It was not an ideal way to say goodbye, but Hertha BSC Berlin 4-0 home defeat to Borussia Dortmund on Saturday spelled the end of Levan Kobiashvili's 15-year Bundesliga career.
"It hasn't really sunk in that one stage of my life has ended and something new is under way," the 36-year-old told UEFA.com they day after leaving the field for the last time as a player to a standing ovation at the Olympiastadion. "The emotions are still raw. I will never forget the warmth and gratitude I felt yesterday."
The former FC Metalurgi Rustavi (now FC Olimpi Rustavi), FC Dinamo Tbilisi, FC Alania Vladikavkaz, SC Freiburg and FC Schalke 04 player plans to be at Hertha for a while yet, with the club he has represented since 2010 eager to find him a position behind the scenes; "I belong in football," Kobiashvili noted. "This is what I am good at, and I want to continue doing what I am good at."
Kobiashvili's trophy haul does not, perhaps, do his talents justice. He won plenty of titles at Dinamo in the 1990s, and scored an unlikely UEFA Champions League hat-trick for Schalke – against PSV Eindhoven – but the only trophy he won in Germany was the 2004/05 League Cup. However, loyalty counted for more than trophies – he notably stayed on to help both Freiburg and Hertha after they were relegated from the Bundesliga.
"A deal is a deal, but human relationships are more important," Georgia's 2000 and 2005 Player of the Year explained. "For example, when I moved from Schalke to Berlin in winter 2010, I signed a six-month contract. From the off, it was obvious that it would be immensely difficult to avoid relegation but we tried. After we went down, I was free to leave but I felt I had a duty to stay in Berlin and help Hertha get back into the top flight.
"I know a lot of people get booed when they play against their old clubs," he added. "Whenever I did that, I was always welcomed, and that meant more than any silverware for me. Yes, my career could have been more successful title-wise – there was interest in me from some bigger clubs – but I do not regret my decisions. Others might have changed club five or six times, but not me. When I felt I was respected and counted on, I appreciated that and kept working without a second thought."
That loyalty might explain why only one other foreign player – FC Bayern München's Peruvian Claudio Pizarro – made more Bundesliga appearances than Kobiashvili, and the 100-times capped player is thrilled to have had the chance to play in Germany. "You always have great conditions, there is interest in everything you do, you feel respected by so many people," he said. "You cannot compare it to anything else."
From now on, Kobiashvili will be seeking thrills elsewhere; as a child, he wanted to be a sailor, and having learned how to sail, he may have the chance to explore that dream. "I passed my exams and got two licences, so I can helm a ship both in both open sea and in waterways; I am very proud to have achieved that," he said. "But I don't think you can compare it to being a team captain or a coach; in the sea, you have no room for error – the lives of everyone aboard depend on your actions." Given his reliability as a player, it is a responsibility you can be sure comes naturally to Kobiashvili.
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