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One On One with: Shota Arveladze

There are few strikers who can boast a more consistent strike rate than Shota Arveladze. The former Georgian forward had a natural knack for finding the back of the net which was more than apparent for his clubs and for his country – 55 goals in 96 appearances for Ajax, 44 goals in 95 games for Glasgow Rangers, 51 goals in 67 games for Dinamo Tbilisi and 26 goals in 61 caps for Georgia are a few examples. What is really remarkable about this was Shota’s ability to quickly adapt to new surroundings with ease and hit the ground running. Moving from one club to another in the same league is difficult but moving abroad and maintaining that consistency is almost impossible. During his career, Arveladze played in Turkey, Holland, Scotland, Spain and his native Georgia but never seemed to need time to settle in, find his goal scoring touch and then produce. Instead Arveladze was out of the blocks like a greyhound, more often than not scoring in his debut. 

Raised in Tbilisi during the 1970’s when Georgia was still part of the former USSR, Shota had a happy childhood and spent a majority of it playing the game he loved. Playing alongside good friend Georgi Kinkladze (who had successful spells in England with Man City and Derby County), Shota learned his trade early on and his talent would start to shine through. Football runs deep in the Arveladze blood with Shota’s brothers, Archil and Revaz also both full internationalists for Georgia. But neither seemed to have Shota’s consistency when it came to goal scoring, something that has made him a legend back home. 

We caught up with him recently to talk about his playing career, his recent move into management, his goal scoring feats and why he thinks it’s important to love your mamma. Enjoy! 

Back Of The Net: Shota, before we begin you were recently were diagnosed with COVID 19 but have since recovered. How are you feeling now?

Shota Arveladze: I feel great now. I’m in Instanbul with my family. I was quarantined three times because of the virus, i was healthy twice, and once the virus was confirmed. It’s difficult to live in these conditions, but we must take care of each other as much as possible

BOTN: You were born in Tblisi in the 70’s when Georgia was part of the Soviet Union. When we interviewed Zurab Khizanishvili he said that growing up in Tblisi during that time was “difficult” due to the desire for Georgia to be independent from the USSR which eventually came to be in 1991 with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. What are your memories of growing up and did you look towards football as a form of escapism?

SA: No no, many people have the wrong idea about it, and we had a very happy childhood in Georgia. As young kids we were not worried about the USSR and all that, we had a normal education in good schools, we were taught languages, like any other school, such as English and Russian. Football was never an issue of survival, we played it simply because we loved it. I played football with my friends and family because I enjoyed it not because it was a survival issue. Then later of course, we got an independent Georgia and our separate identity.

BOTN: You joined your hometown club Dinamo Tblisi‘s youth team in 1987 before breaking into their first team a few years later in 1991. You joined your older brother Revaz and your twin Archil in that squad. What was that like to play in your hometown at aged 19 alongside your brothers?

SA: It was simply a dream come true. Dinamo was the best club I had ever seen back then, and it was a dream to play for them, and that dream came true. As young children we never even dreamt about playing for Barcelona, Real Madrid etc. We saw Dinamo as the dream team. Later I got to play against bigger clubs as well, including Inter Milan and many other European teams. This dream then of course collapsed due to political issues, and in 1993 we left our country to play at an even higher level. My brother went to Germany and I left for Turkey.

Brothers united – Revaz, Shota and Archil during their Dinamo days

BOTN: That was the beginning of a period where Dinamo dominated Georgian football winning 10 titles in a row. Over four seasons there where you won the league and cup double in every season and you scored an incredible 51 goals in 67 appearances. That must have attracted a lot of interest from clubs around Europe. Did any other clubs make moves for you before you ended up joining Trabzonspor?

SA: Well there was not much information about such things at that time. The borders were not that open like today, there was no such globalization and digital platforms, we had just become members of FIFA. So, there was not much information to ask about. I got an offer from Turkey, some got theirs from Germany and England, and we all just went. We were 19 years old, there was not much to think about!

BOTN: You were quite the fan favourite in Turkey as well as later in Scotland with Rangers, despite being a foreign player. Why do you think that was?

SA: First of all you must behave and be respectful of everything like a good human being. I found some places to be very traditional, held conservative values dearly, like in Georgia. Then there were more open civilizations like Holland. You must make sure to behave and respect local traditions, cultures and people at all times. These things are different everywhere. Secondly, good results and performance on the field probably translates to becoming fan favourites like you said. A combination of both of these things is important.

BOTN: Eventually you moved to Ajax which was a dream of yours as a boy. How exciting was it for you to join such a club at that early stage in your career?

SA: The team had star players like Zlatan, Sneijder, Laudrup, I was surrounded by stars. You have to learn to be a good friend and show your quality on the field. I thank God for giving me such chances in life. Later you realize that these guys are not stars, but your friends. I can call up my old teammates from this club, same with Rangers and Ronald de Boer, and ask them for advice or support, like friends do.

Shota with Ronald De Boer and Michael Laudrup at Ajax

BOTN: Back to your playing days and during your tenure at Ajax, you faced your twin brother three times while playing against NAC Breda. You have called this a memorable moment in your career, but did you ever wish for your brother to clinch the victory for the opposing team? Or did you want to outshine him?

SA: It was very memorable because we had always been on the same team and never opponents, whether in club football or Georgia national team. This was the first time I was about to play against him. The first time being on opposite sides, it was historical for us, we changed shirts at the end and our entire family was there. The 2nd and 3rd time was more regular, we played it like a normal match. But we were very competitive and wanted to beat each other the whole time, we had a lot of fun with this!

BOTN: You joined Rangers in 2001. Having signed for Dick Advocaat, he was replaced very quickly with Alex McLeish. How did you feel about the change of manager so early in your time at the club?  Did you notice an obvious difference in the methods of the two managers?

SA: You must look for your own way of playing. Every coach and player are all different, they do different things. Sometimes they also make mistakes. But I have never been against any coach. I believe that to disappoint the coach is to disappoint football itself, which is something I would never want to do. Just try your best and let them decide the rest. Still, almost 80-95% of the time I have always been in favour and on the field, not on the bench. I scored a lot of goals for Rangers, and Rangers is probably the greatest club you can hear about, see around and play in. I loved it.

Shota during his spell in Scotland with Rangers

BOTN: You forged a good friendship with Ronald De Boer first at Ajax then again at Rangers. Do you think that having a good relationship with your teammates is essential to success on the field? Or should you be able to play effectively with your teammates regardless of morale?

SA: Well it always makes things easier. You support them when they need you, and then they support you. It is very important that your social connections are intact, and you have a human sense of being a good friend. Be open and nice to your teammates, show them your culture and it will go a long way.

BOTN: Leaving Rangers, you choose to return to Holland with AZ.  Was it a conscious choice to return to a league you had been successful in previously?

SA: I was almost signed with Ajax, my friend and coaches almost brought me back to Ajax but at the last moment the deal didn’t work. I got an offer from AZ, found it a good opportunity to work with someone like Van Gaal and I took it. I also wanted to show everyone that I could still play at 33!

BOTN: Your time at Levante was unfortunately heavily disrupted by injury.  What contributed to the decision to retire? Did you feel that having missed a large portion of the season; you didn’t have another season in you?

SA: I had 2 operations done in total. First, I had one, then got into a pre-season 2-month long injury, which required another operation which did not go as well as I would have liked. I lost 6 months’ worth of football, the club was already going through financial problems, things were going badly so I decided to end the career there and call for retirement.

BOTN: After you retired, you actually got the chance to work with Louis Van Gaal again when you joined as his assistant at AZ Alkmaar. How did that opportunity come about?

SA: I had a feeling that I had the ability to become a coach. I got an offer from the Georgia national team, and at the same time I got one from AZ. Marcel Brands was in AZ then, a talented young man who is now Sporting Director at Everton, he got Van Gaal connected with me and the deal went through. Thanks to the amazing people there, plus Ronald Koeman and also Dick Advocaat, we had a successful team and a wonderful time. You know how big some of the names from that squad are now, one plays for Man Utd, while some play in France and Spain.

Arveladze and Van Gaal

BOTN: You had a long career as a player and now you recently won the league with Tashkent’s Pakhtakor FC as a manager. How are you able to communicate the things you learned in your playing days, to the young players you now manage?

SA: Like I said, you have to respect the players, people and respect the place. You must show players the respect they deserve, does not matter if they are 22, 23, 18 or 30. Then you just carry out your normal communications. You must also explain to them that every decision you make will not be right in the eyes of half of the team. That is because you have to play only 11, out of a squad of 22 or 23. They have to understand that part, that I cannot be right for everyone. But that does not mean you cannot stop working hard and earning your place in the 11.

BOTN: Do you see yourself managing the Georgian National Team in the coming years? What major changes would you bring, if you were to manage Georgia?

SA: Not really.

BOTN: Can we ask why?

SA: Well it is more difficult to do than club football. You have more responsibility on your shoulders, and if the team doesn’t perform it’s a big big pain for you and the entire nation. You just keep getting hurt.

BOTN: How close do you think Georgia are to qualifying for a major tournament and is there any Georgian players coming through now that you believe are destined to have a bright career?

SA: Very close, they are very close. Of course, players like Kvaratskhelia and rest of the squad, they are set to have a career much better than even mine, I am hopeful.

Georgian National Team

BOTN: You have competed at the highest level for a majority of your career yet suffered from chronic asthma throughout. How challenging has that been to deal with and did it cause you any significant problems when playing in a match?

SA: No no I don’t have asthma! Might be a rumour online!

BOTN: That is strange as its listed on your Wikipedia page. Moving on, we often see strikers who are clinical to their club’s success, struggle to make the same impact when the move to another league in a new country. You have been the highest goal scorer in the top-flight of three different countries; Georgia, Turkey and Holland. How did you manage to adjust to new atmospheres and succeed as a striker in such different environments?

SA: Nothing is easy, you have to concentrate at the task at hand. If you love the thing that you do, you get better, you experience things in different ways, and you get better. I never struggled at this part, thankfully. Family was always around me, my wife, parents and children.

Shota, the manager

BOTN: You have an impressive goalscoring record at every club you played for, to what do you attribute that level of consistency over 15 years?

SA: To be honest, I was never the physical kind of footballer, I think I was smart enough to understand how my team plays and will play. I was a team player. I knew that I have to adapt to how my team plays, as the striker I am the last one who gets the ball. So, you understand how your team plays, as every team is different. Find out how they play, and I think that helped me with my consistency in every team.

BOTN: When choosing a new club, what factors do you consider when weighing up whether or not it feels like the right move for you?

SA: It’s very simple. What is the worst case scenario, if I play and get injured? Then the worst case is that I go back home. For me, that is not the worst case because I have a home to return to and not many people have that, I am grateful. So I did not demand much from the right move always.

BOTN: Your favourite goal?

SA: I always say this, my best goal is my kids. I would have liked a hat trick here… but oh well!

BOTN: Your favourite game? Was it the hat trick against Livingston? Perhaps the win over Celtic?

SA: I would call every debut my favourite game. Dinamo, Trabzonspor, Georgia national team, Ajax, Rangers, Levante, every debut.

BOTN: A young Shota rose up the ranks of a Georgian league and made his name known all over Europe. However, you are one of the very few Georgians to accomplish this despite immense talent in the league. What improvements would you suggest in Georgia’s domestic league structure?

SA: Firstly, the infrastructure should be developed so that every club has its own stadium, and a nice stadium not just any stadium. There should be good training fields for players too. I would also advise clubs to organize themselves, not much but even a little bit. Of course they cannot be expected to have money like Man Utd, but a little organization would be nice. Also, make the game interesting for supporters overall. You see clubs in Germany, Spain, and they have support from people all over the world because they make the game interesting to watch.

Lastly, Georgians must remember; you have to love your own Ma! Whether she is fat, ugly or pretty, you always love your own Ma! You can go love Julia Roberts or I don’t know Cindy Crawford, but you must love your own Ma, for this game to progress!

BOTN: Your former teammate Kakha Kaladze is now heavily involved in politics since his retirement and is the current mayor of Tblisi. He follows in the footsteps of other former footballers like George Weah, Romario and Carlos Valderrama who have used their fame and notoriety to win elections. What are your feelings about footballers using their influence for political gains and would you ever follow in Kaladze’s footsetps?

SA: Look, whenever someone asks, I am genuinely proud of him. The way he does things, the way he acts, he wants to do politics genuinely. He may make mistakes, but when you choose one party, the other party doesn’t like you, if you choose left, the right will hate you, that is how it always is and that’s politics. I don’t know how it was before, but generally people act like football players don’t know how to manage things, because we spend so much time on field running, they act as if we are not smart enough to do it.

Why are doctors, engineers, painters etc told to believe that they can do politics and manage things but footballers can’t do it? We have shown everyone that we can do it if we work on ourselves and try it.  He is behaving, his way of talking, standing, maybe he has good advisors, but he is doing very well. He is actually independent generally, financial independent as well, so he doesn’t like to step back, he likes to go forward like me. Point is, we all fall, but we have to stand back up always.

Interview conducted by Sairam Hussian Miran, Special correspondent for Back Of The Net. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram

Follow Shota on Twitter and Instagram.

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