Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, the 21-year-old Georgian winger who has come onto the world stage this season at Napoli as one of its star players, is affectionately known in Naples by one name only: Kvaradona. That moniker comes with high praise in a city where Diego Maradona reigns as King and has his stadium named in his honour.
He’s one of the reasons why Partenopei are doing so well in Serie A.
1. The rebirth of Napoli
Napoli’s tale of revival is truly fascinating; many fans and cities would give anything to have this success story behind them.
Napoli Football Club was brought back from near liquidation after finishing last in Serie C1 in 2004, thanks to film producer Aurelio De Laurentiis who wanted to ensure Naples would always have a football team. Renamed Napoli Soccer Club and quickly back into Serie A within three seasons.
Since 2000, they have quickly established themselves among Italy’s elite through shrewd transfers and outstanding coaching. Star players such as Edinson Cavani, Gonzalo Higuain, Marek Hamsik, Dries Mertens and lex Mbappe have come and gone as well as experienced managers like Walter Mazzarri, Rafael Benitez Carlo Ancelotti and Maurizio Sarri have led this rise.
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Yet until this year, when a team led by towering Nigerian Victor Osimhen and mysterious Georgian Khvicha Kvaratskhelia triumphantly captured the Scudetto title – ending 33 years of searching.
2. Kvaratskhelia’s impact
No matter the club’s two Scudetto titles and host of superstar players that have come and gone, a third title remained elusive until this summer when an unheralded Georgian arrived for around EUR10 million in one of the more surprising transfers of this summer.
Massimo Moratti was impressed with his performances since Ronaldo first arrived at Inter in 1997, when he made comparisons between him and Ronaldo: both are “instinctive and exuberant players who make things happen when given the ball”, according to Moratti.
Kvaratskhelia has become a regular starter on the left for Luciano Spalletti’s 4-3-3 and 4-2-2-3 formations under Luciano Spalletti, providing searing pace, brilliant dribbling, potent crossing game as well as winning duels and drawing fouls without overexertion. He suffered an injury against Girona during a friendly but is expected to recover fully for their opening game – indeed several major clubs such as Real Madrid are monitoring his development closely.
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3. The club’s resurgence
After losing Lorenzo Insigne to Major League Soccer (MLS), club record goalscorer Dries Mertens, and Kalidou Koulibaly over the summer, Napoli fans were understandably concerned heading into this season. Yet through new signings such as Kim Min-Jae, Giacomo Raspadori and Tanguy Ndombele has restored confidence among supporters in Naples.
Kvaratskhelia’s mesmeric playmaking has been the driving force of this season for his club. At 22-years-old, his speedy dribbling runs have mesmerised crowds throughout Europe.
Napoli have been linked with a big club transfer for Georgievskiy in the future and he is flourishing under Luciano Spalletti’s guidance, ranking within the top ten for take-ons and completed passes, while his numbers demonstrate his excellent defensive play as teams double down on him to avoid playing against him; that opens up space for his teammates – something Napoli have benefitted from this term.
4. Kvaratskhelia’s future
Kvaratskhelia’s success has not gone unnoticed; his impressive season in Italy has caught the attention of Europe’s premier clubs, placing him high on many wish lists.
Georgian winger Giorgi Kvitsishvili sent shockwaves through Serie A opponents during his debut year at Napoli, dominating them with stunning dribbling and goal scoring prowess that helped the Partenopei open up a 15-point advantage at the top of the table.
Even though he signed for Dinamo Batumi for an affordable fee, 22-year-old attacker Iago Falque has become one of Europe’s coveted attackers and is being eyed up by teams such as Newcastle United and Real Madrid.
Napoli are aware that AC Milan are willing to expand their transfer budget in order to lure him away, but Napoli are keen on keeping him for as long as possible by restructuring his contract this summer – this could see him receiving substantial pay increases, larger performance-based bonuses and extended expiry dates.
5. Premier League club
Napoli did their homework. A certain Premier League club did too. “A year ago, there was very serious interest from Tottenham. It was almost a done deal.” But it required foresight to anticipate this. Half a season in Italy has brought more goals than four years in Russia.
“He had the same quality, the same style of play,” says Slutsky.
“But we have a phrase in Russia. If a bad player moves to a good team, he can become a good player. player moves to a bad team, he can become a bad player. If you start playing at a different level in Serie A, that is going to help your development.
“Kvara already had the quality but he has since improved his qualities in a big team like Napoli that is contending for major titles. The other players around him, the coaches, the level of the league, all that has helped to make him stronger and stronger.”
Slutsky credits Napoli coach Luciano Spalletti for integrating him sensibly, ensuring that a leap in standard that might have been overwhelming instead felt like a natural progression for the player. “My only doubt was about his defensive actions,” he explains.