Sunday, February 25, 2024

Khvicha Kvaratskhelia: Maradona V2.0 or a Unique Original?

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The people of Naples are a passionate bunch. Not since Diego Maradona last graced the Stadio San Paolo pitch against Bari have the Napolitano been truly excited, though. Until last season’s Serie A title win, that is.

SSC Napoli’s home ground is now aptly called Stadio Diego Armando Maradona. The name change happened after the death of the iconic Argentinian, so instrumental in bringing the club’s first two Scudettos to Naples in 1986/87 and 1989/90.

Now, for the first time since those glory days, Naples has a new “Maradona.” This time he is much taller, isn’t as outwardly lavish in his lifestyle, keeps his headlines soccer-related, and hails from somewhere many miles away from the original’s South American homeland.

Khvicha ‘Kvara’ Kvaratskhelia has been dubbed “Kvaradona” in the press and by certain of the Napolitano. This nickname stems from how the 22-year-old winger from Tbilisi in Georgia achieved the  “impossible” feat of winning Serie A with Napoli in his first season, the club’s first Scudetto in 33 years. Not even the enigmatic ‘El Diez’ had achieved this, taking three seasons to do so.

Due to the internet and the advent of sports betting in Canada, the popularity of Italy’s Serie A has grown a great deal since the last time Napoli won a Scudetto. The best Canadian sports betting apps offer odds on Serie A, so Kvaratskhelia is well-known nowadays. His arrival in Naples last year had none of the fanfare that Maradona’s had in the 80s, and unlike Diego, he was hardly a household name on signing.

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Khvicha Kvaratskhelia joined Napoli quietly from little-known Dinamo Batumi in his homeland, for which he had scored eight times and provided two assists in 11 games. Batumi had never been a long-term club option for Kvara, and he had signed for the Georgian Erovnuli Liga club only three months before. Previously with Rubin Kazan in Russia, FIFA suspended his contract following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Napoli took advantage of this and signed the talented winger-playmaker for around $13 million on 1 July 2022, not realizing how effective Kvaratskhelia would be. The #77’s impact was immediate.

After netting on his Serie A debut against Hellas Verona, the young Georgian scored twice against Monza to become the first Napoli player in history to net three goals in his opening two league games. This start to his Italian soccer career also earned him the Serie A Player of the Month for August.

Kvara went on to score 12 goals and make 13 assists as Napoli won Serie A. These total goal contributions eclipsed the 16 made by Maradona in his first Scudetto-winning season in Naples and were one shy of the 26 made by the little master in 1989/90.

The season included much personal success for Kvaratskhelia as well. He won the Serie A Most Valuable Player, the Serie A Goal of the Season, and the Serie A Top Assist Provider awards for 2022/23. His performances for Napoli saw him included in the Serie A Team of the Season. Kvara also won the UEFA Champions League Young Player of the Season, and FIFA nominated him for the prestigious Ballon d’Or.

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In a single season, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia went from relative obscurity to a revered name in professional soccer. With Napoli listed as the fourth-favourites for the Serie A title in 2023/24 at 16/1, and currently fourth in the league early on, there’s still every chance that “Kvaradona” could emulate Diego as a two-time Scudetto winner for Napoli.

Leon Motley
Leon Motley
"Typical beer trailblazer. Hipster-friendly web buff. Certified alcohol fanatic. Internetaholic. Infuriatingly humble zombie lover."
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