From receiving threats and leaving Russia, to facing Liverpool – Kvaratskhelia's rollercoaster 2022 brings Champions League bow

·4-min read

Khvicha Kvaratskhelia played just 10 times for Lokomotiv Moscow, and only one of those appearances was as a starter.

Yet, his father claimed in 2020 that then-Lokomotiv coach Yury Syomin cried actual tears when Kvaratskhelia said he would not be staying beyond the end of his initial loan agreement. The youngster also apparently broke down.

Seemingly the teenaged Kvaratskhelia made quite the impression on his coach, though curiously not enough to play on a regular basis. It's fair to say Kvaratskhelia's decision to move on and ultimately join fellow Russian Premier League side Rubin Kazan was a smart one.

"After that, I was glad my son was in Rubin, where they let him play football," Kvaratskhelia Sr added, and it was in Kazan where the talented winger began to consistently show the talents that Napoli will hope can help them get the better of the mighty Liverpool on Wednesday.

Kvaratskhelia will make his Champions League bow when the Reds come to Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, a commendable achievement given his rollercoaster of a 2022.

Turbulent times

A couple of weeks on from Russia's invasion of Ukraine, FIFA made it possible for foreign players and coaches in both countries to suspend their contracts.

Kvaratskhelia was eligible for such action, and while he did suspend his agreement, it seemed his initial plan was to eventually return to Rubin.

However, he and the club later announced a mutual termination after it emerged his family were subject to threats due to the original decision of not permanently leaving Russia.

He saw out the remainder of the 2021-22 season back home in Georgia with Dinamo Batumi – it was clearly a level below his usual standard as he scored eight goals in 11 league games, but it helped keep Kvaratskhelia sharp for his national team, netting three times from four Nations League outings in June.

Nevertheless, few would have considered those early months of the year to be ideal for a young talent hoping to make the step up to one of Europe's major leagues – that was where he had previously looked destined to end up.

Arsenal had been known admirers for a long time, sending scouts to watch him as early as September 2019. Several other English and Italian clubs were linked with him, but it was Napoli who ultimately took the punt.

The early signs suggest it is going to pay off for them rather handsomely.

Blossoming at Napoli

Replacing a club great is never a simple task, but if Kvaratskhelia continues at his current rate, Lorenzo Insigne will become a distant memory very quickly.

Insigne's move to Toronto in Major League Soccer came as something of a surprise when initially announced, and filling that void with a player who had most recently been playing in Georgia will have raised some eyebrows.

Additionally, bringing in Kvaratskhelia for Insigne was hardly like-for-like. The latter was all about dropping deep and essentially playing as a playmaker, with his 74.1 touches and 45.2 successful passes per 90 minutes both highs among Opta-classified forwards (minimum 1,000 minutes played) in Serie A last term.

Kvara
Kvara

Kvaratskhelia is far more direct and intent on getting in behind the defence, while his ability on the ball makes him a threat both as a carrier and dribbler – his nine carries with a take-on is bettered by only Rafael Leao (12) among wingers this term.

A predominantly right-footed winger who prefers to operate from the left, one might expect him to be a little one-dimensional, but he has already shown in Serie A how effective he can be chopping back on to his left foot, bamboozling the Monza defence with a feint before slotting home left-footed in last month's 4-0 win.

That was one of four goals already this season, none of which were penalties – that is a haul no player can better without adding in spot-kicks, and that form helped him win the first Player of the Month award of the campaign.

Kvaratskhelia
Kvaratskhelia

Of course, it remains early days in his Napoli career, but he has taken to Serie A with promising ease and has a style of play that will endear him to a set of supporters always ready to fall in love with talented attackers.

Hopefully Syomin's tears of disappointment will turn to pride when 'Kvaradona' makes his Champions League introduction on Wednesday.