ANDSt the big revelation of the season in European football. His name, as difficult to pronounce as his game to decipher, is repeated continuously on the streets of Naples: Khvicha Kvaratskhelia (Tbilisi, 2001). Southern Italy has a new idol, whose goal is simple: to be the best player in the world. Are there any possibilities to make it happen?
The winger, signed by the Neapolitans last summer from Rubin Kazan in exchange for 11 million eurosis the proper name of the current A leaguea competition in which he established himself as the undisputed leader of a Naples which dominates the Italian league with an iron fist and which is well on its way to achieving the third championship in its history. His statistics speak for themselves: 11 goals and 9 assists in the league.
His breakthrough into football, however, comes as no surprise to those who have known Khvicha since he was little. “Kvaratskhelia has been a close friend of mine since I was little, we’ve always been together. He’s a football fan, he lives for and for it. He’s a great person and a very calm boy.”assures his friend and teammate, Giorgi Mamardashvili, current goalkeeper of Valencia.
The Georgian national team is trying to establish itself at the highest levels, in order to be able to attend, for the first time in its history, a World Cup or a European Championship. At the moment, Georgia is 78th in the FIFA rankings, with rising stars like “Kvarat” himself and, the aforementioned, Mamardashvili. For Vincenzo Credendino, a journalist who follows the news of Napoli, success is a matter of time: “Football practice is increasing in the country… Players like Mamardashvili, Kvernadze and Lasha show that the level is rising.”
Yet the sport par excellence in the Caucasian country continues to be another. Victor Mongilformer player of Dynamo Tbilisitells us about the fans that exist in Georgia for rugby: “Unfortunately for footballers who have been to the country, the king of sports is rugby, but their football thrives on the grit, spirit and dedication of this sport.”
To equalize the value of both sports, from Georgia they find the role of young talents from the academies of the leading teams essential: “It is a country where the youth sector is highly promoted to catapult those promises to border countries, such as Romania, Poland, Russia… If these players come out and grow, the biggest beneficiary is Georgian football and Kvaratskhelia is the example”.
But before the hero, Kvaratskhelia could be a villain. His signing for Napoli took place following The advice of Cristian Zaccardo to numerous clubs in the A league. Such was the case that the Juventus was close to closing its constitution from Rubin Kazan in exchange for 30 million euros.
The outbreak of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine caused the player to return to his home country to defend the shirt of Dynamo Batumi. “Napoli took advantage of the war and preceded the rest of the clubs to close the signing 11 million. That price for Kvaratskhelia is a masterpiece”declares Vincenzo.
As soon as he landed in Italy, the questions about his purchase continued, but the club are clear: “Napoli has always made somewhat unknown signings who have since become great players: Cavani, Mertens, Jorginho… the club’s philosophy is clear”comment in Italy on the model of the Neapolitan club.
Happiness reigns in a city which, over time, is inundated with Georgian followers: “In Georgia the requests for direct flights between Tbilisi and Naples have increased and in the area around Diego Armando Maradona there are no more Georgian flags”says Credendino.
Napoli’s upcoming Scudetto may be their first since then Maradonawhich led to the Georgian star earning a nickname worthy of this milestone: “Kvaradona”. Their similarity on the pitch is matched only by the differences that exist off the pitch: “Kvara doesn’t like being around people who look up to him. If he wins something, the Neapolitans will keep him in their hearts, but he needs years to get closer to the figure of Maradona”. comments Credendino.
The figure of Maradona was not limited to the field. The proximity of the ’10’ with the Italian fans and the identification of the Argentine with the humble origins of the Neapolitans have created a special bond: “Maradona is a ‘demigod’, it’s something more for his personality. He tried to visit the city a lot, he identified himself with the people of the city, he said that He identified with the children of Naples because they reminded him of his own city”describes the Italian journalist.
The Georgian player keeps his feet on the ground and doesn’t want to hear comparisons with what, for many, is the best player in history: “I don’t think anyone can compare to Maradona. He is one of the legends of the game. It is highly unlikely that we will see another player like him.”.
The ’77’ of the Neapolitans has a reference to make the unthinkable a reality: George Weah. The chances of a player born in Liberia becoming the best player in the world were slim. Until today, No African player has managed to win back the Ballon d’Or. Arsene Wenger, who discovered him at Monaco, recounted what it was like to meet a player of such stature: “He was like a kid who finds a chocolate egg on Easter Sunday. I haven’t seen any other player explode like he did.”.
To some extent their stories, keeping distance, are like two peas in a pod. The Liberian arrived in Italy to replace a legendary AC Milan player, Marco Van Basten. Kvaratskhelia landed in southern Italy with the intention of making Insigne, captain general of Diego Armando Maradona’s left wing, forget. In their first season, both actively contributed to the Scudetto. In the case of the Neapolitan, the aliron will have to wait a few more days.