Number of Georgian Players to have played in the Premier League: 5
Most appearances: Georgi Kinkladze (102)
Most goals: Temuri Ketsbaia (8)
Appearances: Georgi Kinkladze 102, Temuri Ketsbaia 76, Zurab Khizanishvili 62, Mikhail Kavelashvili 4, Rati Aleksidze 2
Goals: Temuri Ketsbaia 8, Georgi Kinkladze 7, Zurab Khizanishvili 1, Mikhail Kavelashvili 1
Assists: Temuri Ketsbaia 1, Zurab Khizanishvili 1
Georgia is a nation that with a population of just 3.7 million and having only received independence after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 hasn’t made too much impact on the worldwide sporting landscape. In fact, its rugby union players are probably as big as any successful footballers, having played at four successive Rugby World Cup finals, coming within a point of embarrassing Ireland at the pool stages in 2007.
From a football perspective, only five footballers have tried their luck in the Premier League – two of them have left a legacy behind. First up was the dazzling and dribbling artist, Georgi Kinkladze. Kinkladze arrived in England in the summer of 1995 after impressing in some international games against Wales. It was Alan Ball who bought him to Manchester City and the fans at Maine Road absolutely loved him. As the team struggled, Kinkladze sparkled. He scored one of the best goals of the 1995-1996 season when he waltzed his way through Southampton’s defenders in a 2-1 victory in March. Ball loved him but the club were relegated from the Premier League at the end of the campaign and when he quit shortly afterwards, other managers didn’t appreciate Kinkladze’s lack of defensive responsibility on the team. Another relegation to Division Two followed in 1998 and he departed having been part of the club’s worst recent spell with two relegations in three seasons. After a difficult time in the Netherlands, he returned to English football with Derby County in 2000 but couldn’t re-ignite the sparkle he’d demonstrated in a Manchester City shirt. Relegation followed again in 2002 from the top-flight. Kinkladze was a luxury player and some managers liked that, whilst others couldn’t stand his desire to keep the ball and attempt to beat several defenders.
On Tyneside, they had their own Georgian they loved and that was Temuri Ketsbaia. Ketsbaia joined Newcastle United in the summer of 1997 after running down his contract at AEK Athens. Eight goals was a modest return but Ketsbaia remains the highest-scoring Georgian player in Premier League history and the fans considered him as a ‘cult hero’ during his three-year stint with the Magpies. Ketsbaia is most famously remembered for his celebration after scoring a winning goal against Bolton Wanderers in January 1998. He ripped his shirt off and started taking out his frustration by constantly kicking an advertising hoarding – apparently because he was frustrated at a lack of starting opportunities under Kenny Dalglish.
The other three Georgian players are largely forgotten. Mikhail Kavelashvili joined Manchester City on transfer deadline day in March 1996 and scored on his debut in a Manchester Derby. It was his only Premier League goal and he made just four appearances before City’s 1996 relegation. Zurab Khizanishvili struggled to hold down a regular starting position at Blackburn Rovers during his three-year spell at Ewood Park whilst Rati Aleksidze’s two-game spell at Chelsea was restricted to substitute appearances that lasted 18 minutes in 2000. Even the most ardent of Blues supporters probably don’t remember his spell at Stamford Bridge.
Thanks to Ketsbaia’s celebration and Kinkladze’s dribble, Georgia has a couple of historical moments in the Premier League archives but little success to show for it.