The first Russian-speaking football player in the former Le Havre club appeared long before Kuzyaev. In the early 1990s, immediately after the collapse of the USSR, the flamboyant Georgian striker Gia Guruli came to this port city for two seasons and quickly wowed the local audience. Le Havre became the last serious team in the forward’s brilliant career. And he himself was so imbued with France that he stayed there forever.
Now he lives in Dunkirk, known the world over for a unique military operation to rescue 300,000 British and French soldiers at the start of World War II (this is what Christopher Nolan’s powerful blockbuster is about). The story of the former Le Havre star will be useful for Kuzyaev and, we hope, informative for readers. Geee’s word.
gia guruli 59 years old He played as a striker. Clubs: Dynamo Batumi, Dynamo Tbilisi, Guria, Iberia, GKS Katowice, Le Havre, Dunkerque, Kale. He played for the USSR youth and youth teams, the first team of Georgia. 104 matches, 19 goals in the USSR Premier League, 48 matches, 12 goals in the French Ligue 1. Achievements: Georgian champion (1990), top scorer of the first Georgian championship (together with Mamuka Pantsulaia), winner of the Polish Cup and Super Cup (1991).
How Guruli came to France and became a Le Havre fan favorite
– I played in Poland, at GKS Katowice. Before there were no agents, but then an intermediary came and asked me if I wanted to move to France. I said: “Of course, why not!” He announced the interest of Le Havre. I got to know Marseille, PSG, Saint-Etienne, Nantes, but I heard about Le Havre for the first time. I asked him: “Where did they end up?” He replied: in the seventh. I thought: “French Championship, seventh place, okay!” The agent left, and a week later the French called me to do tests, for three or four days.
I arrived in Le Havre in the afternoon, trained in the morning and the next day there was a League Cup match. Spectator players were then allowed to participate in these games. I went out, gave an assist, we won. After the game, the president of the club invited me to his restaurant and put a personal contract on the table. Firm. But the clubs still had to agree among themselves.
Gia Guruli (center) – with the Polish Cup
Photo: from personal archive
Returning to Katowice, he turned to the president of the GKS and began to ask to be released in France. He became stubborn, “Gia, you have one more year on your contract.” We won the Cup, the Polish Super Cup, and we finished second in the championship. He wanted us to compete for gold. But he couldn’t miss that opportunity: 28 years old, who knows what will happen next. Well, he jokingly threatened him: “Don’t let go, I’ll go back to Tbilisi.” And he gave up. “Havre” something “GKS Katowice” paid for me, and I went to France.
Vacations didn’t work out. The Polish Championship ended in June, while Le Havre has already started the pre-season. I came to the training camp in Clairefontaine, this is the base of the French national teams. Like Novogorsk in the USSR, but there was a little difference, ha ha. They allowed me to skip a morning workout, and that’s it, I got to work.
I knew a little English, but little by little I started to learn French. The main words – one, right, left – I immediately remembered, and learned the rest in the process of communication. In training, at first I did not understand anything: I watched what the others did, and then repeated after them.
When Zidane had hair, and PSG stars didn’t receive millions, but thousands
– In big clubs, in PSG and Marseille, salaries reached 250-300 thousand francs. In terms of euros – 60 thousand per month. Le Havre is a small team. They did not pay us more than €15,000 (with today’s money).
PSG has always bought players, while Le Havre has made them grow. The club has a good academy, base. Last year, five or six students from Le Havre played for the French team.
I have always played as a center forward, although in reality I was not. He was running everywhere, he was a free forward. Here’s my teammate Joel Thiey from Côte d’Ivoire was a great center forward. In 1992, he was recognized as the best soccer player in Africa. I gave assists, I took penalties, but I couldn’t score. The first five or six games – not a goal. The coach assured: “Don’t be nervous, Gia, you’re going to score.” It was worth scoring one, and voila. Nine pieces for the season on! I remember playing in Le Havre against Paris Saint-Germain, and there were such players, what in general! George Weah, Bernard Lama… I opened the scoring and Weah equalized from a penalty. At that time, in general, France was full of stars. I played against Zidane more than once, he still had hair. And after 1996, they all broke up.
Gia Gurouli against Zinedine Zidane
Photo: from personal archive
At the club and in the city I was very well received. The people of Le Havre are friendly and welcoming. You walk down the street, everyone smiles, offers to treat you with something. And they love soccer. They even created my fan club! The young people approached and asked for permission. I say: “What’s the problem, do it.” 120 people were included. They organized some parties, we got together, we were able to have a glass of wine. When I was already playing in Dunkirk, 20 people came from Le Havre and spread a “Gia Guruli” banner in the stands.
Good time, good to remember. Although I was good in other teams. 1987-1988 in Tbilisi and 1989 in Lanchkhuti is an excellent period. With ‘Iberia’ we became the first champions of Georgia, and I became a scorer. In Poland, he was recognized as the best foreigner and included in the symbolic team of Katowice GKS in the 20th century. And in Le Havre, the 1992/1993 season was especially successful for me. The next one, not so much. The coach has changed, the leaders have left. And my injuries started, and after the championship I went to Dunkirk.
Le Havre is a small port city. Of the attractions – the bridge (Normandy Bridge: length – 2350 meters, height of the central span – 856 meters. – Approx. “Championship”). Close to Deauville and Etretat, beautiful tourist sites.
Photo: Alex Grimm/Getty Images
What awaits Kuzyaev in France and what he should not do
– Honestly, I did not know the football player Kuzyaev before. I don’t even watch the Georgian Championship now, let alone the Russian Championship, haha. I got tired of soccer. It wasn’t until Khvicha started to shine that he started watching games again.
Kuzyaev – a young player? 30 years? Almost as if he were in Le Havre. What can I advise you? The main thing is to let him be himself and play as he can. At this age, there is no need to invent a new one. For example, when Khvichu signed for Napoli, he played the first games as before: attacking, dribbling, sharpening. So I look: I started playing with one touch. My opinion is this: if Kvaratskhelia had played a touch on Rubin, he would never have been brought to Napoli! They bought him because he was a dangerous forward, with technique, with dribbling. If they tell Messi to play with one touch, he will probably play with one touch. But it will no longer be Messi, but conditional Ivanov. When a person has a gift from God, give him freedom! Let it go up! Yes, out of 10 attempts in five he will lose the ball, but out of the other five he will score three goals! It’s better than 10 back passes, but in one bunt. I do not understand this
Photo: Elena Razina, Championship
Take tiki taka. Who needs it now? You look – and you want to sleep. Barcelona played tiki-taka with Xavi, Iniesta, Messi. They have a very fast ball. Not even Barcelona itself can play like this today, let alone others. There are no such artists left.
The best fans in France are in Le Havre and Lance. There are no more of these anywhere. In Marseille – ultras, and here are the fans. I don’t think Kuzyaev will have a problem because he is from Russia. Don’t mix football and politics in the same pot. The French are not like that. But my advice: if journalists ask something about politics, you don’t need to answer anything. Let him say it’s none of his business: “I came here to play football, period.” Khvicha in Italy says it: “The policy is not mine. Leave me alone”. When a footballer starts talking about these issues, for me he is no longer a footballer. I am not saying that he should not love his country, but politics should not be dragged into football.
What you need to know about the transfer of Kuzyaev and his new club:
I have many Russian friends, acquaintances, among football players, businessmen. I’ve been in business for 10 years, including working with Russia. Agent? He worked for a year. Enough. I have never seen such a dirty job. They offered some kind of fraud, to make money from the players. I had an agent in my career. He promised everything, did nothing, took the money and disappeared. And I arranged a footballer from Europe in the old Union. His salary was $500, but they did it: $10 thousand. And they suggested to me: let’s give him $2,000 and split $8,000. Where will he go? How is that? I know you won’t say anything: $2000 is also more than $500. But that’s not fair, you know? As a result, we agreed that he would receive $8000. After that, I ended my career as an agent. It is not mine.
Gia Guruli: photo with a difference of 25 years
Photo: from personal archive
If Kuzyaev has any problems in France, let him apply. I have good Russian-speaking friends in Le Havre who will help me if necessary. Translate, suggest, tell. One is a professor, 75 years old, who wrote a dissertation on the Caucasus. When I first arrived, he told me: “Gamarjoba, genatsvale” (“hello, dear” in Georgian). How surprised he was! We have been friends for over 30 years.