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Insigne’s perfect heir

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He is a normal boy with a pair of normal boots, dancing past the bulkiest of defenders normally with the trickeries that are, however, far from normal. Some find distinctive similarities between his movements with the ball on his feet and that of Lionel Messi. Perhaps not the one possessing Michael Jackson’s flamboyant moves but the one currently endeavouring to ensure a bright tomorrow for Napoli and Georgia as a footballing nation. He is Khvicha Kvaratskhelia.

When Napoli lost Lorenzo Insigne and Dries Mertens this past summer, it was hard to imagine where the creativity and goals would come from for Napoli. Even harder to imagine that a 21-year-old from Georgia could possibly be the answer.

In a football world filled with countless stars of today, so many of us are curious about who is waiting in the wings. That search for that next wunderkind; a youngster that has the potential to make us stand up and marvel at how they are masters of their craft despite their tender age, is always on the minds of millions of fans around the world.

Apart from that small pantheon of heroes from the Caucasus, Georgia have lacked a presence in the overall discussion across Europe when it comes to talent at the highest level, but that may soon be about to change thanks to the rise of 21-year-old national starlet Khvicha Kvartskhelia.

How good is Khvicha Kvaratskhelia?

Having turned 12, Khvicha joined the youth academy of Dinamo Tbilisi, a club in Georgia where Badri Kvaratskhelia, Khvicha’s father, had previously plied his trade. Following a run of decent performances, Khvicha was called up by Georgia U17s for the first time in September 2016.

From there, he ended up scoring 15 goals in 21 appearances, apparently ringing the alarm bell across the country and eventually the continent. In 2017, he made his first senior appearance for Dinamo Tbilisi – his hometown club.

One year later, he joined FC Rustavi, a Georgian side where Khvicha’s father embarked upon his journey as a professional footballer. By the time Khvicha developed a reputation for footballing reasons across Europe and caught the eyes of scouts from Shakhtar Donetsk and Bayern Munich, he was already an appealing name playing in the U18 national side.

While spending the latter half of the 2018/19 season on loan at Lokomotiv Moscow from Rustavi, he racked up his maiden goal in the Russian Premier League, against none other than Rubin Kazan. Yury Semin, the then Lokomotiv Moscow manager, was so overjoyed and stunned by the quick feet of Khvicha that he immediately demanded a permanent deal for Khvicha Kvaratskhelia.

It was during his stint with Kazan that his profile was advanced even further when he was voted the best young player in the Russian Premier League in both the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons, while also being voted Georgian footballer of the year in 2020 and 2021.

But 2022 would see him return to Georgia and play a vital role at FC Dinamo Batumi after foreign players in the Russian Premier League were allowed to terminate their contracts after the nation invaded neighbouring Ukraine.

Kvaratskhelia wasted no time dazzling upon his return home, where he bagged eight goals in just eleven appearances, which was enough for Serie A giants SSC Napoli to come calling for his services this summer for a paltry €10m move for the now 21-year-old Georgian star as the heir apparent to club legend Lorenzo Insigne who departed Naples for MLS outfit Toronto FC.

It did not take long for the Georgian starlet to settle into life in southern Italy, with a recent interview quoted the winger as learning Neopolitan and already feeling at home while crediting club boss Luciano Spaletti as a good teacher despite having only just arrived at the club.

Khvicha Kvaratskhelia stats

A shrewd runner with the ball, the 20-year-old dominates the left side of the pitch with his dangling legs, averaging 2.3 shots per game, 1.5 key passes, and 3.5 attempted dribbles this season.

Furthermore, he has completed 22 passes per game with a decent accuracy of 76.4 per cent. He possesses the close control of a prime Eden Hazard and an adorable aerial threat due to the frame of 6ft.

And despite being relatively bigger than Eden Hazard in structure which suggests he doesn’t get the natural aid of the low centre of gravity, Kvaratskhelia is found ghosting past defenders with utter ease.


Khvicha Kvaratskhelia scout report

It is, of course, very early days but new Napoli signing Khvicha Kvaratskhelia is doing his best to make Neapolitans forget about the recently departed Lorenzo Insigne. Despite his departure causing initial shock among Napoli and Serie A fans due to his choice of destination at the age of just 31, the truth of the matter is that Insigne had been poor last season.

Never the quickest player, to begin with, Insigne seemed even slower last season, and his presence in the side slowed Napoli down. Moreover, with his increasingly worn-out ‘tiraggiro’ trick easily anticipated by opposing defenders and producing the law of diminishing returns, Insigne offered precious little to Napoli in an attacking sense.

Nine of his 11 goals last season came from the penalty spot, which somewhat exaggerated how productive he’d been for the Partenopei. And so once the initial shock of his departure had subsided, most recognised that Insigne leaving was arguably for the best.

Khvicha arrived in Naples at the start of training camp and was an instant success, every time he stepped on the pitch during pre-season it was evident there was something special about him. His ability to beat players with such ease was incredible to watch. When Napoli first signed him, it was seen as a project, a player for the future, but it was clear that he was ready now and he would provide instant impact for the Neapolitan club.

A summer that saw Napoli lose Kalidou Koulibaly, Lorenzo Insigne and Dries Mertens, three of their best players ever, Kvicha Kvaratskhelia presented a breath of fresh and a reason for fans to be excited once again. He has all the qualities to be at the very top. Once again Napoli have found the diamond in the rough that could lead them for many more years to come.

Though he still shows signs of some immaturity when it comes to his ability to make the right decision, his level of intelligence in his movement both on and off the ball is well ahead of the curve in comparison to his contemporaries, while his desire to get forward and make things happen when on the ball means Napoli can still utilize the Georgian in a similar way to Insigne without missing a beat.


Khvicha Kvaratskhelia Napoli form and future

Replacing Insigne on that left-hand side wasn’t going to be easy, considering just how good he’d been during his peak years. Napoli fans would’ve likely expected a big-name replacement from club owner Aurelio De Laurentiis to quell the anguish. What they got instead was a player from Georgia who even the most astute of football observers would’ve struggled to know anything about.

Kvaratskhelia has lit up the Serie A this season, playing an integral role in Napoli’s early title charge. Neapolitans have found themselves a new hero.

With Insigne gone and Fabian Ruiz seemingly also close to the exit, with talks over a move to Paris Saint-Germain ongoing, Napoli are a much quicker side this season. Ruiz, for all of his quality on the ball, isn’t the most mobile of players and tended to slow down Napoli’s game, as did Insigne in his latter years.

This summer was massive in terms of upheaval, with huge names in the locker room leaving. Kalidou Koulibaly, Dries Mertens and Insigne all left, and this is very much a new Napoli side. Giacomo Raspadori has also joined from Sassuolo, as has Giovanni Simeone and Keylas Navas could arrive on loan.

If the words of managerial great Fabio Capello are anything to go by, Kvartskhelia could be set for a major breakout season in Serie A in 2022-23. The 21-year-old has dazzled Serie A in the early going. Once he ‘loosens up’ properly, the Napoletani could well forget about Insigne for real.

Arnold Lewis
A hardcore Chelsea fan, who is often found playing football on the weekends. He has an exceptional voice and his rendition of old Hindi classic songs will make your heart melt. He is the man with the funky hair.

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