Kakhaber Kaladze ends his playing career in a gala farewell match in Tbilisi on Friday, starring former team-mates Andriy Shevchenko and Paolo Maldini. UEFA.com looks back at his career.
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Former AC Milan and Georgia star Kakhaber Kaladze will officially pull on a playing shirt for the last time today in Tbilisi in a gala farewell match, which will inlclude former team-mates Andriy Shevchenko, Paolo Maldini, Gianluca Zambrotta, Rui Costa, Filippo Inzaghi, Fabio Cannavaro, Christian Vieri and others. UEFA.com looks back at his career.
When a 16-year-old made his debut for FC Dinamo Tbilisi in 1994, he probably did not think that almost two decades later his name would be not only known around the world, but that he would end his footballing career holding the position of Georgian minister of energy.
The key was his move to Valeriy Lobanovskiy's hugely successful FC Dynamo Kyiv side in 1996, where he linked up with Shevchenko. The duo helped the side reach the 1998/99 UEFA Champions Leagye semi-finals and by 2001 both were at AC Milan.
"Dynamo Kyiv were a springboard in my career," Kaladze said. "And the huge role in my success belongs to Valeriy Lobanovskiy who helped me to improve not only as a footballer, but also as a person. I was only 18 when I moved to Kyiv. And the discipline, which was there at that time, helped me all my life. Probably you know that Georgians are not the best people in terms of discipline but Lobanovskiy organised everything in the way that you could not think about anything else apart from football."
The likes of FC Internazionale Milano and FC Bayern München, as well as several English clubs, took an interest, but Kaladze decided to follow his friend Shevchenko to Milan and in nine years there won the UEFA Champions League twice, in 2002/03 and 2006/07, as well as the 2003/04 Scudetto to add to his five Georgian and three Ukrainian titles.
A captain of Georgia 50 times among his 83 caps, he may not have tasted the success he did at club level, gone to a major tournament or claimed goals as important as ones like his Milan derby winner or the one against Bayern for Dynamo. But one game does stand out, for the wrong reasons – the two own goals against Italy in September 2009 for which he apologised to the fans.
However, tragedy was to strike not long after his move to Milan when his brother Levan was kidnapped, never to return. "This is a very difficult topic for me and my family," Kaladze said. "This is a permanent injury."
But he is a strong character, and kept playing for his nation until 2011 and only ended his club career last year. In the world of business he was the face of many big fashion houses and has had entrepreneurial success in his own right, as well as raising money for charity. After two years at Genoa CFC, he retired in 2012 and returned to Georgia and a political career, where he was elected to parliament and joined the cabinet in October.
"I was born in Georgia, here is everything that is important to me, here is my heart," he said. "I want my sons to grow up in Georgia and want to do everything for the sake of Georgia."