A UEFA Super Cup winner with AC Milan, former Georgia star Kakha Kaladze is relishing Tuesday's Tbilisi showdown, telling UEFA.com: "I've never seen such excitement before."
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With Barcelona set to meet Sevilla in Tbilisi on Tuesday for the UEFA Super Cup, UEFA.com spoke with former AC Milan and Georgia defender Kakha Kaladze.
"I've never seen this kind of excitement before," enthused the five-time Georgian player of the year, who is hopeful that the game will leave a lasting legacy in his homeland. Currently serving as Georgia's deputy prime minister, the two-time UEFA Champions League winner also reflected on his own UEFA Super Cup victory in 2007, when the Rossoneri defeated Sevilla in Monaco.
UEFA.com: What kind of match are you expecting?
Kakha Kaladze: Just like every other Georgian fan, I feel it's a great success for our capital to host a game like this. A final is always exciting to watch, and even more so when such strong teams are playing. What makes it even more interesting is that two Spanish teams will be facing each other.
UEFA.com: Do you feel that the UEFA Champions League winners are always favourites against their UEFA Europa League counterparts?
Kaladze: If you compare the level of both tournaments, there is a difference. Clubs in the UEFA Europa League have lower budgets, whereas the UEFA Champions League has always been the greatest competition in the world. Even if so, it's hard to predict who will win. I think Barcelona are the favourites because they're one of the best in terms of playing style, their squad – from every angle.
UEFA.com: What will it mean for Georgian fans to see the likes of Lionel Messi and Neymar up close?
Kaladze: Ticket sales show you how much of a sense of anticipation there is. I've followed UEFA Super Cup matches for many years, but I've never seen such excitement before. Football has long been loved by people in Georgia, and Messi and his team have a huge army of fans who will be happy to watch the superstars at first hand.
UEFA.com: What legacy will the UEFA Super Cup leave in Georgia, in sporting and wider terms?
Kaladze: When high-calibre footballers come to visit you, it's very important for any country. It will be a huge motivation for Georgian youngsters, who will get a chance to watch successful players training and playing. It will give them a new impulse to do everything they can to become good players. In terms of politics, hosting such a big match helps to promote the country. Georgia is getting more recognition. I'm sure it would have been impossible to host the UEFA Super Cup here five or six years ago. The stadium wasn't ready and so on. The government has spent around €8m to get the infrastructure ready for this event. I recently participated in the stadium inspection and I'm proud that our country is ready to host this big match.
UEFA.com: You won the UEFA Super Cup in 2007. What memories do you have of that match?
Kaladze: It was a very important game, for me personally and for my team. It was a tough match, but we won it and had a big celebration. AC Milan were the best team in the world then and we won every trophy going. Those were the best years that I spent at Milan.
UEFA.com: Georgia has a reputation for attacking football. How come the most successful player in Georgian history was a defender?
Kaladze: Yes, Georgian players are usually very skilful and play stylish, attacking football, but I was very different. I was physically strong and superior to others in areas where we tend to have a certain weakness – diligence and work ethic. The three factors behind my success were determination, diligence and, of course, luck.
UEFA.com: How difficult was it for you to change roles from sport to politics? Does your experience in sport help you as a politician?
Kaladze: I gave it a lot of thought before making the decision. I knew what a difficult path I was choosing. Of course the first few months were difficult because everything was new, but I had some business experience as I had my own bank and a company. It all came in very handy just like my experience in football.