kobuleti and Torpedo Kutaisi.

In the other active leagues...Pep Guardiola's Manchester City and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's Manchester United have made sure the Premier League title stays in the north. Ole's triumph in 2022/23 led His Baldness to resign in shame, finding refuge at Juventus.

Imanol Alguacil's Real Sociedad currently sit atop La Liga, but Carlo Ancelotti's Real Madrid and Luis Enrique's Barcelona are lurking dangerously.

Massimiliano Allegri parlayed his two-straight Serie A titles at Juventus into a big move, swapping places with His Baldness to challenge Ole for supremacy in northern England. (Not the narrative any of us saw coming, if I'm being honest...)

In Germany and France, you ask? Nagelsmann's Bayern and Pochettino's PS-****ing-G are doing their usual things.

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Bayern and PS-****ing-G winning titles, you say?

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Ok, that was a lot of background. Now, our hero is in the wings, waiting for his cue.

At long last, Rezo Gorlami's journey begins in earnest.

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January 2024.

It began like it always did. With an attempt to impress a girl.

Ok, to be fair, not a girl.

Any girl.

Yet my prowess on the pitch did not match my ambition. Nor did it impress anyone -- least of all my widower father, for whom disappointment in his only son is a perpetual state of being.

Still, someone saw something in me. And, in time, when the old goat was ready to retire, the local club had few options available to them beyond the kid who had been dutifully setting out the cones these past few years. Me.

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After all, who in their right mind would take a job in Kakheti, at the wages they're offering in this economy, to guide the fortunes of a struggling, third-tier team?

Now, I've been accused of many things in my life. Being of sound mind? Not one of them.

Dressed in a crisp new suit, a new era begins here in Sagarejo. Today. The Rezo Gorlami era.

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Welcome to Rezo, Sagarejo.

Gareji are a club struggling with 2 straight mid-table finishes after relegation, perhaps, but with a framework to move forward. The Board's expectations and vision are modest, which is appreciated given our 14-man senior squad (one of whom has already signed for Merani Martvili).

It's a big ask, this Liga 3 lark -- the reserves from Dinamo, Saburtalo and Lokomotivi should be favored for promotion.

We will need a tactical spark to secure an advantage -- for which we will turn to PM Draugrson, a fever dream sketched out before my abrupt expulsion from Telleus' Academie. (The disappointment in Hakan's eyes was nothing if not familiar.)

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Hide your kids, hide your wives. They're playing "chacha football" in Liga 3.

While we will be facing the reserves of the big Tbilisi clubs, our reserves play in the Regional (5th) tier. Again, that is something we shall have to remedy. In due course.

For now, I have more important tasks ahead.

The lads will not return to training until the 22nd, so I have ample time on my hands.

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Gareji Sagarejo - Club Overview, January 2024 

My first task?  Pick out new office furniture, courtesy of our sponsor -- a burgeoning, local furniture company that has attained cult-like status throughout the region.

I’d never bought the hype.  But as I glanced through the website on my club-issued 2016-era smartphone, like everyone else I quickly become a slave to the IKHEA instinct. 

I see something clever like a coffee table in the shape of an ear, and I have to have it.

Like the Johanneshov armchair in the green stripe pattern.  Or the Rislampa wire lamps, with the environmentally-friendly unbleached paper. Even the Vild hall clock of galvanized steel, resting on the Klipsk shelving unit.

For hours, I scroll through the website wondering, "what kind of conference table defines me as a football manager?" 

I used to look at pornography on the internet. Now, I look at build-it-yourself furniture that “fell off the back of a truck.” Allegedly.

Claims of blatant intellectual property theft aside, it is quality furniture.  And you can’t beat the prices. 

(Of course, a certain, not-to-be-named, omnipresent Swedish furniture manufacturer has filed suit in the Georgian courts on various grounds, not the least of which being trademark violations, intellectual property theft, and...well, actual theft.  Good luck, Ingvar. You're going to need it. Our courts are nothing if not friendly to the local crime syndicate, whose brazen schemes are taken straight out of the first 20 minutes of Goodfellas.)

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January/February 2024 - Squad Assessment; Odds & Ends.

Having seen me lay out the cones for years in a most unassuming fashion, the lads are somewhat taken aback by my commanding tone of voice in our first meeting and training session. After the initial shock, they take to it like a duck to water.

They need to know that this kitten has claws. Mission accomplished.

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I'd like to say I spent hours painstakingly assessing the merits of the squad before deciding upon my XI, but that wouldn't be accurate. It isn't hard when you have only 14 senior players (one of whom is leaving), a handful of promising younger players, and no transfer budget.

The squad practically builds itself. Not that I'd admit that to the Board. Instead, given some of the obvious deficits in the squad, I dip into the loan market to sign four players I hope will make an impact.

(Note: One of the joys of managing in Georgia is that all clubs are largely struggling, financially. There are an incredibly vibrant free transfer and loan markets in-game, provided that you can identify your targets early. Alas, having taken over in January, that is decidedly not the case this year.)

We head into the season with a 19-man squad.

Between the sticks, we've brought in Giorgi Kurdadze on loan from Chikhura. He is a big improvement on Levan Kurashvili, who would have otherwise been our starter. My plan with Kurdadze -- as it is with all of our players on loan -- is to seduce him (metaphorically) and eventually get him to sign on a free, for the 2025 campaign.

Zurab Dadianidze will be our libero -- not ideal, but we lack a better option at this point. He should serve for this level, but we will need to improve this position going forward. Lasha "Biggie Smalls" Chakhidze (on loan from Saburtalo) and Irakli "Ibra" Ibragimovi will be our wide centerbacks, with Giorgi Sanikidze deputizing as needed.

At wingback, Saba Nadiradze has speed to burn on the right (while providing coverage on the left), with Janiko Bezhanidze inverted on the left. Giorgi Bakhtadze is our primary cover on the right, which speaks volumes about our lack of depth. We should be fine for the year with these 3, but this is an area crying out for improvement. Nadiradze is arguably the only serviceable one of the 3, looking ahead to 2025 and beyond.

Inal Pukhaev is our best player, on paper. I'd have played him as our libero if we had more squad depth. As things stand, we need him to get further forward. He will pair in the midfield with Besik "Captain" Kirkitadze, who arrives on loan from Chikhura. It's a solid midfield, with Ramin Əhmədov (our most promising young player) and Tornike Mosiashvili providing coverage from the bench...

At least, that was the plan until Mosiashvili pulled up with a hip injury during pre-season. With Əhmədov recovering from an injury, we needed coverage -- meaning we picked up Ivane Lotuashvili on a free. Not ideal.

Up top, Giorgi Enukidze will start as our advanced playmaker, flanked by Omar Apridonidze (our third loanee from Chikhura) and Lasha Nanobashvili. I'm excited about this trio, who should have more than enough quality to wreak havoc in Liga 3. Nika Khavdagiani and Guga Shalamberidze provide additional depth for the front 3.

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March 2024.

The pre-season friendlies show echoes of promise (especially in a 1-1 draw with Erovnuli Liga side, Rustavi), but we have to resist the temptation to read more into them than we should. Bottom line, we were not really ****, but not all that great either.

Like Tottenham.

Ahead of our first competitive match away to Saburtalo's reserves, the oddsmakers have us finishing in the bottom half with no one in the Pre-Season Dream XI. Proper motivational stuff, this.

The club also makes a show of announcing our season ticket numbers. Only, we've only sold 44 season tickets, the same number as last year.

(I'm not entirely sure why this is something we should highlight, and am less than convinced by our press officer's insistence that "any press is good press." Gvantsa did not appreciate the various examples I offered to counter her point.)

The next day, we draw Dinamo Tbilisi in the Davit Kipiani Cup. "Good press" will surely follow.

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That's going to leave a mark.

And just when I'm ready to dive into the match, Bezhanidze tries to show off in the weight room. The end result is predictable. He's out for 2 months with a stress fracture. We've gone from 3 wingbacks to 2, and it's too late to enlist a new signing for the trip to Tbilisi. An ill omen, to say the least.

We start well, however. Full of passion and determination. In the 32nd minute, we earn a penalty and Nanobashvili proves he has ice in his veins, calmly chipping down the middle with Meghelishvili diving to his right. 1-nil.

Nanobashvili strikes against before the half, and Enukidze supplies the finishing blow in the 70th minute.

3-nil. A result beyond our wildest dreams.

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While there are dissenting voices, we have no choice. Back to the market we go. The best option? Tsotne "Patsy" Patsatsia from Tbilisi City. Oddly enough, when Patsy arrives at the Arsen for his first training session 48 hours before kickoff against Kolkheti-1913, I can't shake an intense feeling of deja vu. As if we've met before.

But I can't place it.

No matter. We are dominant in a 4-nil win. The best home debut we could have asked for. And while we go off the boil against Guria, we recover our composure to claim 3 wins from our first 4 matches. A welcome start, indeed.

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April/May 2024.

When Chikhura's manager rang up, angry that Kurdadze wasn't playing as a goalkeeper, I thought it was an obvious prank.

It wasn't.

Angry words were said. But not before the damage was done. Kurdadze has been recalled, leaving us without a competent goalkeeper 48 hours ahead of our trip to face Dinamo Tbilisi.

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*Quirky Tuba Music*

The transfer window is closed and there are no serviceable goalkeepers available in the free transfer market, meaning I have to call up Nariashvili and apologize to him. **** that he is.

It takes some begging, and a few promises I have no intention of keeping, but Kurdadze will rejoin us at the end of June.

Needless to say, my determination to steal him away from Chikhura has become an obsession.

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June 2024 - European Review.

In a Champions League sure to aggravate and delight the pundits (in equal measure), Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's Manchester United beat Pep Guardiola's Juventus, 1-nil.

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2023/24 Champions League: Overview | Knockout Rounds

Ronald Koeman's Arsenal won the Europa League with a 3-nil win over Patrick Rahmen's RB Leipzig.

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2023/24 Europa League: OverviewKnockout Rounds

And, in the Europa Conference League, Abdullah Avci's Trabzonspor beat Jon Dahl Tomasson's Fiorentina, 1-nil.

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2023/24 Europa Conference League: OverviewKnockout Rounds

In the active leagues: Massimiliano Allegri's Manchester City claimed the Premier League title; Carlo Ancelloti's Real Madrid reclaimed the title in Spain; Julian Nagelsmann's Bayern did Bayern things; His Baldness' Juventus won their 3rd straight Serie A title; and, Mauricio Pochettino's PS-****ing-G choked on matchday 38 to hand the Ligue 1 title to Peter Bosz's Lyon.

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June 2024.

A busy month, full of takeover rumors and disappointment regarding the quality of our forthcoming academy graduates (or lack thereof, as the case may be).

As the days turn into weeks, however, the anticipation grows. Kurdadze returns the morning of the transfer window opens, mere hours ahead of a visit from Kolkheti-1913. The mood is instantly brighter, even for Kurashvili, whom all are relieved to see return to the bench -- himself included.

The tone is set by Avto, our PA announcer, who insists on playing Katy Perry's Never Really Over during the pre-match festivities to honor Kurdadze. The only hitch being that it was all he played. On repeat. For 90 minutes.

(What can I say? He likes him some Katy Perry.)

Our visitors are befuddled, but take an early lead thanks to a penalty that Kurdadze nearly kept out. And, just when it looked like we would crash and burn on the day of his return, the lads stepped it up. 2 late goals to stun our visitors -- the second of which was punctuated by more Katy.

Which was only fitting, under the circumstances.

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Just because it's over doesn't mean it's really over...

With 11 matches to play, we're 4 points off Zestaponi for the automatic promotion spot, and 11 points clear of Varketili in 4th.

It's early to start thinking about it, but I can't help myself.

Will it be Champagne Dreams next year in the Erovnuli Liga 2?

****. I'm sorry.

Maybe I should listen to less Katy Perry.

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July 2024.

Tick tock. With contracts expiring in 6 months' time, we're on the prowl for free transfers.

Our first target? Kurdadze. Because **** Chikhura, that's why.

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But that's not the end. We also sign Kirkitadze and Apridonidze on free transfers, with Givi Erkomaishvili added in for good measure. That's Chikhura's 4 most talented youngsters, all joining us on free transfer at the end of the year.

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My thirst for vengeance has been satiated. For the moment. (Yes, I am nothing if not petty and vindictive. Some would even say they're my best qualities... Wait... Why do you ask?)

To support our push for promotion, we sign Davit Mikadze on loan from Dinamo Tbilisi's reserves. He will take over as our right wingback, with Nadiradze shifting to the left. A modest yet important upgrade.

With the growing buzz around the club, a record crowd of 139 are present to see us blow a 2-1 lead against 3rd place Guria at the Arsen Mekokishvili. Not good enough, lads.

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August/September 2024.

The business end of the campaign arrives, yet we continue to struggle to turn our control of matches into results. Carelessly dropped points are the story.

We'll never impress Katy this way, lads.

We're 5 points off Zestaponi, with 5 matches to play -- the next one, against the league leaders in Sagarejo. If we can avoid the lottery of a playoff, that'd be ideal.

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October 2024.

The biggest match of the year. A chance to put ourselves in contention for the only automatic promotion spot. Zestaponi at the Arsen, with Katy Perry blasting throughout the pre-match festivities.

And we fall short. We have our chances, but fail to take them in a 1-1 draw. The 3-nil win over PK Gori is a bitter result. With 3 matches to play, we're still 5 points off the pace.

Not good enough.

Words that also apply to the graduating class of our academy.

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The best players are Levan Akhobadze (who has none of the speed of his spiritual namesake), Tornike Gachechiladze, Gocha Khositashvili and Irakli Takashvili.

Something has to be done. This will not suffice. Thoughts are swirling in my mind, plans to develop an academy to rival La Masia. Foolish, perhaps. But I cannot help but dream.

The Chairman refuses to listen. He lacks imagination and ambition in equal measure.

But I can see it in my mind's eye. Fabrika. We will build it. In due course.

For now, we have 3 matches left in the league campaign. While little hope remains of claiming the top seed, one point will secure our position in the two-legged promotion playoffs. We need all of our focus.

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November 2024.

A solid win over Aragvi starts the month off right. It's only when Katy Perry starts playing at an intolerable volume that word begins to filter through the locker room.

Zestaponi have been held, away to Kolkheti-1913. 3 points separate us, with 2 matches to play.

I guess it's never really over.

We are away to Tbilisi City and Varketili -- Zestaponi host Guria before traveling to Kolkheti Khobi. Anything is possible. We've drawn both matches 1-1, so if we finish level on points it would come down to goal difference, on which we have a narrow edge (+29 to +27).

We cannot take care of business against Tbilisi City, drawing 1-1 in a match where we created numerous chances. Yet Zestaponi also slip up, drawing 3-3.

Meaning we need a result in the capitol, and for Zestaponi to lose their nerve. In the 43rd minute, we're coasting, up 2-nil, when word passes through the crowd. Kolkheti Khobi has taken the lead, 1-nil, on a 39th minute penalty. As things stand, we are promoted as Liga 3 champions.

But there is a lot of football to be played. We concede in the 44th minute. Not good, lads. Yet, Varketili are reduced to 10 men in the 49th minute, before another red card reduces them to 9 men on the hour mark.

Our path is clear. If the result in Khobi holds.

With 15 minutes to play, the line still holds. We have not buried Varketili, but we are in the clear. 10 minutes. 5.

In the 90th minute, disaster strikes. Vasadze levels for 9-man Varketili, against the run of play.

There will be 4 minutes of injury time. But it is all for naught. We cannot find the back of the net. Zestaponi blew it. But we well and truly ****ed it. A 2-2 draw sees us fall into the promotion playoff.

Where we will face the club that I've come to loathe over the past year. Dirty, dirty Chikhura. Hateful place. Hateful, spiteful place.

Dirty. Dirty Chikhura.

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December 2024 - Promotion Playoffs.

It is often said that the opposite of love is indifference.

Once, I was indifferent to Chikhura. I didn't give them a second thought.

Now, I loathe them with every fiber of my being.

The feeling is mutual. The saga of Kurdadze loan, followed by our stealing their 4 most promising young players on free transfer, means that this two-legged playoff will be personal in the extreme.

All the more challenging? Kurdadze, Kirkitadze and Apridonidze are ineligible to play against their parent club. Meaning we will be fighting with one arm tied behind our back. (Metaphorically and literally, since Kurashvili is about as useful as a one-armed keeper -- and that was before he spent the last 6 months eating khinkali on the bench.)

And as tempted as I am to start the internal inquest into our failure to secure the Liga 3 title outright, I know we have to wait. Our focus must remain on the playoffs. We have home field advantage, technically, given that the second leg will be at the Arsen. But we can take nothing for granted.

We start on the front foot in Ivantsminda and are rewarded for our aggression with a 20th minute goal from Enukidze. Chikhura equalize in the 30th, after we carelessly lose possession in the build-up. This isn't the Liga 3, lads. We need to sharpen up.

Nadiradze restores our lead in the 39th -- a gorgeous, team goal -- before Pukhaev makes it 3-1 on the stroke of halftime...and then 4 in the 3rd minute of injury time. 4 vital away goals, as Chikhura are falling apart.

The home support are silenced in the 48th, when Enukidze finds our 5th, before completing his hat trick in the 85th. We have been nothing if not ruthless in front of goal, and Kurashvili has more than enough time to sneak a cheeky khinkali that he'd hidden by his goalpost, toasting the 65 traveling supporters as he does so...though his lost focus leads to Chikhura claiming a late consolation goal.

This is why you've been stuck on the bench, Levan.

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Are you not entertained?!

Following an ideal away leg, we simply have to maintain our nerve back at the Arsen. And keep Levan away from the dumplings. Lotuashvili is banned due to an accumulation of yellow cards, which is almost laughable under the circumstanes.

The Arsen is awash in a sea of Katy Perry's greatest hits ahead of the second leg. Some would say that we are foolish for persisting with our aggressive tactics, given the scoreline from the first leg. And they'd be right... From a purely strategic standpoint. But our goal is not to simply defeat Chikhura. We are here to bury them. And then **** on their grave.

It's a mild-tempered affair, all things considered. Until Devdariani launches a two-footer on Nanobashvili, and is shown a straight red...at which point, Avto locks the door to the soundbooth and cranks up Katy Perry's Roar.

As one does.

As the halftime whistle blows we all know it's over. Not even a 78th minute goal for Chikhura can hold back the tides, much less stop the "you're getting sacked in the morning" catcalls at my nemesis.

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I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire...

We're going up, lads.

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We Can’t Change The Direction Of The Wind, But We Can Adjust The Sails

Season Review, 2024

Like an epic night in Bangkok, the morning after brings a measure of blurry clarity and a relentless headache.

We have steadily claimed points throughout the campaign -- prior to the 2nd leg loss to Chikhura, we had not lost since July. Yet, the warning signs have been there. Had we been more ruthless, we would have won Liga 3 outright. Yet, we drew against 9-man Varketili, to let the title slip away. We lost to 10-man Chikhura, after humiliating them in Ivantsminda.

****ing Chikhura.

My father will never let me hear the end of it.

There are no excuses. As thin as the squad was upon my arrival, we brought in 7 players at my insistence. There are holes in the squad. Especially as we promote into the second tier, where the opposition will be of a higher standard. We will need to up our game, accordingly.

Goals for 2025:  Consolidate our position in the Erovnuli Liga 2. Make a run in the Davit Kipiani Cup.

Squad | Liga 3 | Transfers
Finances | Income | Expenditure | Reserves

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Stay tuned.  Over the coming days, we'll get caught up in an epic save...that has many, many long years ahead of it!

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January/February 2025 - Transfer News; Odds & Ends.

With hostilities set to resume quickly and an expanded slate of league matches – 36 instead of 26 – we are immediately confronted by the need to add both depth and quality to the squad.

Our primary targets were 1-2 centerbacks and a right wingback, to strengthen our defensive line and unlock the untapped potential of our tactics on the right flank.  While I adore Davit Mikadze on paper and extended his loan, his form on the pitch left something to be desired more often than not last year. 

(While Saba Nadiradze is a natural on the right, I would prefer to deploy him as our inverted wingback on the left to exploit his right-footedness.)

In the end, we conclude the pre-season with a 19-man squad

We have to count ourselves fortunate, in that the primary player I had my eye on decided to speak to us after our promotion to the dizzying heights of the Erovnuli Liga 2, when previously he had scoffed at our interest, questioning whether our stature matched his ambitions.  (If I had a nickel for every player who was available on a free but declined our sultry advances, I’d be a rich man…in any currency.)

Our primary target, Nikolai Kuznetsov,was the first player to sign on the dotted line – an established Kazakh U21 international whose contract with Qairat had expired.  He is an upgrade in every sense of the word, and will step directly into our 1st XI.  Of course, he commands a hefty salary for having deigned to join us -- at $400/week, he is our most expensive player, by far.

Uchana Janashia also joins on a free transfer following the expiration of his Sulori contract.  He will retrain as a wide centerback and play from the bench, offering us depth at centerback and in the midfield.  (We unfortunately missed out on our other centerback targets.)

We also won the race to sign Temur Vashakidze from Zestaponi – a wildly promising young attacker, who will be our primary option from the bench for both inverted winger positions, and may have the potential to crack the 1st XI if he can develop.

As previously noted, we secured the signings of Giorgi Kurdadze, Besik “Captain” Kirkitadze, Givi Erkomaishvili and Omar Apridonidze from Chikhura, which concludes our transfer business.

In terms of depth and squad rotation, we certainly do not have the need for 2 full XIs.  But I think we are covered.

Kurdadze remains our starting keeper, with Tato Kupatadze promoted from the reserves to serve as his backup.

Our starting back 3 is familiar – Zurab Dadianidze at libero, with Irakli "Ibra" Ibragimovi and Ramin Əhmədov at centerback.  Giorgi Sanikidze and Janashia provide coverage for the back 3, from the bench.

Kuznetsov and Nadiradze will be our wingbacks, supported by Mikadze (who is the 19th man on the roster, and thus will not be on the bench for most matches).  Janiko Bezhanidze is our backup on the left, and will play from the bench to ensure coverage across the pitch (since Nadiradze can shift to the right if necessary).

Our central midfield pairing will again be comprised of Inal Pukhaev and KirkitadzeIvane Lotuashvili and Erkomaishvili will both play from the bench; the latter has immense potential, and will deputize both at mezzala and advanced playmaker.

Up top, Giorgi Enukidze, Lasha Nanobashvili and Apridonidze will reprise their roles as our attacking trident, with Erkomaishvili and Vashakidze getting ample opportunities from the bench.

The Board’s expectations are low – to fight bravely against relegation. And while I would set my sights much higher, the squad threw a fit when I suggested a top-half finish was possible.

Which is a problem we shall have to remedy.

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March 2025 - Squad Assessment; Odds & Ends.

Though they are a notoriously unreliable barometer, I have to be pleased with our pre-season friendlies.  We’re playing well, and the lads seem to have developed some camaraderie.

Yet, it isn’t just the Board and squad who see a relegation battle on the horizon.  The oddsmakers have put us at 150-1 for the title, predicting a 9th place finish.  We do not merit any mention in the media’s pre-season Dream XI.

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Never tell me the odds.

We may need that camaraderie in the days ahead, should results start to go against us. Riding the wave of optimism from last year's promotion, we sell 69 season tickets, which may not look like much, but it is a 56.81 percent year-on-year increase from last year's 44. (I try to explain the concept of exponential growth to Avto, but he's too busy jabbering about the new Katy Perry album to let it sink in.)

Our first match is away to last year's Liga 3 champions, Zestaponi -- a proper measuring stick if ever there was one. Let's be honest, though, it was an ugly, cold night of sloppy football. Yet we claim all 3 points with a 1-nil victory, thanks to a debut goal from Vashakidze after our hosts were reduced to 10 men.

The home opener sees us square off against the Kibble Munchers, which prompts the supporters to gleefully sing about their captain's preferences in the bedroom, set to the tune of the classic "My Bologna Has a First Name" ad. Unfortunately, it only served to motivate our visitors, as we created but could not convert numerous chances in a 2-1 loss.

The same story repeats against title-favorites Rustavi, on matchday 3. A 2-1 loss when a different result was in the cards, if only we'd taken our chances. We're doing many things right, and are playing scintillating, attacked-minded football. The pieces of the puzzle simply need to come together.

After the draw with Skuri, I couldn't sleep. We'd fought back from 2-nil down, but it wasn't good enough. I scoured our meager scouting reports in search of an available centerback, to no immediate avail. The players who would improve our XI are not interested in joining a club of our stature.

Exhausted, in the cold light of the breaking dawn, I am at a loss as I go hunting for the first cup of coffee of the day.

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April/May 2025.

The stress is truly beginning to wear on me, even as our fortunes improve.

When you have insomnia, you're never really asleep. And you're never really awake.

If only I had someone to share the burden with, to confide in. A significant other. A friend. An assistant I could trust to not go running to the Chairman. Anyone.

The reality is that I don't think I've ever had a real relationship. Not really. Just before she was arrested for forging church relics, my last girlfriend accused me of only being attracted to a certain kind of girl. It was kind of hard to understand what she meant by it, though -- she was pretty out of it on horse tranquilizers.

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June 2025 - European Review.

In the Champions League, Massimiliano Allegri's Manchester City defeated Julian Nagelsmann's Bayern, 1-nil, to keep Ol' Big Ears in Manchester.

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2024/25 Champions League: Overview | Knockout Rounds

Didier Deschamps' Chelsea won the Europa League with a 3-nil win over Tite's Athletic.

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2024/25 Europa League: OverviewKnockout Rounds

And, in the Europa Conference League, Ruben Baraja's Valencia beat Patrick van Leeuwen's Wolfsburg, 1-nil.

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2024/25 Europa Conference League: OverviewKnockout Rounds

In the active leagues: Massimiliano Allegri's Manchester City successfully defended their Premier League title; Carlo Ancelloti's Real Madrid matched City, defending their La Liga title; Julian Nagelsmann's Bayern did Bayern things; Abelardo's Roma dethroned Pep Guardiola's Juventus in Italy, leading to His Baldness getting sacked; and, Mauricio Pochettino's PS-****ing-G reasserted their dominance in Ligue 1.

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June 2025.

With insomnia, nothing is real. Everything is far away. Everything is a copy of a copy of a copy.

Desperate for a change of pace, anything to change the rhythms of my days, I move to a new house -- 1537 Kaghaldis Kucha, on the outskirts of Sagarejo. A lone house in a quiet neighborhood, across the street from -- as the name of the street would suggest -- a paper mill, long-since shut down.

The lawn hasn't been mowed in years, and is full of weeds. More to the point, the large three-story house is run-down; the leasing agent says it has been years since anyone lived here. Which is fine by me. I could use the space and the quiet. When you add in the basement (which tends to flood in the rain), I arguably have 4 stories, all to myself. The only noise is a city bus which passes by every hour or so, empty unless I'm on board.

Most of the windows are boarded up. The stairs creak and groan, ready to collapse at the slightest provocation. There's dust everywhere. The rusty plumbing leaks. The electrical system is shot -- turn on one light, and another light in the house goes out.

For all its flaws, it feels like home.

Even if I'm still unable to sleep.

Offers pour in from the likes of Shukura and Torpedo while takeover rumors persist. Our exploits are being noticed, it seems.

Yet, we certainly aren't getting any mileage out of the academy. We need to start attracting and developing better players.

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I asked Aleksandre if we were using the Harry Potter grading system, upon receiving his report. He just looked at me as if I was the crazy one. Classic muggle nonsense, that.

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July/August 2025.

The less I sleep, the more we win. Those appear to be the rules. The doctor tried telling me that you can't die of insomnia, but I've done my research. Maybe I'm dead already.

With Khurtsilava's contract due to expire in a few months' time, I've taken to informally interviewing assistants to find someone who I can truly rely on, going forward. I haven't had any luck this far. Case in point? The last guy seemed like a decent fit until I realized that he looked like a Mormon Neville Longbottom. And then I couldn't "unsee" it. That was never going to work.

You just can't force these things, no matter how much I could use someone to deflect the stress.

The media's incessant speculation about a possible takeover doesn't help. Nor does Pukhaev's sudden penchant for two-footed 300-inspired tackles, leading to dropped 6 points against Gagra and Samgurali as we were reduced to 10-men early.

Nevertheless, we still find ourselves perched precariously atop the table with 11 matches to play.

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September/October 2025.

As the title race narrows in late September, I was desperate to ease the tension ahead of a title six-pointer away to Rustavi. I was willing to try anything.

On advice of counsel, though, I have to be clear.

I just went in for a sports massage. I didn't realize it was that kind of establishment.

Possible solicitation charges aside, we claim a hard-fought victory over 10-man Rustavi, 2-1, and are in the mix as we head into the final matches of the year.

The arrival of our academy class will not distract us from the task at hand, as the likes of Vitaly Alexandrov, Otar Salukvadze and Luka Ghonghadze will not turn any heads on Rustaveli Avenue.

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Wait...what?!

No, no. Our focus is on the last 4 matches, the first 3 of which will be at the Arsen.

With one match in hand, it's all to play for, lads.

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November 2025.

Last year, we managed to **** away the Liga 3 title outright, before securing promotion through the playoff.

This year, we once again hold our destiny in our own hands.

Gagra is a make-or-break 90 minutes. Yet neither side can make. Nor break. A 1-1 draw ensues. Lively, but not what anyone wanted...except for Rustavi, who claim a 95th minute winner to go 4 points clear.

Having secured a playoff spot, I should be happy. 9 months ago, I would have given almost anything to be where we are. But the margins are thin. I cannot bear the thought of failing to secure promotion at this point.

Samgurali is up next -- our match in hand. We make it harder on ourselves than we have to. But 3 points are 3 points. 1 point off Rustavi, with 2 matches to play.

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Against Bakhmaro, we are missing 3 starters due to youth international duty -- Kurdadze, Əhmədov and Kuznetzov, the same three players who were missing when we squared off against Bakhmaro in September, a 3-2 loss.

Kupatadze needs a big night.

He doesn't have one.

We concede in the 93rd minute, to draw 4-4. If we had had anything vaguely resembling a goalkeeper, it would have made the difference.

Rustavi, for their part, find a 90th minute winner despite being down to 10 men -- meaning we are 3 points back, heading into the final matchday. Rustavi are away to Gagra, while we travel to Merani. We hold the head-to-head tiebreaker, having won 3 of our 4 matches this year. But now, we need some help.

The matches will kick off 48 hours after Rustavi's 1-nil (aet) win in the Davit Kipiani Cup final, meaning they will likely have heavy legs. There is, of course, the possibility that adrenaline will see them through.

For the first 45, though, it doesn't matter. We are poor and concede early...and then again in the 52nd minute. There will seemingly be no miracles today...

In the 60th minute, though, Enukidze pulls one back and gives the traveling supporters a glimmer of hope. But that glimmer quickly fades. We fall 2-1, as Gagra find a late winner. If our late-season form had been only marginally better, we would be promoted as champions.

As it stands, we will face a two-legged playoff against Torpedo Kutaisi, to determine our fate.

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December 2025 - Promotion Playoff.

In Kutaisi, we accept the challenge before us. Torpedo are favored and will come planning to dominate play.

But everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.

Just like with Chikhura last year, we need to strike first.

Yet Torpedo are no Chikhura, their high press is relentless. We concede early and it takes Kurdadze saving a penalty to keep us in the match, before Enukidze draws us level in the 59th.

Though Torpedo find a (deserved) winner, we are not dead yet.

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The moment of truth arrives in Sagarejo, as takeover rumors once again wash over the local media.

Əhmədov smashes the crossbar in the 38th minute...close. But close is not good enough. We need a goal.

With 45 minutes to play, the tie hangs in the balance. Our aggression is nearly rewarded in the 60th minute, when Torpedo clear off the line. In the 66th minute, however, Enukidze comes good, firing home from 7 yards. It's the goal we needed.

As much as Torpedo will now attack, we cannot take our foot off of the gas or sacrifice our principles.

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The minutes tick past, but neither side finds the back of the net. We head to extra time. Both sides are exhausted. The entire campaign boils down to these final minutes.

Torpedo head off the crossbar in the 97th minute, from a corner. So close to a killing blow...which falls in the 101st minute, with Grigalashvili left free at the near post. We strike back on the stroke of the break, Kuznetsov finding Vashakidze at the back post. 2-2.

We're not dead yet.

And just when the match seems destined for penalties, Torpedo fail to clear a loose ball. Vashakidze is the first to react, nodding home from 5 yards.

Batten down the hatches, lads. We are less than 4 minutes from the land of milk and honey.

Or not.

Torpedo equalize in the 119th minute, a heat-seeking missile sneaking past Kurdadze, who has been brilliant all night.

Penalties will decide the tie. We take first, and Vashakidze hammers his penalty into the top right corner. Mukbaniani crumbles under the pressure, leaving Kurdadze to tip it off the crossbar. An early 1-nil advantage.

Əhmədov calmly places his penalty into the bottom left corner...before Kurdadze denies Bilotserkovets. 2-nil.

No hesitation as Apridonidze finds the back of the net. Spanderashvili strikes with power, but Kurdadze has the measure of him, reading it all the way. 3-nil.

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As Torpedo's players crumple to the ground, the Arsen erupts.

Someone pinch me.

The land of milk and honey awaits. We're going up.

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Sometimes, The Only Way To Open A Door Is To Kick It Down

Season Review, 2025

The flood of champagne covering the pitch at the Arsen says it all. In what was the biggest match in club history -- so far -- we stayed true to ourselves, went for it, and claimed a historic victory before a record crowd.

Several year-end accolades fall our way, with Dadianidze claiming the Erovnuli Liga 2 Player of the Year. Dadianidze is joined in the Erovnuli Liga 2 Best XI by Kurdadze, Enukidze and Apridonidze, while Manager of the Year is bestowed upon yours truly.

I'd be lying if I said I was content with what we've accomplished. I'm eager for the new campaign, though I can already feel the pressure mounting -- for on the heights, the paths are paved with daggers.

It is imperative that we add depth and quality to the squad, especially at centerback.

The Chairman is already enthusiastically talking about a scouting trip he'd like me to take to East Africa, to watch a few players he's found on YouTube. So much for a relaxing holiday period.

Goals for 2026:  Battle against relegation. Make a run in the Davit Kipiani Cup (our record thus far is abysmal).

Squad | Liga 2 | Transfers

Finances | Income | Expenditure | Reserves

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January 2026.

The red-eye flight back from Tanzania would be more tolerable, but for the fact that the trip was an utter waste of time.

"Go to Dar es Salaam," the Chairman said. "Great young talent at Young Africans, ready to sign for us. Name is Athens, or summat. Might be part Greek. I dunno."

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Only, upon my arrival, Tanzanian U21 international Hassan Athans had no clue who I was. He'd certainly never heard of Gareji Sagarejo. And he had no interest in getting on a plane with me, a complete stranger, no matter how much cold, hard cash I tried to press into his hands. (In hindsight, that probably just made it much, much weirder for Hassan.)

I tried showing him the highlights of Kurdadze's penalty-shootout exploits on YouTube, but even before I hit play, I knew it was a lost cause.

Back to the airport, for another 12 hour flight.

I've been on the ground for less than 6 hours. I didn't even pack an overnight bag.

Not that I've slept more than a handful of hours in the weeks since promotion was secured.

As my Giorgi Air flight departs Julius Nyerere International Airport -- think Ryan Air, but with less emphasis on customer service -- I'm barely aware of the world around me, much less the people next to me as I'm sat in the middle of three seats.

Just another day, blending from one to the next. The fasten seatbelt light flicks off a few minutes later, a pleasant chime ringing throughout the cabin over the din of the engines, as my fellow passengers rise for one reason or another.

From the window seat to my left, a barbed voice I vaguely recognize. From somewhere. Some hazy memory in the distant past, that I can't quite place.

"There seems to be a problem with the plane."

Confused, I can only mumble a vague "what?" as I turn to look at the man next to me. His face is familiar, though I cannot quite place it.

"You know that bird that Mr. Bean voiced in The Lion King?"

The sheer randomness of the question catches me off guard. Certainly, I have a vague memory of the animated classic, one I probably haven't watched in 20 years. "Oh, I love that little, blue guy...Zazu, right?"

"So, yeah. Three of those got caught in the engine."

(That is how I met Matsil -- or, as he preferred, Mat.)

The silence drawing out between us, Mat continues. "You know why they have oxygen masks on planes?"

This new, sharp turn in the conversation continues to confuse and confound in equal measure. "No...to supply oxygen?"

Mat just chuckles as he grabs the emergency card from the seatback in front of him, opening it to pointing at the passive faces on the cartoon figures drawn within. "Oxygen gets you high.  In a catastrophic emergency, we're taking giant, panicked breaths...suddenly, we become euphoric and docile.  We accept our fate. Emergency water landing, 600 miles per hour.  Blank faces -- calm as Hindu cows."

I chuckle nervously. Am I sitting next to a madman? I try to change the conversation, to bring us back to safer ground.

"So...uhhh... What do you do, Mat?"

Mat just grins. "What do you want me to do?"

"I mean...for a living."

Mat scoffs. "Why?  So you can say, 'oh, that's what you do' and and be a smug little **** about it?"

I chuckle awkwardly as Mat reaches for a briefcase under the seat in front of him.

He turns back, a questioning smirk on his face. "You have a kind of sick desperation in your laugh, Rezo."

He points to his briefcase and nods down towards mine.

Realization dawns in my sleep-deprived brain. Eventually my mouth reconnects and I mumble out an apologetic acknowledgement of this bizarre circumstances of fate. "Ahh...I get it. We have the same briefcase."

Mat turns his briefcase towards me, nodding amiably. "Open it."

Clearly, this man is a lunatic. Nevertheless, what am I supposed to do? We have nearly 12 hours left on this flight.

Best to humor my new friend.

I pop the latch and raise the lid, only to find a stack of scouting reports on Eastern European U15s -- many of the same kids I've been hearing about.

As I look up, there's a twinkle in Mat's eye.

"Football, Rezo. The yardstick of civilization. I've been a player...but now, I find, develop and manage...talent. If you were to add a few of my players to any team, any club...you could challenge for titles. With enough of my players, one could blow up the footballing world… If one were so inclined."

Mat snaps the briefcase shut, winking at me. "No peeking, Rezo. This is my business, after all. The football business."

We sit quietly, looking at each other for a few moments, before I arch an eyebrow and start shaking my head slowly.

"Mat, you are by far the most interesting 'single-serving' friend I've ever met."

Now, it is Mat's turn to arch an eyebrow at me. But...he seems confused. Perhaps...

"You see, Mat. When you travel and work like I do, everything in life has to be small, self-contained--

"Like a spork.  I get it.  You're very clever."

"Thank you."

"How's that working out for you, Rezo?"

"What?"

"Being clever."

His eyes don't leave mine.

"Well, uh... Great. Got promoted last year, on penalties."

Mat nods, a wry grin across his face. "Keep it up, then, Rezo. Keep it right up."

We pass the rest of the flight in amiable silence.

When we land, we go our separate ways. 

Days pass, and there is an itch at the back of my mind. I can't tell you why I called him.

But I did.

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While the trip to Africa did not result in me signing a player, perhaps I've solved my problems regarding an assistant.

Mat appears to be nothing if not resourceful.

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January/February 2026 - Transfers; Odds & Ends.

My sincere hope was that upon our ascension to the Erovnuli Liga, the floodgates would open such that we would be inundated with promising talents.

Suffice to say that has not happened. Literally or metaphorically.

Mat and I have our work cut out for us. Our immediate focus was on signing a new backup goalkeeper and starting centerback, and we fortunately have been able to secure our primary targets in that regard. Not world-beaters, but sensible signings that give us depth.

Mat's resourcefulness proves to be the tipping point in getting these signings over the line. He is a night person -- while the rest of us are sleeping, he's working.

Joni Bebiashvili arrives on loan from Torpedo to take over as one of our starting centerbacks, replacing Ibra. (This could have been awkward, but I left it in Mat's hands. He had a few words with the management in Kutaisi, and suddenly they're willing to make this happen.)

Giorgi Chikobava signs on a free from the Kibble Munchers, replacing Kupatadze as our backup goalkeeper. Poor Kupatadze...he's makes senior 2 appearances, both against Bakhmaro, conceding 7 goals over the course of 90 minutes to see us drop 5 points, arguably conceding the Erovnuli Liga 2 title to Rustavi as a direct result. Mat has vowed that he'll never play for us again.

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Mat's first order of business at the club was installing this box for Tato in the changing room.

I find that, with Mat's arrival, things are becoming less hazy. I'm able to sleep. De-stress. He is the answer to all of my prayers.

Amidst the newfound energy and spirit brought by Mat's arrival, takeover rumors begin anew. News also filters through that we will receive $103k for television rights this year, more than double the payments in the second tier. It is welcome, but it will take more -- so much more -- to set our finances right.

Mat's primary job over the next few months is to identify a number of players we can sign on a Bosman, to continue strengthening our defense and improving the squad, as a whole. The matches will come fast in thick in the Erovnuli Liga, as we must respect the international windows scattered across the calendar. No more of this "one match per week" nonsense for an entire season. Not for the likes of us, no.

Our pre-season friendlies have gone well. Yet Mat and I cannot help but be nervous. We know it is a big step up to the top tier.

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March 2026.

The Board have little hope. We are expected to battle "bravely" against relegation. Again.

The oddsmakers are equally pessimistic, putting at 1000-1 for the title, predicting a 10th place finish.  We do not merit any mention in the media’s pre-season Dream XI.

7f4ab3d609cfa78cb857920af8ed7706.png I was told there would be no math...

Notwithstanding the pessimism of all and sundry, our supporters are boarding the hype train in droves. We sell 171 season tickets, a massive year-on-year increase from last year's 69 tickets.

And in the first match away to Dinamo Batumi, we prove that there may be reason for optimism after all -- a narrow 1-nil loss where create chances and nearly equalize at the end.

Thankfully, we don't have to wait much longer for the first Erovnuli Liga goal in club history, as Nanobashvili heads home in the 7th minute of our home opener against Lokomotivi. We settle for a draw in the end. Frustrating, but a fair result on the night.

Late in the month, reinforcements arrive in the shape of Lasha Lezhava, to give us a 20-man squad. Truth be told, we failed to secure 2-3 additional, immediate signings as they opted to join other clubs who have -- in their estimation -- better squads.

They may be right. For at least a while. And dying in their beds, many years from now, Mat and I know that they would trade all the days from this day to that, for one chance -- just one chance -- to come back here and tell our enemies that they can offer them contracts, but they're signing for Gareji.

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Don't look at me like that, Mel. You love it.

Mat has enjoyed far more success in securing future signings -- putting those scouting reports of his to good use. To be fair, Mat has admitted that the easiest thing to do sometimes is to let others do your scouting for you. To that end, he has secured the signings of Mite Petkovski, Gevorg Khachatryan, and Edgar Harutyunyan -- U21 internationals from North Macedonia and Armenia who are currently unattached, each of whom has arrives on a long-term trial in advance of formally signing on their 18th birthday.

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April/June 2026.

These 9 weeks have passed in a blur. The matches approach with virtually no warning.

Though we remain in desperate need of defensive signings and reinforcements, we've managed to make ourselves hard to beat by having a stingy defense -- conceding only 18 goals, second to Dila Gori. I'm not entirely sure why we're so strong defensively, after leaking goals last year. But I'm not going to complain.

Dinamo Tbilisi have stumbled the last few weeks, but are poised to run away with the league while the rest of us fight over the scraps from their table -- the margins have truly been thin in most matches. Only Gagra appear to be out of their depth, though Rustavi have begun falling behind the pace set by the mid-table clubs.

But we have to focus on ourselves. With the summer break granting some respite and a more relaxed pace ahead, it is time to renew contracts to the extent possible. And, if it is not, to start working to secure replacements.

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June 2026 - European Review.

In the Champions League, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's Manchester United continued the city's dominance in the competition, claiming United's 2nd title in 3 years with a 2-1 win over Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool.

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2025/26 Champions League: Overview | Knockout Rounds

Abelardo's Roma won the Europa League with a 2-nil (aet) win over Ronald Koeman's Arsenal.

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2025/26 Europa League: OverviewKnockout Rounds

And, in the Europa Conference League, Steven Gerrard's Atalanta beat Pedro Martins' Sevilla, 1-nil.

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2025/26 Europa Conference League: OverviewKnockout Rounds

In the active leagues: Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool ran away with the Premier League title; Oscar Lopez's Barcelona claimed the La Liga title by virtue of the head-to-head results with Carlo Ancelloti's Real Madrid; Julian Nagelsmann's Bayern did Bayern things; Roberto Martinez's Milan won their first Serie A title in 15 years; and, Mauricio Pochettino's PS-****ing-G did PS-****ing-G things.

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June 2026.

Mat's plan to rely on the scouting efforts of others? Nothing short of ****ing genius.

We've signed two U21 Kazakh internationals, who arrive on long-term trials pending their 18th birthdays -- Iurii Iskakov (note: the third 'i' is silent) and Daniar Omarov. Iskakov will join our central midfield, obviously. For Omarov, however, I have far grander plans.

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We've also secured the signing of Sevit "The Lion" Aslan on a free from Fenerbahce -- an established U19 international, he will arguably be the best player at the club when he arrives. While I had to think long and hard about his wage demands (in excess of $800/week, he will be our highest earner), in the end I had to agree with Mat -- young Sevit could be an exceptional player.

Mat is also quite optimistic about the forthcoming academy class, and we've started making plans to implement my long-term strategy for youth development. We're of like mind about that, we are.

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2026 World Cup Review.

Hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico, the first 48 team World Cup played out in a relatively straightforward fashion.

Peter Bosz's Holland took home the title, putting paid to decades of frustration, defeating Stefano Pioli's Italy, 2-1.

Honorable mentions to the likes of Turkey, Norway and Austria, who reached the quarterfinals. A frustrating Group Stage for the African contingent, however, as Senegal, Ghana and Nigeria all failed to advance from ther respective, forgiving 3-team groups.

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2026 World Cup: OverviewKnockout Rounds

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July 2026.

A solid run of form sees us with breathing room, 14 points above Dinamo Batumi and Rustavi, who are level on 21 points. (Mat's implementation of training routines he found on YouTube has worked better than one might have expected.)

There's a media furor building over whether we can sustain a push for Europa Conference League qualification. As much as we would love to set out for foreign shores, we do not want to put the cart before the horse.

If we remain focused on the here and now, we will get there. But if we buy into the hype, we will stumble. It's that simple.

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August/September 2026.

The unpredictability of Georgian football has taken its toll these past few weeks, as we claim and are denied results unexpectedly.

Saburtalo offered their managerial vacancy, but at a when they were 16 points behind us, firmly in the relegation zone. (Not tempted in the slightest, brother.)

6 matches later, we've annihilated league leaders Dinamo Tbilisi 4-nil at the Arsen (after they were reduced to 10 men) and sit level with Telavi and Lokomotivi on points, while also having gotten hammered by Torpedo in the Davit Kipiani Cup quarterfinals.

Truth be told, the loss to Torpedo hurt. Not because of any lingering grudge or ill will, but rather because I felt the competition was up for grabs given the remaining sides. There's always next year.

If we are to qualify for European competition, we'll have to do it the old fashioned way -- grinding out results in the league.

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October 2026.

Our academy class is far less impressive than we had hoped. The only player worth considering is Giorgi Bachiashvili.

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Beka tries to hype up Davit Jeladze, Panagiotis "Diddy" Papakostas and Tornike Lomsadze, but I can't lie to them. They're nowhere near good enough.

Speaking of which, everyone is stumbling towards the finish line in the Erovnuli Liga. With the 3rd and final Europa Conference League spot guaranteed to be awarded through the Cup, we need to finish in the top 3. Telavi is right on our backs, but we are 5 points clear of Dila Gori and Lokomotivi.

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November 2026.

3 matches to play. Whether we finish 2nd or 3rd is of little consequence.

We simply need to secure the Europa Conference League position that is within our sights.

We utterly choke against Saburtalo, losing 3-1 and falling to 3rd. A late win against relegated Gagra on Matchday 35 pushes us back to 2nd, confirming a Europa Conference League spot...so, why do I feel so empty over losing to Telavi, to fall back into 3rd?

If anything, the $12.37k in prize money feels like -- dare I say it -- too much. We don't deserve it.

I don't deserve it.

Mat concurs.

We cannot drop points like that, if we hope to accomplish our goals.

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The Truth Brags Well Enough Without My Help

Season Review, 2026

I usually can rely on Mat for nothing if not a bleak, pessimistic outlook on life. He'd call it "realistic." But often he's just being a negative ****.

I am thus thankful for his optimism as the curtain falls on our first year in the top tier. He argues that we have accomplished far more than we had a right to dream of. And that the squad is on the verge of dramatic improvement thanks to the talented young players he has signed, joined on extended trials, and will formally join the first team squad over the course of the 2027 campaign.

The more I think about it, the more I realize how right he is.

Good vibes only for the holidays this year.

Helping with those vibes? Bebiashvili extends his contract, shortly before being named the Erovnuli Liga Young Player of the Year and being awarded the Ioseb Jughashvili Medal, given to the most stylish young Georgian footballer in the world. (The award criteria is rather vague, if you ask me -- hairstyles and fashion sense, for a football award?)

Chikobava, Erkomaishvili and Kirkitadze are also named to the Davit Kipiani Cup Next XI.

We are turning a page. We do not intend to renew the contracts of Sanikidze, Ibragimovi, Janashia, Bezhanidze, and Pukhaev -- they simply are not good enough. What got us where we are, will not get us where we're going. (Lezhava would join them, but for the "avoid relegation" extension clause in his contract.)

For their part, Nanobashvili and Enukidze have been offered new contract terms, but they refuse to accept a reduced role in the squad. They may have been "star players" in the past, but the past is past, lads. Absent agreement on a reduced role, they're gone. We'll backfill with free transfers.

The future is bright.

Goals for 2027:  Challenge for the Erovnuli Liga title. Not embarrass ourselves in Europe. Make a run in the Davit Kipiani Cup.

Squad | Erovnuli Liga | Transfers

Finances | Income | Expenditure | Reserves

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5 hours ago, Deisler26 said:

Bebiashvili looks like he'll end up on the cover of Borscht Monthly! What a guy!

He's not just the cover. He's got a 15-page, color photo spread inside. l0MYGEgd1I8ueXG8w.gif.b3218e13c6fb5d53fec4db0e81ada563.gif

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5 hours ago, Deisler26 said:

Bebiashvili looks like he'll end up on the cover of Borscht Monthly! What a guy!

1 minute ago, ManUtd1 said:

He's not just the cover. He's got a 15-page, color photo spread inside. l0MYGEgd1I8ueXG8w.gif.b3218e13c6fb5d53fec4db0e81ada563.gif

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2 hours ago, Benjoe said:

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And with those eyebrows, you'd better hope he wax'd in anticipation of bikini season.

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January 2027 - Transfers & Squad Review.

2027 will be the most challenging year we've faced.

The days when we could surprise our domestic opponents have long since passed. We are a known quantity now. And, more to the point, we will have to balance our domestic campaign with the Europa Conference League qualifiers. Which means, of course, that we need to up our game.

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Exactly, Giorgi. Exactly.

We had already signed 5 players, due to arrive over the course of the campaign. We needed to backfill further, though, given all of the departures, and thus welcome 4 additional players to the squad -- 2 loans, and 2 on permanent deals. Let's pause briefly to take a look at where things sit in what will be a pivotal year.

We're still playing PM Draugrson, and will enter the campaign with a 23-man squad (inclusive of 4 players who are still technically on trial).

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Gareji Sagarejo's 1st XI, as the 2027 campaign kicks off.

Goalkeepers.

Our goalkeeping situation has not changed over the last 12 months -- Giorgi Kurdadze remains our undisputed No. 1, with Giorgi Chikobava as his deputy.

Kurdadze has voiced some reluctance to signing a new contract. Accordingly, one of my priorities this year has to be getting Chikobava minutes -- moonlighting for the 1st team and starting for the reserves when possible. I don't want to be in the market for a new starter next year.

Defenders.

Zurab Dadianidze has been our libero for the last 3 years, each of which has seen him named as our Player of the Year. He has also secured his place in club history, earning club icon status -- a testament to both his quality and the importance of the position/role within PM Draugrson.

The reality, however, is that he has taken us as far as he can. Our back 3 has been in desperate need of improvement, even if the wide centerback roles have been our weak points. Going forward, we cannot allow sentiment to guide us.

Fortunately, we secured a ready-made replacement last year -- Daniar Omarov, who fits my preferred "deep lying advanced forward" archetype and has been playing at libero in friendlies with the reserves and U19s since his arrival last year (since we can't set individual training regimes for players on trial). There is no question about it -- Omarov will take over in the 1st XI the moment he becomes eligible.

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The King is dead? Long live the king.

At wide centerback, 2 loan signings will feature -- Joni Bebiashvili (whose loan from Torpedo was extended through December 2027) and Giorgi Mskhvilidze (from Dinamo Tbilisi). One of our big goals this year is to sign one or both of them on a free transfer, once they become eligible to negotiate in July.

Their primary backup will be Vasil Mikeltadze (signed on a free from Varketili), with Ramin Əhmədov also available. Mikeltadze is a big upgrade in the squad. Last year, he would have stepped directly into our 1st XI; Mskhvilidze's arrival is the only reason he doesn't do so now. Əhmədov's primary strength at this point is his versatility, in that he is capable of providing coverable across the back 3 and as a ball-winning midfielder. However, he is not good enough to remain with the squad as anything more than coverage, going forward.

Pushing Əhmədov further into the periphery? Mite Petkovski, who officially joins the squad in September. When signed last year, Petkovski was a sure-fire starter. Now? The questions will be: (1) whether Bebiashvili and/or Mskhvilidze accept our advances over the summer; and (2) how he develops vis-a-vis our loanees and Mikeltadze.

At right wingback, Nikolai Kuznetsov remains our starting complete wingback. I love him, but he's very inconsistent. Gevorg Khachatryan will provide long-term competition for the role, joining officially in August; until then, Giorgi Bakhtadze will play with the 2nd XI. (Mat has open about his desire to banish Bakhtadze to the "shadow realm," after binge-watching the Marvel movies over the holidays. I can't disagree, in all honesty.)

At left wingback, long-time squad member Saba Nadiradze faces competition from Edgar Harutyunyan for the starting position. While the competition hangs in the balance at the moment, Harutyunyan seems to have vast potential. Regardless of who wins out, the "loser" will see minutes from the bench for the 1st XI.

Central Midfielders.

With the non-renewal of contracts last year, we entered the 2027 campaign without a bona fide ball-winning midfielder.

Problem? Perhaps. Əhmədov is in over his head at this level.

The solution? Archil Gigauri, last seen squealing in anguish throughout Gagra's catastrophic, calamitous 2026 campaign which saw them relegated after claiming a mere 10 points, with a -61 goal difference. He had no shortage of suitors, so we've made him our second-highest earner (at $575/week). A big upgrade.

At mezzala, we are also thin thanks to the departures of various midfielders from our 2026 squad. Besik "Captain" Kirkitade continues on as our starter, backed up by Giorgi Ugrekhelidize (on loan from Dinamo Batumi, having declined our contract offer last year). Ugrekhelidze signed as a squad player, and should see significant minutes from the bench both in the central midfield and as advanced playmaker.

Iurii Iskakov officially arrives in late March, to serve primarily as a backup for Gigauri, but also at mezzala as needed. Either way, he will also get substantial minutes from the bench with the 1st XI.

It is a solid midfield 4, in which the 3 new players are all an upgrade on the players they've replaced from last year's squad.

Attacking Midfielders.

There will be no change up top, from the front 3 that lead our attack in the second half of the 2026 campaign. Givi Erkomaishvili will be our advanced playmaker, flanked by Seyit "The Lion" Aslan and Omar Apridonidze.

Aslan is our highest earner ($1k/week) and most dangerous player. We need a big year from him, to improve upon the 2026 campaign.

Temur Vashakidze is a threat from the bench, capable of playing from either flank. Lasha Lezhava is similarly versatile, while less dangerous.

Final Thoughts.

The urgent need, entering the transfer window, was to add quality to the 1st XI at centerback and central midfield. There can be no denying that we've improved the squad substantially since last year, and that we will continue to add both depth and quality over the course of the coming campaign.

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February 2027 - Odds & Ends.

The last few weeks before the campaign kicks off in earnest pass by in a flash.

We implement a new training regime and secure funding from the Board to put the players on a full Telleusian diet -- having introduced grapefruit to the club canteen last year, there is no room for half measures now that we're in Europe.

As the old saying goes, "a grapefuit today wins a trophy tomorrow." Imagine what 5 grapefruits per day will accomplish. It's simple math.

Besides, Mat negotiated a great deal for a steady supply of fair-trade, conflict-free Spanish grapefruit on a weekly flight from Murcia (only the best for the lads). The only hitch? We had to pay for 5 years' worth, in advance. (Mat put it on my club credit card, as if I wouldn't notice.)

Fortunately, the bill arrived right after the Erovnuli Liga annouced that teams will each receive $111k for television rights this year, up from $108k in 2026. So the bean counters in Accounting were far less outraged than I expected.

I'd hoped that our pre-season friendlies would prove the value our dietary renaissance. We've been dominant. Yet we are not putting teams away in the manner expected of us, and we're a bit leaky at the back.

But it's too late to second guess ourselves now.

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March 2027.

The Board lack our confidence. We are -- once gain -- expected to do nothing more than battle "bravely" against relegation.

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Wait. Relegation...?!

The oddsmakers are equally pessimistic, albeit slightly less so than last year -- we are 700-1 for the title, predicted to finish dead last.  And, again, we do not merit any mention in the media’s pre-season Dream XI.

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The supporters are more positive, however, as we sell 196 season tickets, a slight uptick from the 171 that were sold in 2026. And with good reason.

We look sharp in the opening matches -- controlling play, creating chances. If only we were taking those chances...

But we are snatching at them. Dropping points from positions of strength (against Dinamo Batumi), and failing to turn our dominance into goals (Telavi and Dila Gori). There is, of course, a lot of football left to be played.

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