From Batumi to Bursaspor? The wanderings of a Georgian striker

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As I’ve watched Polonia this season, one player has really stood out for his fighting qualities, and his ability to lead the team from the front.  That player has been the Georgian Vladimir ‘Lado’ Dvalishvili.  Like many players in this globalised world, Lado has moved around in search of success and financial rewards.  Indeed there’s a good chance that his days at Polonia are numbered.  While he’s still here I thought I’d take a look at Lado’s career which has taken him from his native Tbilisi to the palm trees of Mediterranean Haifa, from the Art-Nouveau dominated Latvian capital Riga to Turin’s Olympic stadium.

Born in the Georgian capital Tbilisi in April 1986, Dvalishvili started his football career in the youth set-up of the most successful Georgian side Dinamo Tbilisi.  As a youngster at Dinamo Lado didn’t particularly stand out for his football qualities but this didn’t hold him back.  Indeed, in his first full season at the tender age of 19 Lado helped Dinamo to the 2005 Georgian league title.

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Despite this success in 2005-6 Lado was loaned out to fellow Georgian Umaglesi Liga side Dinamo Batumi.  There Dvalishvili’s 9 league goals led Batumi to a respectable 6th place finish in the then 16 team Georgian top league.  After returning to Tbilisi, Lado was moved on in the summer of 2006 to Olimpi Rustavia and his 8 league goals led the club to their first ever Georgian league title.  Although his form slightly dipped in 2007-8, nevertheless in the January transfer window after 9 goals in 34 games Lado packed his bags to seek his fortune in the West.

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Skonto Riga, the side that welcomed the 21 year old Lado, are without doubt the most successful post-Soviet Latvian side, winning the Latvian league every season between 1991 and 2005.  Lado chose Skonto partly due to Georgian great Revaz Dzodzuashvili‘s links with Latvian football and it represented the chance to get noticed by larger Western European clubs.  When Dvalishvili arrived, the club were in a relative slump and in his two seasons  there they finished 3rd twice.  Lado himself did a good job at Skonto, scoring 22 goals in his 42 games for the team from the capital.

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His form in Latvia started to attract the attention of the Georgian national team and foreign scouts.  On  6 June 2009 Dvalishvili made his debut for his country in a losing friendly against Moldova and three days later he got his first goal for Georgia in a match with Albania in Tirana.  All of this was enough to convince the Israeli champions Maccabi Haifa to come calling in the summer of 2009.  Maccabi were looking for players to strengthen their squad in an attempt to qualify for the Champions League and Lado fit the bill.

Lado signing for Maccabi

Dvalishvili made an instant impact for The Greens, he scored twice on his debut in the first qualifying round home tie with Northern Irish Champions Glentoran and played a key role in a dramatic Maccabi comeback in the next qualifying round.  Drawn against Kazakh champions Aktobe, Haifa drew the first leg 0-0 in Western Kazakhstan.  In the return leg Aktobe took a surprise three nil lead in the first 20 minutes, however Maccabi came storming back and, aided by two Lado goals including the winner, they came out on top 4-3, earning him instant cult status with the Maccabi fans.  In the final qualifying round Dvalisvhili was again on target as Maccabi beat Red Bull Salzburg 3-0 on aggregate to take them through to the Champions League proper.  The team from Haifa unfortunately disappointed in the group stage itself, losing all 6 of their matches without scoring a single goal, but Lado got the opportunity to play against Juventus, Bayern Munich and Bordeaux.

Lado in the Stadio Olympico

After such an impressive start, Dvalishvili went on to have a successful two and a half years at Maccabi.  Maccabi finished as runners-up in the 2009-10 season but in 2010-2011 they won back the Israeli title.  Lado appeared 113 times in all competitions for The Greens, scoring 51 times.  Despite these stats Dvalishvili found himself on the substitutes’ bench towards the end of his Maccabi career and he began to look for a transfer.

Whilst Lado was having a successful time at Haifa, he had less joy with the Georgian national team.  Seen initially as someone to replace the retiring Shota Arveladze, Dvalishvili has had a torrid international career.  In 21 games for Georgia he has only managed to score 4 goals, and those were in matches of little importance or when the team has lost.  His lack of form for the national team was epitomised in an away tie in Israel in March 2011 when Lado missed an open goal which would have brought home a point for The Crusaders.   At the moment Dvalishvili is simply one of a long line of Georgian footballers who have succeeded at club level but haven’t worked for the national team.

Dvalishvili trying and failing for Georgia

When Lado’s contract ran out at Maccabi in January 2012 the money of Polonia Warsaw owner Józef Wojciechowski managed to convince him to leave the warm climbs of Haifa to come to the Polish capital.  The Georgian was one of the last signings of the madcap Polonia owner as he made a final effort to bring some silverware to the second Warsaw club.  Lado didn’t have a good start to his Polonia career as the team had a bad second half of the 2011-2 season.  When Wojciechowski decided to sell Polonia to Ireneusz Król in the summer Dvalishvili’s future, like many Polonia players, was up in the air.  Until the start of the 2012-3 season it seemed likely that Lado would be sold on to another Ekstraklasa side with Lech Poznań, Legia Warsaw and Śląsk Wrocław heavily interested.   He was however convinced to stay.

In the early part of this season Dvalishvili played a supporting role as the young starlets Łukasz Teodorczyk and Paweł Wszołek took the plaudits.   However Lado has played himself into form and by the end of the Ekstraklasa’s autumn round is one of Polonia’s leaders on the field as Polonia have risen to 3rd in the table. Able to hold the ball up, take the fight to opposition defenders, set up attacks and score with both feet he’s arguably the best striker in the Polish league at the moment.   So far this season he has managed to bag 7 goals, equal 4th in the Polish scoring charts.

Dvalishvili against Ruch Chorzów

Unfortunately Lado’s success has been accompanied by off-field financial problems at Polonia. On signing for the Warsaw club, former owner Wojciechowski gave Dvalishvili a 100,000 zlotys a month contract, making him one of the best paid players in the Polish league.  New owner Król is not prepared to make the same financial commitment at Polonia and has not paid the wages of 9 of the club’s top-paid players including those of Lado.  Indeed, Król is desperate to reduce the wage bill at Polonia and it’s looking very likely that Dvalishvili will be moved on in the winter transfer window.  There have been rumours that he could make a move to another Ekstraklasa side but I think it’s likely he’ll leave Poland with transfer gossip suggesting Turkey as a possible destination.  One man that will be fighting the sale to the end will be Polonia’s manager Piotr Stokowiec who sees Dvalishvili’s presence in Warsaw as the key to a successful title challenge in the spring.  Polonia’s fans are also up in arms about Lado leaving, although some realise that he may be too good for the club and the Polish league in general.

So it looks increasingly likely that Dvalishvili will be plying his trade in pastures new in the spring.  It’ll be interesting to see where he ends up, and I’ll certainly be wishing him luck in his future career.  Of course, for purely selfish reasons I’d love to see him lead Polonia to a title over cross-town rivals Legia in June.  Unfortunately I doubt he’ll be there to make this dream a reality.

Thanks to George Mirashvhili and Irakli Jgenti, with whom I consulted in order to write this blog post.  Irakli writes for worldsport.ge and you can find a recent blog post by George which deals with the state of stadia in post-Soviet Georgia here.

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