Temuri Ketsbaia’s early promise has faded

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RENOWNED for his violent attack on an advertising hoarding after scoring for Newcastle United, Temuri Ketsbaia attributed that temper tantrum to a sense of frustration.

He had been given the chance to play against Bolton that day but first-team opportunities were more fleeting than he would have liked.

It is an incident he hates being reminded of. After all, it happened way back in 1998, three years before he arrived in Scottish football as one of Ivano Bonetti’s imported buys at Dundee. But it serves as an insight into the mindset of the current Georgia national coach ahead of Saturday’s Euro 2016 qualifier with Scotland in Glasgow.

“I felt I wasn’t getting a chance to play in the team,” he has said in an effort to explain away his behaviour that day. “All my life, when I’m disappointed, I wanted to express myself. This is what I was feeling.”

Age may well have mellowed him although, given the forceful nature of his personality, that may be too much to hope for. That renders the future of the Ibrox billboards as vulnerable as his own job prospects, if the rumours are to be believed.

This is a manager with his jacket on a shoogly peg. And this time he would find it hard to argue that he has not been given ample opportunities.

Under Ketsbaia’s management, Georgia enjoyed just one win in eight in 2013 but, with questions raised over his right to hold on to the job, he stabilised things slightly, stopping the rot with two wins at the start of this year. But, having lost a friendly to UAE and then suffering defeat at home to the Republic of Ireland in their first Euro 2016 qualifiers, the pressure is on again.

It has become a frustration for the former Dens Park player as well as his employers, according to Georgian Football Federation president Domenti Sichinava. “The head coach, Temuri Ketsbaia, said after we had lost to Ireland he would take a decision on his future after the next two matches in Scotland and Gibraltar. So, if we lose the first game in Scotland, I am sure he will make his decision after that.”

At the helm for five years, the current malaise is a far cry from the sense of purpose Ketsbaia instilled in the national side in those early years when results suggested that he could be the man to lead the country to a debut World Cup appearance. It was a dream that ultimately came to nothing, qualifying campaigns eventually floundering, but the fact was that, against all odds, he had given the country hope, albeit fleetingly.

When he took over Georgia were ranked well outside the top 100. A football missionary, Ketsbaia was returning home with the lessons learned from a playing and coaching career in Britain and in Greece.

He was considered a miracle worker when he somehow summoned the results to end an 18-month winning drought to lead the squad on a ten-game year-long unbeaten run.

But that early promise has long since given way to frustration at the domestic league’s inability to furnish him with a pool of higher-calibre players. Pride took them so far but, in the end, those inadequacies took their toll.

In public, the players and the manager still see qualification for France 2016 as achievable but even their belief would surely waver if defeat to Scotland followed the loss to Republic of Ireland and was then backed up by anything other than a win against Gibraltar.

Even now, they are in the minority, with the fans once again drowning in the apathy that preceded Ketsbaia’s arrival. Once again Georgia are outside the top 100 – currently ranked 110th, while Scotland sit 29th – and they are now into their eighth year without a competitive win away from home. The style of play has been proving just as depressing to the fans as the results. With a stuffy backline and congested midfield, they have few attacking options, which probably offers one reason why the team has never scored more than one goal in any competitive match under Ketsbaia.

According to Alastair Watt, a Scottish journalist based in Tbilisi, where he writes for Georgia Today, there remains a sliver of hope.

“Central defender Guram Kashia, who captains Vitesse Arnhem, claims that there is very little between Ireland, Poland, Scotland and Georgia,” he reported on the Scotzine website recently. “Generally, they consider the Poles to be favourites for second place but believe that third place is very much achievable – they should take some points from everyone in the group except Germany.”

They will need to start picking them up fast or Ketsbaia may not see out the quest and the advertising hoardings at Ibrox could pay the price for his frustration.