When supporters give you a nickname taken from the club’s most iconic player of all time, you’re probably doing something special on the pitch.
Even more so when that player is Diego Maradona himself, perceived as a deity in Naples.
The transfer of Hvica Kvaratzhelia did not generate the same fevered anticipation as Maradona’s 38 years ago, and it is unlikely that many Napoli fans even tried to pronounce the Georgian’s difficult name when they learned of his signing.
But the winger’s famous start in Serie A and the Champions League earned him the nickname Quaradona and burdened him with immense responsibility in a team that has been flying this campaign.
And we are talking about a player of the tender age of 21.
“I can’t come close to Maradona, but I’ll do my best to be an important player for the club,” he remarked modestly as he realized that comparisons to the late genius were becoming ubiquitous.
Today, the price at which Napoli bought him already seems outrageously low: some 10-12 million euros paid to Dinamo Batumi, where Kvaratshelia scored 8 goals in 11 games.
The Georgian was previously on the wing of Russian side Rubin Kazan, only to have his contract terminated when Russia invaded Ukraine.
He had never played in a major league until now, but his adaptation was instantaneous and Kvaratzhelia exceeded all expectations with his start.
Even in pre-season he seemed to feel incredibly comfortable in Luciano Spalletti’s scheme, and when the official games started there was no stopping him.
His Serie A debut, like Maradona’s, was against Verona. But unlike the Argentine, Kvaratzhelia had a major role with a goal and an assist for the loud 5:2.
Two goals followed in the first home game against Monza.
Napoli’s revamped squad, without club legends Lorenzo Insigne, Kalidou Koulibaly and Dries Mertens, proved unexpectedly well-prepared. There was no period of transition and decline – new additions such as Kim Min-Jae, Andre-Frank Zambo Angisa, Tangi Ndombele and Giacomo Raspadori fitted in perfectly.
But it was Hvica Kvaratchelia who quickly emerged as a pearl in the selection with his amazing technique and explosiveness on the left flank, making the spectators hold their breath every time the ball reached him.
The Georgian can overcome several opponents, gain ground, change the course of matches with one of his actions.
July 1st: @en_sscnapoli announce the signing of Khvicha Kvaratskhelia 🖋️
October 2nd: The Georgian international already has a mural in his honor painted in the city🎨 pic.twitter.com/m9DD1Z2W2B
— Lega Serie A (@SerieA_EN) October 3, 2022
In the 2-1 win against Lazio, he first hit the post with a superb finish and scored the winning goal in the second half with a superb shot.
“I invited him to tea at home the evening after he signed his contract,” coach Spalletti said after that match. “He is very shy and never wants to be the center of attention, but when he plays football he is so confident.”
Back in August, Kvaratzhelia was the No. 1 Calcio player of the month, and he’s only gotten better since then.
In an unforgettable night against Liverpool at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium, Hvicha was among the best on the pitch as Napoli thrashed the Champions League finalists 4-1.
This week, Ajax suffered its heaviest loss in European tournaments against the flying Napoli, and Kvaratzhelia scored one of the goals for the final 6:1.
The Georgian is the star of a team that has no stop and is in first place in Serie A with the most scoring attack in the calcio and with three wins from three games in the Champions League (with a goal difference of 13:2).
The Sky Blues are still unbeaten in the campaign.
Hvicha Badri’s father is a former Azerbaijan international and his son is part of a talented group of players coming out of the Dinamo Tbilisi academy.
Several of these youngsters are now Georgian nationals and the Bulgarian national team tested their strength in a humiliating 2-5 loss in Razgrad in June.
Why do so many big clubs miss Khvicha Kvaratskhelia??? 🤔🤔🤔 pic.twitter.com/dfjCTHwBQ2
— FOOTBALLFANSTUFF (@officialffsnews) October 6, 2022
And then Kvaratzhelia was among the best on the field and did whatever he wanted with the native nationals, he didn’t miss a penalty kick in the 58th minute.
By the way, years ago, another winger from the same 2001 squad, who was born just three days after Kvaratskhelia – Zuriko Davitashvili, shone in the Tbilisi academy.
At one point, Davitashvili was considered the more talented of the two, but today he himself defines his teammate in the national team as the “Georgian Messi”.
Kvaratshelia is making a lot of progress in his development after his transfer to Rubin in 2019, and somewhere in there the big jump happens. Recently, football fans have been sharing clips of his performances in Russia and wondering how a top team didn’t notice him sooner.
The winger is already the No. 1 star of modern Georgian football, and in the first 19 matches for the national team he scored 8 times, including against Spain and twice in a world qualifier against Sweden.
In his homeland, they are already betting that Kvaratskhelia will become the greatest Georgian football player in history.
All the noise surrounding Hvich – the comparisons with Maradona and Messi, the hysteria in Naples, the huge expectations in the homeland – put the 21-year-old under enormous pressure.
But for now, he’s dealing with that tension as best he can. And if he keeps it up, Napoli will soon be receiving hard-to-refuse offers for him.