Khvicha Kvaratskhelia has quickly become a household name amongst football fans this season. Napoli are running away with the Scudetto and their Georgian winger has been world class in the Italian club’s pursuit of rediscovering glory.
Kvaratskhelia, 22, has scored 13 goals and contributed 15 assists for Napoli across all competitions in his debut season wearing the famous blue jersey, prompting fans to award their star winger the nickname ‘Kvaradona’.
But it is another attacker who is often included in the same ‘Best of all time’ debates alongside Diego Maradona who Kvaratskhelia could go on to replicate: Manchester United legend George Best.
The pair’s positioning, key attributes, sudden dominance, upbringing, aura, and nations, along with the hypothetical future of Kvaratskhelia, all appear to be similar.
Obviously, Kvaratskhelia plays in Best’s favoured position – on the left wing. A fairly straightforward starting point to this comparison. But it is how the Georgian plays in this area of the pitch that echoes Best’s qualities.
The startling pace and ability to control the ball expertly and skilfully whilst moving at such a high pace is something Kvaratskhelia shares with Best. It is no doubt that Napoli’s star, in his direct pace and close-control dribbling ability, plays like a ‘traditional’, old school winger. A fearless attacker who does not hesitate to overwhelm defenders with the two classic and fundamental attributes associated with his position: rapid pace and expert dribbling.
The relentlessness showcased by Kvaratskhelia against Liverpool in the Champions League in September had shades of Best’s grit with the ball when being hacked down by defenders in the 1960s and 70s. This grit in combination with trickery made the Northern Irishman’s ball carrying ability laughably good (watch the old footage and see for yourself). No matter how many times Joe Gomez or Trent Alexander-Arnold attempted to use their physicality to oust the Georgian winger, he managed – through sheer determination and balance – to outmanoeuver them on several ocassions, eventually paying dividends as he set up a goal for Giovanni Simeone.
Being able to move at such a high level of intensity with regards to being relentless and extraordinarily rapid does not dissuade Kvaratskhelia from slowing the game down when necessary. His goal against Atalanta recently when he dummied a shot twice to create a better position before slotting the ball home displayed his elite composure applied with ridiculous in-game intelligence. If you search for Best’s second goal of the day against Stoke City in 1971 you will see an incredible resemblance between that and Kvaratskhelia’s aforementioned finish.
This goal led legendary Inter striker Christian Vieri to directly compare the pair on Bobo TV (via SportWitness): “If he goes to Manchester United, the days of George Best will return – they are the same.”
The feints, the shifting the ball across, the skills and trickery, the pace, the determination and unrelenting pursuit to goal, and the ghosting past defenders are attributes assumed to be attached to all successful wingers; but the extremely high level in all of these together at the same time is what connects Kvaratskhelia’s playing style and ability to that of Best’s.
Thierry Henry summarised Kvaratskhelia’s most impressive qualities, which all ring true to Best’s too. Speaking with CBS, Henry remarked: “He can press. He can hold up the ball. He can see a pass. He has the legs to go on the break with (Victor) Osimhen […] He’s just the full package.”
It is not just the footballing side of things which mirror the pair. Kvaratskhelia is quickly becoming a recognisable figure in terms of his physical appearance.
Scruffy beard and rolled down socks. Two fairly reguarly details, but factors which distinguish the winger from other players on the pitch. Best was instantly famous for his mopped haircut. After dominating performances on the European stage, he was given the nickname of ‘The Fifth Beatle’, such was his stature in western popular culture at the time.
Kvaratskhelia, with his distinct features, could follow a similar course to become a world-famous and world-class footballing maverick. And he already has the nickname of admiration (Kvaradona) to go with it.
Digging deeper into the players’ upbringings shows similar elements, at face value at least.
Tbilisi and Belfast. Modern-day fractured cities. Best grew up in a city which had been destroyed by the Blitz in World War II and was on the cusp of a lengthy civil war in the shape of The Troubles, which lasted from the 1960s to the late 1990s. Kvaratskhelia’s hometown had become overrun by mafia organisations in the 1990s following the breakup of the Soviet Union and, shortly after he was born, would undergo a mini revolution in the mould of mass protests against corrupt politics.
Not the easiest places to thrive as a youngster with hopes of making it as a professional footballer – but football is what provided young children an opportunity to express themselves and with a form of normalcy in such divided cities. They may have been brought up in different eras and on opposite sides of Europe, but similarities in their conditioning and environment as young people (to stress again, at face value) can still be found.
With Napoli on the verge of regaining success in Serie A, Kvaratskhelia is, in turn, on the verge of already being considered a local legend. He arrived in Italy and has been instrumental in their pursuit of what should be their first Scudetto in over 30 years. More than instrumental; he has been the conductor. And the Champions League campaign is still ongoing too.
Best, similarly, etched his name into Manchester United and European football’s memories when he lifted the European Cup in 1968, conducting his side to glory against Benfica in Portugal. With 32 goals in all competitions that season, Best was rightfully awarded the Ballon d’Or as United managed to become the greatest team in Europe just a mere ten years after the Munich air disaster.
Should Kvaratskhelia continue to play the music on the biggest stages in football and drive his team to further successes by contributing similar performances and numbers as Best, then he can be sure to be spoken in the same breaths as the iconic No. 7.
At 22 years of age and having yet to complete a full season in one of Europe’s top five leagues, the Georgian has a bit to go yet. Here’s hoping he takes a leaf out of Best’s book and does so in a red shirt at Old Trafford.