Football, Wine and Mountains: The Inside Story of Georgia’s Extraordinary Rise

Georgian football may not have held the spotlight on the global stage, but the noteworthy performances of players like Giorgi Mamardashvili, Giorgi Chakvetadze, and particularly Khvicha Kvaratskhelia have captured the attention of the footballing world, shedding light on the talent brewing in the South Caucasus. 


Unlike Georgian wines, football in the country often goes underappreciated within the broader footballing community. There’s a prevailing perception of a lack of quality in the football played within the region, resulting in a stagnation of the league’s development and subsequently, limited coverage of it from international sources.


The emergence of the aforementioned players who have risen through the ranks and established themselves in European football has effectively refuted any assertions regarding the perceived lack of quality in the league. Yet, despite the current underestimation, Georgia’s footballing history boasts significant triumphs. Georgian powerhouse Dinamo Tbilisi, once stood as a prominent force in Soviet football and contended strongly in Soviet Championships.


Giorgi Mamardashvili: Valencia’s Georgian Goalkeeper


Notably, Tbilisi clinched the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in 1981, marking arguably the most monumental achievement in Georgian football to date. To this day, it remains the sole Georgian club to have secured victory in a European competition. Following independence, Georgian football faced a steep decline exacerbated by the brutal conflict in Abkhazia, resulting in regression and subsequent stagnation.


Despite boasting notable talents like Shota Arveladze, Georgi Kinkladze, Levan Kobiashvili, and Temuri Ketsbaia during this period, Georgia never made significant strides towards qualification for the World Cup or European Championships. However, Georgian football recently gained international attention when the Crusaders secured qualification for a major tournament as an independent country for the first time.


In 2020, several of these present players came close to fulfilling their potential against North Macedonia. However, they were unable to secure victory, leaving the nation in a state of uncertainty amid an ongoing project, which resulted in a string of losses. Nonetheless, a triumph against Kosovo marked a turning point, and since then, they have embarked on an eleven-game unbeaten streak, propelling them to the top of their UEFA Nations League group since October of last year.


Within Georgia, the domestic league has undergone a significant overhaul, transitioning into a ten-team format, thereby enhancing competition among the teams from a footballing standpoint. However, the league’s standard has notably declined in recent times as top-tier players have been lured away to more competitive leagues. The financial constraints exacerbated by the COVID pandemic have hindered the acquisition of quality signings, resulting in an overall decline in the league’s quality.


Khvicha Kvaratskhelia: Napoli’s Georgian Phenom in Attack


There is a continuous stream of young talent waiting to be discovered, often nurtured within the academy of the capital club, Dinamo Tbilisi. The academy has a track record of consistently fostering players with immense potential, such as Giorgi Gocholeishvili, Luka Parkadze and Gabriel Sigua.


There’s optimism for the emergence of the next ‘Khvicha Kvaratskhelia’, but given the meteoric ascent of the Napoli winger in Italian football, it would require something truly exceptional for Georgia to produce back-to-back talents of similar calibre simultaneously. The progression is also noticeable in the growth of registered footballers. From 2015 to 2021, their numbers more than doubled, rising from 14,676 to 37,600.


Furthermore, with UEFA’s assistance, Georgia made significant success in developing its infrastructure, revamping outdated stadiums, and establishing numerous training centres nationwide, thereby providing optimal conditions for the development of young footballers.


The culmination of this methodical and strategic effort over the past decade is the crowning achievement of Georgian national football – qualification for Euro 2024 in Germany, where the team will compete in Group F against Portugal, Turkey, and the Czech Republic. Nevertheless, irrespective of their performance in this demanding competition, the future of Georgian football unquestionably looks positive. 


By: Fuad Alakbarov / @DrAlakbarov

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Ciancaphoto Studio / Getty Images