Record-breaking former Georgia striker Zurab Ionanidze has been reviewing his career highs and lows after deciding to hang up his boots at the age of 38 and take up a coaching post in FC Zestafoni's reserve side.
"It was not an easy decision," Ionanidze told uefa.com. "I felt I could still take to the pitch and score, but I doubted I would be able to do it for much longer. After discussing it with my family I decided it was the right move. Many at Zestafoni, where I have played for the past five years, called to support me. Our head coach Gia Geguchadze also accepted my decision and I am very grateful."
Ionanidze bows out as the only player to register a double century of Georgian league goals, his 422 appearances also setting a new benchmark, yet there is a tinge of regret. "I am generally satisfied with what I managed to do," he explained. "But I didn't play a competitive match for Georgia. There is no one to blame for that but me." He did play four international friendlies between 1996 and 2006, scoring one goal, but it is on the domestic scene that he has inscribed his name deep into the annals.
In a career spanning 22 years Ionanidze won three league titles and three Georgian Cups with FC Torpedo Kutaisi and Zestafoni. He was twice named Georgian Player of the Year and twice finished as the Umaglesi Liga's top scorer as he accrued 216 top-flight goals, adding another 33 in 92 cup appearances. So many, in fact, that he cannot choose a favourite. "Had I scored 30 or 40 goals I would remember some of them, but in my career I hit so many important goals that brought joy to me, my teams and fans," said the forward whose four Georgian clubs – FC Samurgali Tskhaltubo, FC Samtredia, Torpedo and Zestafoni – are all based within 40km of his hometown of Kutaisi.
Pressed, he does recall one strike, however. "The ball was destined for the goal after my shot, and [then Torpedo defender] David Gamezardashvili helped it into the net," recalls Ionanidze, who spent over three years in Russian and Ukraine with FC Zhemchuzhina Sochi, FC Lokomotiv Nizhni Novgorod, FC Sokol Saratov and SC Tavriya Simferopol. "He went on to score two more goals: one for Torpedo and another against them. I felt sorry for the guy, so requested Zestafoni send the footage to the Football Federation. They decided the goal should be referred to me."
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