After Dušan Uhrin Jr left for FC Viktoria Plzeň midway through the season, 38-year-old Malkhaz Zhvania took the reins at FC Dinamo Tbilisi and finished what his Czech predecessor had started by guiding the club to their second straight domestic double. That is something only Dinamo themselves had managed before, in 1997; indeed, it was the first time in 15 years the Georgian champions had defended their crown.
Champions: FC Dinamo Tbilisi
Like most captivating stories, Dinamo’s campaign had three acts. The first one, under Uhrin Jr, brought 36 points in 15 matches. Zhvania took over in December and the theme of success continued – by the end of March, victory over second-placed FC Zestafoni established an 11-point lead at the summit. There were eight games to go and complacency set in. The next six outings yielded just eight points, including a 3-2 loss to Zestafoni, and suddenly Dinamo were looking over their shoulders. They got over the line with one match to spare, though it was not enough to save Zhvania’s job. “We were 11 points ahead at one point and our players got sloppy,” he admitted.
Cup final: FC Dinamo Tbilisi 2-1 FC Chikhura Sachkhere
It was a campaign of stark contrasts for Chikhura. They went into the winter break second in the Premier League, with December’s Georgian Super Cup secured, before going into freefall in the spring. Nine defeats in 13 league outings left them fourth, though Samson Pruidze’s team at least maintained their form in the Georgian Cup as they reached a second successive final. When Dinamo were reduced to ten men midway through the first half hope grew, even if Xisco Muñoz did break the deadlock. Giorgi Datunaishvili equalised, only for Otar Martsvaladze to seal a 2-1 win. Dinamo captain and goalkeeper Giorgi Loria said: “It was a very difficult game, but we managed to win and claim the domestic double. I am happy this season has turned out to be so successful.”
FC Dinamo Tbilisi – UEFA Champions League, second qualifying round
FC Zestafoni – UEFA Europa League, second qualifying round
FC Sioni Bolnisi – UEFA Europa League, first qualifying round
FC Chikhura Sachkhere – UEFA Europa League, first qualifying round
*Subject to final confirmation from UEFA
Player of the year: Giorgi Loria (FC Dinamo Tbilisi)
There has not been an official award yet, but it will be difficult to look past Loria when the time comes. While Xisco was top scorer for the second season running at one end, Loria kept things tight at the other, mustering 14 clean sheets in 30 league outings. Approaching ten years at the club, the 28-year-old has made 171 appearances for Dinamo – a post-independence record for a goalkeeper.
One to watch: Otar Kvernadze (FC Torpedo Kutaisi)
While a number of Torpedo’s best players switched to Zestafoni during the winter, former Torpedo and FC Zenit goalkeeper Mikheil Kvernadze’s son moved in the opposite direction. Tall and skilful, the forward registered seven league goals to help Torpedo finish seventh. In May’s 6-1 defeat of FC WIT Georgia, the 20-year-old became the first player to hit four goals in a Georgian top-flight match in five years.
Surprise package: FC Zestafoni
When Gia Geguchadze replaced Ratko Dostanić at the Zestafoni helm after 11 games, the club had just 15 points and slender hopes of qualifying for the top-six play-offs. After a steady start, they won seven in a row either side of the winter break, without conceding a single goal, and almost gave stuttering Dinamo the fright of their lives as they closed in on the summit. Second was nonetheless an impressive return for a club that marks its tenth anniversary on 18 June.
Leading scorer: Xisco Muñoz, FC Dinamo Tbilisi (19)
Relegated**: FC Zugdidi, FC Merani Martvili
Promoted**: FC Shukura Kobuleti, FC Kolkheti Poti
**Subject to final confirmation
The only zero in the final standings was in the draw column for all-or-nothing FC Guria Lanchkhuti. Back among the elite after 11 years away, Guria made a mark as giant-slayers and were third at one point; having secured a top-six place, though, they lost ten in a row. David Makharadze’s men returned to winning ways on the last day of term and so maintained their zero tolerance towards draws – as, coincidentally, they had done 18 years ago.
“I would not advise any coach to look at a player’s passport. We proved that it was too early to write off the Sioni players that other clubs rejected because of their age.”
Sioni Bolnisi coach Lado Burduli after his side, featuring 13 players over 30, won seven matches in a row and finished in the top three for the first time in eight years