Football: Ketsbaia takes the spirit higher

Stan Hey appreciates the value of an investment in Georgian property
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The Independent Online
There was a spring in the stride of the Newcastle United manager Kenny Dalglish and his assistant Terry McDermott as they walked up the steps into Wembley last Wednesday night. It may have been professional pride at their club being the main supplier to Glenn Hoddle's England team, with Alan Shearer, Robert Lee and David Batty, but it was also anticipation of seeing the result of some shopping they had done earlier.

For as the Premiership managers indulge in end-of-season "Bosmania", prepare for the footballing equivalent of "Supermarket Sweep". Dalglish and McDermott must have been quietly satisfied that they had already picked up a bargain before the shelves had been properly stacked. Labelled as Temur Ketsbaia, the item could be described as "all-purpose midfield player who can tackle, run, get forward and pass", and the price would certainly have struck them as right.

The wisdom of Dalglish's pre-emptive purchase was emphasised by Ketsbaia's eye-catching performance on the left side of the Georgian midfield, a slot which will become vacant in the Newcastle side when the Frenchman David Ginola moves on in the summer.

Although the slap-headed Ketsbaia will be no replacement for the windswept locks of Ginola in the affections of Newcastle's teen army, the attributes he displayed against England are what will matter most to the Toon Army, who will certainly rechristen him "Gets-By-Yer", if he shows the same acceleration as he did on Wednesday.

It was Ketsbaia who conspired with Georgia's most famous English resident Georgi Kinkladze for their team's best moment of the first half when he went wide for a pass, eased past Gary Neville and then angled a ball inside the England box which required an expert tackle by man of the match Sol Campbell to prevent Shota Arveladze from scoring.

Like the rest of his team Ketsbaia improved even more in the second half as any neutral fans were left guessing about which country was the one just emerging with its own footballing identity. You began to notice that Ketsbaia has what the coaches call "soft feet", not an affliction but the ability to absorb the impact of an incoming pass without losing control. You noticed him tracking back to cover Paul Ince's attempts to get forward and then out-tackling the England anchor-man and striding away from him, the ball at ease at either of his feet.

Ketsbaia claimed he loved the glorious turf Wembley produced and which the England players too frequently ignored in favour of the high cross. Kinkladze has no doubts that his fellow Georgian can enjoy success in England. "He has all that it takes to play in the Premier League," the little midfielder said afterwards, unaware that this remark could be open to ironic interpretation. If he joins Newcastle, he'll do well. He's a quality player and scoring seven goals in just 15 internationals is a sure mark of his ability."

John Gorman, Glenn Hoddle's assistant, endorsed the acclaim for the 29-year-old who has been playing in Greece with AEK Athens for the past two years. "It all started at the back for Georgia, and Ketsbaia was always there to pick up the ball. Almost everything they did seemed to go through him."

While Newcastle remain officially coy about Ketsbaia joining them in the summer, local information says "the deal is done and dusted. They've got him for no fee because of Bosman, and have offered him the right sort of wages. The delayed announcement is just a courtesy to the Athens club".

Dalglish and McDermott probably had few doubts about investing in prime Georgian property. One of their worst experiences as Liverpool players was a 3-0 drubbing by Dynamo Tblisi in the away leg of a European Cup tie in October 1979, with the present Georgian national coach David Kipiani among their tormentors. As for Labour, defeat that year may also have its rewards 18 years later.