In 2015, Georgia was one of the worst teams in Europe. They sat at 122nd in the world, one of their worst finishes in history. At the worst point, Georgia was ranked 154th, with just three nations in Europe ranked lower. Above them in the rankings were Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, and Kazakhstan, among others.
Seven years later and things couldn’t be more different. Georgia just finished top of the group in their Nations League C, with nearly a 100 percent record. Exciting forward Khvicha Kvaratskhelia sits second on the Serie A goals chart (at the time of writing), with five strikes in eight games. Giorgi Mamardashvili is one of La Liga’s best goalkeepers with Valencia. Georges Mikautadze has eight goal contributions in nine matches in Ligue 2. The list of in-form players is endless.
One big reason for Georgia’s success is the league’s development. While many Eastern European nations depend on dual-nationals, many of Georgia’s top players come directly from the league. The Erovnuli Liga is producing top prospects, and they’ve got another star in the making: Giorgi Gocholeishvili.
RWB Giorgi Gocholeishvili, 21, Saburtalo
Gocholeishvili came through the Saburtalo academy, making his debut in a Europa League qualifier in 2020. By the end of the year, he had made five league appearances and three in the Georgian Cup. A breakthrough to the first team seemed possible but not overly likely.
That all changed in the first match of the 2021 Erovnuli Liga season when Gocholeishvili came on late as a substitute. With a narrow one-goal lead over Locomotive Tbilisi, Gocholeishvili secured the win with his goal in the 90th minute. From then on out, he continued to make regular appearances as a sub, eventually becoming a starter by the end of the season.
By the end of the year, Gocholeishvili debuted for the Georgian U21 national team. He played a full 90 minutes in a victory over Belarus and appeared as a substitute against Romania. It was his third match against highly-regarded England that stole headlines, though. Having assisted the second goal, Gocholeishvili went on an incredible solo run to extend Georgia’s lead to three. It ended up being the winning goal.
This season, Gocholeishvili has continued to impress. He has solidified his spot as Saburtalo’s number one right-back, although he has appeared at a variety of positions. Gocholeishvili has scored three goals in the league and assisted three more, contributing directly to almost 15% of Saburtalo’s goals – impressive for a right-back. He’s picked up numerous accolades as the season has gone on, and a senior international call-up can’t be too far away.
While most often a right-back, one of Gocholeishvili’s strengths is his versatility. He’s appeared all over the field in numerous positions, not unlike former Barcelona man Dani Alves. His crossing and finishing are also strong, like Alves, making him an asset as a wingback — going forward to help offensively while also tracking back to aid the defense.
Defensively, Gocholeishvili can use his impressive speed to recover and win the ball back. He’s relatively strong for his size (again, he’s not much taller than Alves) and his tackling allows him to frequently win the ball. Ultimately, he’s best used as a wingback, as playing as a typical fullback limits his offensive capabilities.
Gocholeishvili has asserted himself as one of the best right-backs in Georgia, and will likely move to another club soon. Realistically, it’s not too early for a move to a top-five league, as the Erovnuli Liga has sent several players to top clubs recently. Eintracht Frankfurt might be a team that suits him, as they lack depth in the position but are known for their quick breaks up the field.
Additionally, there are several Serie A and La Liga clubs that could use the services of Gocholeishvili. They’ll want to sign him soon before his value skyrockets — Gocholeishvili is going to be a big part of Georgia’s new era.
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