Georgian Wonder Boy Helps Napoli Win Third Serie A Title After 33 Years
In Robert D. Putnam’s book Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy, he discusses the democratization process in Italy, highlighting the importance of strengthening civic engagement at the local self-governance level. Special centers were established to facilitate this, and studies have shown that Italians in the north were more involved in the political, economic, and social processes, while representatives of the south used them mostly for chit-chat. The author suggests that this disparity may be one reason why industrialized northern Italian regions are richer and more successful.
This phenomenon can also be seen in football, where only two southern teams have won Serie A: Napoli (in the 1986-87, 1989-90, and 2022-2023 seasons) and Cagliari (in the 1969-70 season). The success story of Napoli is, of course, associated with the legendary Diego Armando Maradona, who is considered one of the greatest of all time, along with Pele. Maradona helped Napoli win its first two championship titles, and it is tragic that both Argentina and Napoli celebrated World Cup and Serie A victories, respectively, after Maradona passed away.
But this year, Naples has another hero in the form of Georgian winger Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, who terrorizes defences and football commentators alike. Reportedly even the announcer of the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium (Napoli’s home arena), Decibel Bellini, started practicing announcing his full name immediately after the team declared the signing of the Georgian player from Dinamo Batumi in April 2021. Kvaratskhelia offered fans the option of calling him "Kvara," but Napoli fans are very creative and have introduced several nicknames, including "Kvaradona" (in reference to Maradona) and "Kvaravaggio" (in reference to Caravaggio).
Having started in the most popular Georgian team, Dinamo Tbilisi, Kvaratskhelia decided to follow in his father's footsteps (also a former footballer) when he was offered a coaching opportunity at Rustavi, a small club. After just half a year there, he moved to the traditional Russian club, Lokomotiv Moscow. Despite only being 18 years old, Kvara played seven games and scored one goal. When his loan expired, Lokomotiv offered Kvaratskhelia's family and agent an official transfer, where he would continue in the second team but have opportunities to play with the first team. However, Kvaratskhelia's entourage decided he was ready to play directly for the first team and refused the proposal.
Later, the head coach of Lokomotiv, Yuri Semin, said that after hearing this news, he was crying, as he knew that Lokomotiv was losing a pure gem. Kvaratskhelia's agent, Mamuka Jugheli, knew his client's abilities. As a longtime friend of Kvaratskhelia's father, he had watched the player develop before his eyes. Therefore, he was not nervous and finally received an offer from another Russian club, Kazan Rubin. They appointed the famous Russian manager Leonid Slutski, who had also coached teams in Europe, including in the Netherlands and England. In the interview, Slutski said that he understood from Kvaratskhelia's first touch of the ball that a star would be born in Kazan Rubin. However, he discovered that despite his good technical qualities, the Georgian player had many disadvantages, such as low tolerance to pain and physical strength. The whole process was planned to overcome these limitations and it worked well. Of course, the team needed to invest in Kvaratskhelia, but everyone, including former coaches, agents, and family, emphasized that the success story of Kvaratskhelia was not just based on his talent but also on his enormous love and will to play football and devote everything to the sport.
Image: Анна Нэсси/Wikimedia Commons
Zurab Khizanishvili, the assistant coach of the Georgian national team, joked that he was unsure if Kvaratskhelia knew that the earth was turning around the sun, as he was only interested in football and did not care about anything else. If he came to him with a request, he usually asked for additional exercises. Kvaratskhelia's father, Badri, also remembered that Khvicha woke up at 6 a.m. (Georgians usually start the day late at 10:00 a.m.) to attend additional training at the Dinamo Tbilisi Academy, where special skills were taught, and he could not recall a period in his son's life without a ball.
All of this gave great results, and step by step, Kvaratskhelia gained confidence and strength to dribble around tough defenders. His creativity brought back flashbacks of football when tactics were less developed and the aesthetic part of the game was much more important. Individuals could change the fate of the tournament, not just one game. However, despite this, Kvaratskhelia did not score or assist much during his stay in Russia, and he still had not been tested on a higher level. Top European teams were monitoring him but were unwilling to sign him as Kazan Rubin demanded 30 million USD. Reportedly, Napoli had been scouting him for more than two years, and teams like Tottenham, Juventus, AC Milan, and others had also been paying attention to his development, but nothing changed until 2022.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine affected many things, including football. UEFA issued a decree stating that foreign players with contracts with Russian clubs could terminate them and leave the country. Before this information was publicized, Georgian society actively demanded that Kvaratskhelia leave Russia immediately. Badri Kvaratskhelia said that these were some of the hardest moments in their life. Previously, his son was the most beloved player in Georgia, and soon after, fans vandalized his car. Reportedly, Kvaratskhelia and his entourage were waiting for UEFA's decision as any contract violation would affect his career. As soon as permission was granted, Kvaratskhelia returned to Georgia and joined the seaside city club Dinamo Batumi. He demonstrated that there are levels between players and humiliated everyone with his high speed on the field. Meanwhile, his agent had been negotiating with top European clubs. On 28 April 2022, the information about Kvaratskhelia's transfer was confirmed, he was going to Naples.
Georgians have a deep love for football. We still celebrate Dinamo Tbilisi's victory in the 1981 European Cup Winners' Cup, and the players involved are still idolized today. Now, one of our own, a Georgian boy from Tsalenjikha, moved to Italy to play for the team of legendary player Maradona. The result was obvious: during Napoli matches, almost all of Georgia stopped and watched on their TVs, laptops, and smartphones to support Kvaratskhelia.
Italian football newspaper CalcioNapoli mentioned that Georgia and Naples are very similar in their irrational love of football. There are two interesting stories related to Kvaratskhelia. Firstly, a new airways company was established in Georgia to start direct flights from Tbilisi to Naples. On match days, they offer tours, and at least 200 Georgians attend matches with flags every week. When locals understand that they are compatriots of Kvaratskhelia, they usually receive requests to take photos with them or with the Georgian flag. A second, heartbreaking story is related to the Georgian migrants to Italy. Reportedly, one of the biggest Georgian diasporas in Italy is in Naples. Most of them are middle-aged women who take care of elders and work very hard every day. In interviews and social media posts, these women thank Kvaratskhelia for changing their lives. After his transfer, their bosses' attitudes towards them changed 180 degrees, and they received much more respect. Kvaratskhelia himself also posted support for Georgian migrants.
Kvara scored in his first and second match, bringing back Maradona vibes to the city. He could dribble his way out of several defenders and score, or he could assist. He also registered a so-called double, scoring 14 times and assisted 10. These are just numbers; Kvaratskhelia's impact is impossible to measure. His unlimited technical abilities are so dangerous that he can develop an attack in any direction. Therefore, at least two opponents are busy defending him, which gives chances for other players. But Khvicha is unstoppable, managing to dribble through his opponents despite small spaces. How he does it is hypnotic. In a short period, an unknown player became a superstar and a new hero in Naples, forming one of the most lethal attacking duos in contemporary football with the Nigerian Victor Osimhen, who is leading Serie A in the scoreboard, while Kvaratskhelia has the most assists in the league.
It is worth mentioning that Napoli's current squad is one of the most international in European football, with 25 players from 18 different countries playing for this club. There were several crucial players during this season, including South Korean Kim Min-jae, Slovakian Lobotka, and so on, but the above-mentioned two were critical to winning the third Serie A cup in the history of the club.
Kvaratskhelia's performance this season was unexpected, as he won the Player of the Month award three times - a new record. Before Kvara, no Serie A player had won this award even twice. Additionally, the winner is decided through voting, and if there's one thing Georgians are good at, it's online activity. We almost got Zaza Pachulia into the NBA All-Star Game starting lineup. The change in the rules prevented him from being the first Georgian player to play in the All-Star Game. This skill in online voting also helped Kvara win the award.
The official Facebook page of Serie A posted a photo of Maradona crowning Kvaratskhelia with the text, "A new king is crowned in Napoli," which caused dissatisfaction among Nigerians who believe that Osimhen was much more important as he scored more goals. Of course, the most important issue here is the style of play. Osimhen is an unbelievable forward, terrorizing defence even when he is standing and breathing beside them. His influence on the game played a huge role in the championship, but for fans, Kvaratskhelia is more associated with the vibes of Maradona, who could single-handedly decide the fate of the match.
Georgia can finally enjoy and support its own star on the big stage, and we are already waiting for the next season to see how Kvara's career will develop. Now we not only have hope, but also expect that with him, we will fulfill our longtime dream and participate in the European Championship and the World Cup.