Footballer's Comeback Derailed

By Giorgi Chaduneli
Brosse Street Journal
Tuesday, May 4 2004

Never was the term "sensation" more applicable than in the case of Georgian soccer player Mamuka Tsereteli.
Six years ago, after playing on the national team at all age groups, the 18-year-old Skonto defender became a member of the "Scarlet Legion" (the nickname of Georgia's National Soccer Team, which changed to "Crusaders" after the Rose Revolution). But as it later turned out, his road to the top, which he has not reached yet, was not covered with roses.

He played three years for the national team before the incident that prevented Tsereteli from fulfilling his dream. What was that dream? "Since my childhood I have always been a great fan of Olympique de Marseille. So one of my career goals that did not change with time was to play for this great club," says Tsereteli.

Born in 1979, the tall, well-built and determined Tsereteli signed his first professional contract with Dinamo Tbilisi in 1994. But every ambitious player wants to represent the famous European giant clubs, for both financial and athletic reasons. Tsereteli was not an exception from that rule. He decided to move on. In 1996 he left for the Latvian club Skonto, and after playing in Riga for two years switched to Alania Vladikavkas. During his carrier in Russia, scouts from Borussia Monchengladbach noticed the talented defender. When the 1999-2000 season ended, Tsereteli signed a three-year contract with German club.

But he never had a chance to play for Borussia. In the summer of 2000, Tsereteli was robbed and wounded in his leg.

"I was on my vacation in Tbilisi. I don't remember the date exactly. And don't particularly want to, either. Anyway, one evening I was returning home. I closed the car door and entered the porch, when two armed men wearing masks demanded the key of my BMW 520," Tsereteli describes the incident with a sad smile.

He still does not know who committed the crime and has no hope that the truth will be revealed. "I doubt there was any investigation at all," he says. "So it is possible only to guess that they assumed I was going to resist and just wounded me. I shouted 'Not in the legs, not in the legs!' But it did not help."

Considering the circumstances, the consequences could have been far worse. "Luckily the bullet did not touch the bone, and it took me less time to recover from this injury than was expected," he says. "Thank God now everything is in the past."

Otar Tsereteli, father of the footballer, understands that "it was a narrow escape for Mamuka. Because had criminals not wounded him in the leg, they might, God forbid, even kill my boy."

Tsereteli, his family and friends were still shocked by the incident. "It was terrifying. We did not know what to do, how to encourage and support Mamuka. I guess we were even more worried than he was," says the elder Tsereteli. "His colleagues from Russia, Latvia and wherever he had played were calling all the time. Georgians were visiting him every day, some of them twice a day. This helped Mamuka a lot. But still I was scared that he would decide not to continue his career."

Tsereteli himself did not even think about hanging his boots on the wall, and after he recovered he rejoined Dinamo. "Due to this incident I did not play for nearly a year and a half," he says. "But I never planned to end my career. Many people wrote me off at that time and now, as I still play, they are very disappointed. And I am sure they will be disappointed many times in the future. I am a fighter and I will do everything to achieve my goals."

"In addition, he has to care for his family. He has a nice wife and little Tornike (2) and Anna (1). I guess that is the main reason that forced him to return to the world of football," says Otar Tsereteli.

Does Tsereteli think that it was done on purpose to end his career? He prefers not to talk about it. "As long as I could not prove anything, I can't accuse anybody," says the 25-year-old. "I have a family and I feel great responsibility now. After I was shot, I realized that life is not only football".

Of course, life does not consist only of football. In Georgia it can mostly be the fight for survival. Mamuka Tsereteli also has a few problems, as he became unemployed again after big changes took place at Dinamo during the past few days.

On April 27 Dinamo coach Ivo Susak was fired for "unsatisfactory results" (Dinamo is only third in the Georgian Championship), according to club's executive director David Petriashvili. The new head coach, Giorgi Geguchadze, was appointed the same day, and the next day Dinamo ended its contract with Tsereteli.

"Club official do not want to talk about this and I don't have information. It is better for you to ask Mamuka about the development of events" said Dinimo press attaché of Levan Salukvadze.

The footballer himself is making no comments about his contract. "I have no willingness to talk about this," he says. "The only thing I can say is that I'm disappointed, because I did want to remain with Dinamo. But, I'd like to emphasize that it is not a problem for me to find a new club. Probably, next season I will play either in Belgium or Ukraine. I have several offers from those countries."

Besides finding a new club, one of Tsereteli's goals is returning to the Georgian national team. "It is a great honor to represent your country," he says. " I doubt there is a footballer thinking any other way. Every Georgian player would like to be on the national team. They say there is no soldier who does not want to become a general. I am sure it is the same with footballers."

Copyright © 2004, Brosse Street Journal.