Kvisca Kvaratskhelia was a barefoot boy when he kicked the ball for the first time on the riverside in rural Georgia, and now he’s a world-class talent on the cusp of leading Napoli to Italian football glory. Following in the footsteps of his footballer father, the winger spent five years at the Dinamo Tbilisi Academy from the age of eleven.
He is currently shining with Napoli, the leaders of the Italian League, who scored 14 goals and 14 assists in various competitions this season. “Few imagined at that time that the skinny boy would become an international star,” Levan Salokvadze, a former adviser to the president of Dinamo Tbilisi, told AFP.
In 2017, when Kvaratskhelia started his football career at Dinamo Tbilisi at the age of 16, “the coaches were afraid that he was not physically fit (enough) to play with the adults,” Salokvadze said. “The club’s president suggested waiting two more years before he joined the team, but I told him that in two years, Kvaratskhelia would be playing for Liverpool or Real,” he added.
The Georgian has now become a global star, and Napoli fans dubbed him “Kfaradona”, after their late Argentine legend Diego Maradona, who led the team to its only two league titles in 1987 and 1990. Little Kvara, Salokvadze recounts, was “a shy, disciplined boy who lived for football”.
“Since his childhood, he was totally focused on football and to this day, football is more than just a job for him… That’s why his skills, his dribbling, his running, his runs and his speed are so interesting.” Former chief scout of Dinamo Tbilisi, Teimuraz Ogrihilidze, described him as “a very talented kid, distinguished by his speed and technique”.
“His style wasn’t just about not losing the ball, he was always ready to attack. Kvaratskhelia never missed a training session, he was an example for the team as a very talented and purposeful player who always does his best to win.”
Biographer Georgy Kikilidze said Kafara’s talent was rooted in a love for football that he saw in his family and his hometown of western Georgia as a boy.
In almost every interview, Kvaratskhelia attributes success to his family. “His grandfather, Mamiya, and his father, Badri, were successful soccer players, and his grandmother, Dunya, was a very strange and passionate football fan,” says Kikilidze. And when Dunia died in January, Kvaratskhelia wore a bracelet bearing her name during Napoli’s match with Roma.
“There is a lot of love for football in Nakifo,” says Kikilidze, a remote village with a rural landscape of just 700 people. It may seem like an odd place to export an emerging global phenomenon, but “a shining star is exactly what his first name, Khvicha, means in the Margalan language” spoken in his home region.
‘Soviet Brazilians’ Veteran Georgian football historian Tengiz Bachkoria, who has followed Kvaratskhelia’s career since its early years, says the country’s rich footballing traditions have made him the player he is today.
He recounted that during the country’s golden age of football that flourished between the 1960s and 1980s “Georgian footballers were referred to in the European press as Soviet Brazilians”. He continued, “It was a very technical and improvisational football that the group of great footballers belonged to, and Kvaratskhelia’s style stems from the aesthetics of the football that they present.”
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