20 July 2024,   03:45
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Nobody thought we would even qualify. Now they don’t believe again. They say Georgia has no chance. Everyone, they say that. But do you know what I say? I say…. They didn’t ask any Georgians - Kvaratskhelia

Georgian footballer, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, writes blog for the “The Players Tribune”.

“Hello. გამარჯობა. Здравствуйте. Ciao. (And all the rest).

Guys, we have a little problem. Because I am from Georgia. And of course I speak Georgian. But I was playing football in Russia. And now I play in Italy. And not just in Italy, but in Napoli (the best Italy). And now I am trying to speak to people all over the world.

What language do you all speak? Everything. If I do this in Georgian? Big problem.
I am trying hard to practice my English. So I am going to do this in English. My English? Not perfect. But I do my best. Good?
წავიდეთ. Let’s go.
OK, here is something to try.
Ask a Georgian who will win the Euros.
Any Georgian. Little kid. Old lady. Shopkeeper. Doesn’t matter.
Ask them. You know what will happen?
Well, first, before they answer … they will look at you. Like you are a crazy person.
Who is going to win it??
“Georgia will win the Euros. Of course. Of course.”
They will stare at you. For asking. You are stupid, or what?
“Who else but Georgia?!?!?!”
You are a fool. Big fool.
Some people say: “But isn’t this the first time ever that you are at the Euros?”
Doesn’t matter! No difference!
“It will be Georgia,” the old lady will say.
Georgians are like this. With everything.
You know who has the best food?
Spain? Italy? Japan? Hahahahahahah.
Georgia!!!!!
Best music?
Georgia!!!!

I don’t know really what it is. It’s coming from God, maybe. It’s like we are born like this. Georgia has the best everything.
I say it, too.
So for me … of course khinkali is the best food you can taste. And of course we can win the Euros. Of course. Who says no?!?!

To be here is crazy. I am not old. Just 23. But lots of ups and downs – in life, in football. A big ride. What is that called in English? Big fast ride at the park…. Goes very fast…. Scary but fun….

ატრაქციონი ამერიკანა (Atraktsioni Amerikan’a)....
Roller coaster. This is my life.
I will tell you about it.

When I was young, in the summer when there was no school, we were going every day to play football in the streets. Kids everywhere. We make little tournaments. It was like four buildings. In the centre of these buildings was our “stadium.” But only hard concrete. Later, we get the turf. But at first, concrete. Knees all red when we go down. Lots of bloody knees.
And you know what? People watch us from the buildings. Like fans.
In Georgia, people love sports. But football is first. Always first. Any football, they will watch. Friendly games. Kids in the street. Doesn’t matter. You have a crowd.

Sometimes we were playing at night, when the babies should be sleeping. We start shouting and arguing about the match and the babies wake up. The parents, they are mad. And that was the end of our night games. Too much noise. No more “Champions League.”

Me, I didn’t yell too much. Mainly calm. Never starting fights. Sometimes people were saying, “This guy is shy, I think.” (Even now, people say this.) But I am not. I just respect everyone.

But. But!!!

If you touch my friends or something, I will go fierce. This is the mentality, you understand? I never start the fight. But I can finish it. Especially if my friend is in trouble, I have to help.

My mom hated this. “Why you fighting? Be calm.”
But where I come from, you never leave a friend in trouble.

When I go to the Dinamo Tbilisi academy, it was more football, less fighting. Because the way they teach, I know I can be a good player. You see our national team, and most players are coming from this academy.

But it was difficult. I was in the first team and the older players were a little bit like, “Oh, now we have this guy?”

At this time, I am young and nobody knows me.

“Who is this guy?” I was maybe 15. They were big players. So they say, “Oh, now we have this guy. Maybe we lose.” They were talking, I heard it when I wasn’t supposed to. “Oh, no, not him.”

And I was like … I want to cry a little bit. Maybe I’m bad. (Like this is what I’m thinking.) Inside, I was hurting and I say: Fuck, I have to show them that I can play good.

My mentality goes hard then. It was motivation. And it made me good.

Then I go to Russia. Moscow. 17, almost 18. Really young. And alone by myself. My parents are nervous. My father, very worried. And it was hard for me. Kind of stressed, because of leaving my family.

But when I start training, I say: I came here for what? My family name is on the shirt, so I bring my family with me. I have to work for them. Not only me. I cannot disappoint them. Have to make them proud.

So I say: Go hard.

There was a Georgian there, Saba Kvirkvelia, and he was helping me a lot. Helped with the other players, took me to eat sometimes, and was defending me sometimes. And after I start to play, the coach really loved me. I respect him so much, because I grew a lot there — physically, mentally, and even the personality.

But it was lonely. Living in the training centre. No friends. I think it was only me and the security guys. The other players lived some other place. I was alone there. I go eat alone. It was a scary place, a little bit! I’m not joking! It was in the deep forest and you cannot go out to walk there since there was some dogs and these kind of things. Every second, I was in the training centre. I didn’t go in the centre of Moscow. Nowhere.

In the night, they didn’t have lights at the training centre. When I go to train, sometimes it was night, but I am still working. Extra work. But no light. And sometimes the security guy comes. And he was scared, in the dark.

“Hey, who is running on the grass????”
Me.
Dribbling in the shadows.
And this guy, he was good people. Every time, he says, “Finish, OK? You finish now”.

But there was nothing else to do. I cannot do nothing. Was thinking only about football. So I work at night, every night.

It was like: I cannot go back to Georgia because I was bad. I have to play good. I have to work hard. My family and country is watching.

I bring always with me Georgia. All the people. When you love your country, you think like this. I do everything for my country, for the kids who love me. (Or even if they don’t love me, but they are Georgian, I still do it for them.)

I want to make them proud, always.

But in 2022, the war in Ukraine starts. The war is a big shame. For me, when we live in the same world, nobody should kill each other. It is simple. The world should be in peace. So when the war starts, I say, “I cannot stay here.” Because of my country, and our history, I tell the club that I have to leave.

I go to Dinamo Batumi, in the best country on earth. You know which one!!
Back home was great. Very exciting. Stadiums with everyone watching. Just like a kid on that concrete.
But no bloody knees.


Coming to Napoli was all about Badri. That’s my father.
His idol was Maradona.
And my father … he was a very good player, too. He played in Azerbaijan. When I was a kid, I was always watching his videos, and he was to me the best player in the world.
If somebody was speaking about Messi or Ronaldo, I’d say, “No, no, no … my father is better.”
We were seven, eight years old. Arguing like, “Oh, Ronaldinho is the best.”
But I say, “No, no, no. You did not see my father”.
Hahahaha.
“My father is better. I will show you the videos.”

If you write in YouTube, there is not too many highlights, but I had a DVD. My mother was always showing me this. My father was shooting the free kicks so strong. I was so impressed that I was telling my friends they had to come to my house and watch.

Of course, when I get older, I start thinking that Ronaldinho is …. yes … maybe better.
A little bit.
But from the time I was little, my father is always talking about Maradona like a God.
So when my agent told me Napoli wanted me to come, I was so happy. But my father? Unbelievable.
My father says, “You cannot say no to Napoli! You cannot say no to Maradona’s club!”
So we didn’t think too much. No debate.
“You have to go.”
I cannot describe the emotions. I say, “Let’s go. Fast. I have to get there.”
When I arrive in Napoli, the first thing my teammates say to me: “You have to sing.”
At dinner. This is a tradition. You have to sing a song. All new guys do this. OK, no problem.
But Kim Min-jae went first and he did … what is it?
“Gangnam Style”.
Was really good. Really, really good. Lots of pressure on me.
So I just pick a song.
Before, when I was in Russia with Rubin Kazan, a new player was singing this one song at his dinner. It was cool. I didn’t know the song. But I say: “Maybe in the next place if I go, I will do this one.”

It is, “Lala, la, la, la….”

At Napoli, I sing that, the first day. And my teammates hear it and are telling me: “Oh, you are a smart guy. You want to make a good impression for the Napoli fans, eh?”

I am clueless.
Then after dinner, Mário Rui tells me, “Yeah, this song is Live Is Life.”
He says: “This song was for Maradona. He made it famous. During warmup. Juggling the ball.”
But I swear I didn’t know. Then the fans really liked that I was singing this. But it was just lucky.

I remember in the first few days of Napoli, I see Maradona everywhere I look. Maradona, Maradona, Maradona. Maradona is the God there. I told my father.
He says, “Bring me there fast!”
I was going in the taxi to training at first because I did not have a car. And after, when I saw how they drive, I say, “I cannot drive here, no chance.”
But when I get to the hotel … the views … oh my God. It was the best thing I had ever seen, really.

Then I go out to walk around the city, and even 70-year-old people, they know me already. Before I even play. People stop me, “You are Kvaratskhelia!”
I say, “Yes, I am!”
I am a young guy. Coming from Dinamo Batumi. And I have a difficult name. But the grandmas, grandpas, everybody knows me.

I told friends this many times: the Georgians and the people of Napoli, we are almost the same. The way they love football so much. We are living life a little bit like … crazy. I don"t know how to say it, but it’s like…. The passion, the energy. We live like this in Georgia also.

I always tell my friends from home, I say, “You have to eat pizza and pasta in Napoli.”
The other thing I always say?
“You have to watch a match at Stadio Maradona.”

I will never forget my first visit to Maradona. When I walk inside, even in the dressing room, it was so beautiful. And me, normally before the game, I don’t go on the pitch. Some players go on the pitch, feel the grass and these things, or listen to music with the people. I never do. But at Maradona, the first time I was like: Maybe I should go out. I have to see.

So I go out and it is beautiful. And even in the warmup there, it is already full. The emotions, you cannot describe. They play that song, "La, la, la,” when warmup starts. Then they sing the other Maradona song that comes on after ... it’s “Olé, olé, olé,” and then fans sing “Diego, Diego.”

So now every time when I warm up, I also sing, “Diego, Diego.”
My father loves this.

The fans are something different. The season when we won the Scudetto, after Juventus away, we come back to the airport in Napoli, and we are trying to get home in the bus, but the fans made these things — I don’t know the name in English — these fireworks but with the colours. So you can’t see nothing. Even inside the bus, you cannot breathe. We say to the driver, “Hey, put on the AC.”

Then even with the AC, we can barely breathe. Everything is blue and white and smoke.
But the people were so happy. An entire town, happy. Everybody, everybody….
And me, too.
I am very, very happy to play for the club of Maradona.

When I was a kid in Georgia, my life was a little bit difficult. A little bit sometimes. No details here. But not always easy, you understand? And now I am happy because I know I am making my country smile playing for Napoli. All the people watch. They follow us.

Sometimes when I went back to Georgia, when I saw kids playing with my name on their shirt, I didn’t believe it. I think this Kvaratskhelia on the shirt is some other guy. I never dreamed about this, because it was so far for me. But now when I see them, they give me inspiration. And now at the Euros, for the first time ever. We can make all of Georgia happy. For Georgians, this is like a dream.

It is true that Georgia is the best. At everything. But I think nobody deep down was believing that we could ever go to the Euros. Not what they say, but what they think. So it was a little bit stressful against Greece in our playoff final. I was thinking about this game every day, every single moment.

In my head it is: We have to do this. I have to make it for my friends. My teammates. My people.
Stress. Pressure for sure.
We all put everything, 100%. All for penalties. For me, penalties is always like 50–50. Nobody knows.

When they start the penalties and Mamardashvili takes the ball, we go one goal up. I am so, so nervous. I cannot stay there like everything is normal. Too stressed. I go away from everyone, so nobody is watching me.

Alone. I am shaking. Of course, we have the best goalkeeper. But still nervous. I say, Oh my God, come on guys. And when the last penalty was Kvekveskiri, I say, Nika, you have to finish it.
When he scores, I just fall down and I say, “Fuck, we did it!”
Everyone was so happy.
My wife, when I see her after the game, she says: “Oh wow. You are drunk? Did you have some beers in the dressing room?”
I say, “No…. I’m just so happy is all!!!!”
I think it is one of the best days in my life.

So many people were everywhere yelling and dancing. We cannot even go to the hotel with the bus. Even the police can’t do nothing. We didn’t shower. Just change the T-shirt and go to the ceremony with the people. Everybody singing and crying. Happy cries.

These days, you never forget. We made history for Georgia. And now … yes, of course, we have a chance. Why not?!?!? Why say no?

We go against Turkey. And Czech Republic. And Portugal. Will it be hard? Of course. Will it be tough? Yes. Will I ask Cristiano for his jersey after the game? Maybe. Probably. OK, yes. Why not? He is my idol. I will tell him that. But that does not mean we can’t win.

Because football is football. Nobody knows. Nobody thought we would even qualify. Now they don’t believe again. They say Georgia has no chance. Everyone, they say that. But do you know what I say? I say…. They didn’t ask any Georgians”, - writes Khvicha Kvaratskhelia.

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