25 and 29 May, Belgium hosted the elite round of the under-19 European football championship. The Georgian national under-19 team, trained by Coach Gia Tsetsadze, was in a group that included the teams of England, Scotland and Belgium. The Georgian under-19s finished first place in their group, thereby gaining the right to participate in the European Under-19 Football Championship to be held in Lithuania from 20 July. Tabula interviewed Gia Tsetsvadze about the elite round qualifiers and other topics related to Georgian football.
"We performed our work well and, thanks to god, won the right to participate in the European Championship. In the run up to the elite round we gathered the maximum amount of information about our rival teams and analyzed video tapes of their games so we knew what each and every team was like. The favorite was, of course, England. Then, a relatively strong team was Belgium, which was followed by Scotland. I underlined the strength of the Belgium team, not only because it was hosting the tournament, but because their coach has worked with national teams in various age categories for 25 years now and has taken his team to the European football championship seven times. To cut a long story short, we knew we would have to deal with strong teams, but we left for Belgium with the only aim being to win – we wanted to maintain our right to get into the European Championship; and that is what we did," Gia Tsetsvadze told Tabula.
Let's start in chronological order and talk about each match...The first match with England began well for us, because shortly after kick off the English goalkeeper was sent off by the referee. Then, Giorgi Pantsulaia made a precise free kick and we scored a goal. The play in the first half was even, but due to our making a mistake, England was able to score and equalize. Although we played better than our rivals in the second half of the game, we missed some key chances and the match ended in draw.
A draw with England is a very good result. Did you expect such a result before the start of the match?
Let me reiterate that we studied the way England play. The video tapes showed that they were a strong team, but we also spotted their weaknesses. My aim was to take advantage of those weaknesses. I am sure the Georgian team can play on a par with the teams of absolutely every European country. I knew that if my footballers followed my instructions correctly and, what's more important, overcame the psychological factor, success would be achieved. In general, always playing with a mindset of being the number two team is ruinous. Georgian footballers and coaches must get rid of the complex of being number two because Georgia is not a second-rate country in terms of football. Of course, there have been backslides, but everything comes to an end one day and we must make headway. As regards what the secret of success is, it is a proper psychological attitude plus a correctly planned preparation period.
We started our match against Scotland so well that during the first 20 or 25 minutes the other team's players were not able to move beyond the center line into our half of the pitch. Then the play leveled out, which is absolutely normal because teams need to conserve their energy in order to play the match through to the end without pitfalls. Nevertheless, we scored on the 25th minute and I would like to note that that happened according to a combination that we had been practicing during training. If you watch the video of this match, you will see that we played much better than the Scots and really deserved the victory. After that, there was an unpleasant incident with the referee. I do not want to speak extensively about that, but can only say that, according to my information, the Spanish referee has subsequently been taken to task at the corresponding level. I do not know, maybe he thought that Georgia is not a footballing nation deserving of participating in the European Championship. Saying that the referee acted accidentally would be a fairy tale. He did everything deliberately. To the credit of our guys, it should be said that, despite being left with only eight players on the pitch, they accurately performed all of my instructions and the match ended in a 3-1 win for us.The match against Belgium was our last in the tournament and was the decisive one. Following our experience in the game against Scotland, after the 11 players we had on the pitch at the start of the game, we only had a goalkeeper and a back as substitutes. The important point is that between those 11 players all are equal, none were weaker than any other. In general, all 18 of our players who participated in the tournament are very good footballers and the competition among them is indeed serious. In general, I believe that in modern football, the concept of a "reserve player" does not exist. Those who join the match from the bench as substitutes should be of the kind who further strengthen play, and not just those who give tired footballers a chance for rest.
During this game, initially the Belgian team gained the advantage, but then we improved our performance and created some good opportunities at the end of the first half. In the second half, similar to the match with England, we dominated possession. Our tactical training brought results. However, even though our players appeared face to face with the Belgian goalkeeper several times, they were struggling to score. This was not the result we were striving for. However, just as we started thinking about withdrawing a back and sending our goalkeeper out as a center-forward, individual skills came to the fore and Giorgi Pantsulaia scored a goal from a distance of 40 meters. It thus turned out that whilst our team tactics failed, individual skills worked – in fact, without such individualism, Georgian football would be nothing. Achieving results requires an individualist, especially in the front line. Then we were awarded a penalty, which we missed, but this did not affect our play as we still held the advantage. After that, Samushia managed to score a beautiful goal and it became apparent that we would win the match.
Georgian youth teams rarely achieve such success. What did you do for the team to achieve such a result?
The most important thing is god's grace. However, as regards us mere mortals, the most important thing is the psychological aspect. I will not go into details about the strategy of our plays, but will say that the pattern of our play is offensive. To put it in simple words – when we do not have the ball, the entire team defends; but when we hold the ball, the entire team attacks. To explain more clearly for readers, our team plays as close to our rival's half of the field as possible; our defense starts when the rival's goalkeeper or central backs have the ball in order to prevent them from imposing their plays on us.I do not want to sound as if everything is fine or suggest that the team is ideal. That would not be true – we have a lot of work to do. Our goal is to have this generation of footballers get, in a year or two, into the Georgian national team. We have a very good generation coming into Georgian football and I think that if they are placed in the correct system, the results will be very good.
Your team combines two things that are longed for by Georgian football fans but which the national team lacks – traditional Georgian individualism and tangible results. How did you manage to achieve that?
There are four phases in the development of a football player, in general. By age, they break down as follows: from six to nine years of age; from nine to 12, from 12 to 16 and then over 16 years of age. This is not something which I invented, it is acknowledged by the whole of Europe. What quality can be developed at what age has been studied on the scientific level. If all these rules are observed, we get a perfect product. Those who display talent in childhood require the most attention. Such talent must be developed; if a child can outperform 11 people, then that does not necessarily mean that he will still manage to do that when he turns 18.
There are footballers in my team with whom I and Giorgi Devdariani [a coach of underage footballers] have worked with since their childhoods. There are also some who were trained by [coach] Gia Geguchadze in F.C. Torpedo Kutaisi. In short, the contribution of teams in the success of those guys is significant. And that happens in conditions that are not as good as in, for example, the Netherlands or Belgium. Let me reiterate: everything starts with talent, but that talent must be used correctly and various components will need to be improved – all that requires financial support.
The European Championship is nearing. What are the goals you have set for the players in that tournament? Will you be content with just making it into the championship or do you hope to achieve more?
In life I always try to take the next step forward and that holds true for my team too. Since we have succeeded in making it into the championship, our minimal objective is now to move out of the group stages. I think this objective is quite realistic, especially given that now not just one but two teams move out of each group. This does not mean that we are going to play as a number two team – this is football and anything can happen, but we hope to make it into the semifinals. I am as sure that we will manage to move out of the group stage in Lithuania, just as I was sure that our team would get to the European Championships.
How would you evaluate the activity of the football federation towards the youth teams? In recent times, the situation on the youth level has improved. How has the federation contributed to that?If we look at the results of the past three or four years, I think everything will become clear. Making it into the elite round [the second stage of qualifying matches] no longer seems unattainable. We have gradually become accustomed to the European championship. It can be said that the federation's attitude towards youth teams is good. What proved very useful for me after I took over the team were the exhibition games. We had two exhibition games with Poland. Then we went to Portugal for a tournament, where I was able to spot many things. After that, we had a very productive meeting in Serbia and, overall, all that helped us in analyzing, developing, and improving our skills and in adopting the correct psychological attitude. Of course, not everything is ideal, but the federation largely contributed to the results we have shown.
It would be interesting to hear your opinion about Georgia's national football team. Its coach, Temur Ketsbaia, has failed to achieve success. Just recently, our team was crushed by Ireland's national team and also lost a game against Denmark. Moreover, the national team fails to play offensive, beautiful football...
I am not aware of how the national team works as I do not have insider information – however, it is always easy for an outsider to speak on such matters. I can understand the fans' demands for results – that is how it should be, the national team plays for the fans. I reiterate, I am not aware of the internal affairs of the team. It would, of course, be preferable if the national team played better. I do not think that the coaches are happy about the poor performance of the team either; no one is happy about that. However, I am optimistic about the future and think that Georgia will definitely have a good team. This will require from between 10 to 20 years. What's more important is that a good generation is coming up, and that will bring results.
Some eight years ago, the national team of Georgia had footballers who played in strong European leagues. This is not the case today. The core of the team comprises footballers playing in Ukraine, Russia and in lower level leagues. Against this backdrop, how correct is the refusal to take Levan Kobiashvili on the team? Should the efficiency of a footballer for the national team be measured by the age of the player?No, it must not be measured by the age of a footballer. I can name many footballers who are no longer young and that does not affect their play. However, I want to say that it is up to the coach to decide. When I invited young Luka Zarandia into the under-19 team I assumed a personal responsibility for that. Luka met my expectations, but if it were not so, I would have been held accountable because I refused to take several older footballers into the team. The same holds true for the national team – it is up to the coach to decide. A team is a living organism, from the inside it is a very complex mechanism. Being a coach is not an easy task, one should not interfere in his business; however, it is precisely the coach who is responsible for results.
As regards the footballers, it is not correct when Georgian footballers go to play to Russia instead of Europe just because of higher salaries. We must have a national championship of a decent level so that the guys develop interest towards it and do not go off to play for some unknown team in some very distant country. It is far more beneficial for footballers to play in Austria, Switzerland, or Denmark, let alone England, Spain and other such strong leagues, than in Russia and Ukraine. I do hope and think that the coming generation will not face such problems and will not drop football at an early age.