Recruited in March 2022 in relative anonymity, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia has put the Neapolitan tifosi in his pocket by scoring three pawns since the start of the season. No wonder given the qualities of the 21-year-old Georgian left winger and the role of idols left vacant by Lorenzo Insigne and Dries Mertens.
On March 30, six days after the sad defeat of the Nazionale against North Macedonia during the World Cup play-offs in Qatar, an unlikely meeting occurs on the terrace of a luxury hotel in the Italian capital. Neapolitan actor Salvatore Esposito comes face to face with President Aurelio De Laurentiis, sports director Cristiano Giuntoli and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia. The Georgian winger has just signed a five-year contract with Napoli, but his agent Jugeli Mamuka seems more impressed by his meeting with the man who plays the role of mafia Genny Savastano in the series Gomorraalso popular in Georgia. “But is it really him? Can we take a picture? » , would have asked Mamuka according to the anecdote told by the Italian journalist Gianluca Di Marzio. No trace of this famous photo. On the other hand, a few weeks later, on the sidelines of a meeting between Dinamo Batumi and Dinamo Tbilisi, another shot made the rounds in Naples and Georgia: that of a young Georgian supporter wearing a jersey flocked Napoli “Kvaratskhelia 23” , and this, while De Laurentiis confirmed the transfer on the airwaves of Radio Kiss Kiss only a few days earlier. A photo that amuses Partenopei, who still hardly know their new recruit and even less the number he will wear. But four months later, even if they still have trouble pronouncing it correctly, the Neapolitan tifosi only have this name in their mouths.
“Football is his way of life”
Son of centre-forward Badri Kvaratskhelia, who won the Georgian and Azerbaijani championships, Kvara, as he is nicknamed, was trained at the FC Dinamo Tbilisi academy, but it is under the colors of FC Rustavi that he hurt the defenders of the Georgian championship. In the winter of 2019, he then went to Lokomotiv Moscow, then to Rubin Kazan six months later with the label of little prodigy. “Is he the strongest Georgian of all time? Maybe he’s the most talented, but we got Kinkladze, Arveladze, Kaladze, Kobiashviliexplained his agent in April 2021. It will take a lot of work for him to reach their level. He’s not a star yet, but if I didn’t really believe in his future, I would have already sold him to Genoa or Udinese. » Or at Leeds, Tottenham, Arsenal and AC Milan, who had been following him closely for almost two years. But after a Georgian freelance between April and June 2022, due to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, it was with Napoli that the 21-year-old player signed up, for a check for 10 million euros. The objective of the Italian club? Replace Lorenzo Insigne, free party in Toronto. Not an easy task for the Georgian international (17 caps). But by arriving early in the Neapolitan city, Khvicha wanted to put all the chances on his side to be as efficient as possible and prove that he can replace the Insigne talisman. For this, like Marek Hamšík at the time, he has taken up residence in Castel Volturno, a quiet place near the training center in order to arrive early for the sessions. “Khvisha lives for footballexplained his father to the Georgian daily The Financial early August. Football is not just a job for him, it’s his way of life. »
A way of life that allowed him to be a hit from the first friendly matches of Luciano Spalletti’s team, whom he visited just after signing at the end of March. Intelligent in his movements without the ball, an excellent dribbler and born passer, the new nugget of Napoli is also ambidextrous. So many qualities that have already conquered the Neapolitans from the first league match won in Verona. However, before the start of the championship, the supporters were angry. Because in addition to having been the last in Serie A to be able to take their subscription, they saw Insigne leave, Dries Mertens (the top scorer in the history of the club), Kalidou Koulibaly, but also Faouzi Ghoulam. Players who were all there eight years ago in Maurizio Sarri’s marvelous first season and who between them totaled more than 1,200 games with Napoli.
The king of the applause meter
If the August signatures of Giovanni Simeone, Tanguy Ndombele and Giacomo Raspadori partly calmed the rumble, they were above all amazed by the talent of the Georgian. And for good reason, Kvaratskhelia scored a pawn and delivered a decisive pass during the trip to the lawn of Hellas Verona (2-5), before planting a sumptuous double in his first match at the Diego Armando Maradona stadium against Monza (4- 0). Better, he celebrated each of his goals as close as possible to his new supporters. By mimicking the gesture of pretending to sleep like his idol Stephen Curry, then showing the curva One of his Georgia-colored shin guards. It didn’t take much for Napoli fans to exult and devote an almost already disproportionate passion to him. Because during the second day of Serie A against Monza, the surroundings of the stadium were already filled with Georgian flags and Kvaratskhelia flocked jerseys. This Wednesday, during the reception of Lecce, when he was on the bench of substitutes, it was his name that was most acclaimed by the stadium when the team compositions were announced.
However, is it enough to say that he is already the new star of Spalletti’s squad and the new idol of Napoli supporters? Not yet, because his high-flying performances must be repeated, whether against the big teams in the country or in the Champions League. In any case, his coach, Willy Sagnol, firmly believes in it. « If Napoli decided to sign Kvaratskhelia, it’s because they saw in him something out of the ordinaryexplained the former side of the Blues after the victory of Georgia against Gibraltar (4-0) last June. I agree with those who say Kvicha has something special, and you haven’t seen all he can do yet. He will certainly become one of the best players in Italy. » After which, Salvatore Esposito will be the first to claim a photo with him.
By Maxime Renaudet, in Naples