Kakha Kaladze: Milan bank on Kaladze steel

The imposing Georgian defender who has fought back after the murder of his brother by kidnappers blocks Arsenal's path tomorrow. He tells Frank Dunne why mental strength will be vital and of his plans after football

If Arsenal are to progress in this season's Champions League they will have to topple one of the great European institutions: the Milan back four. Since the former coach Arrigo Sacchi ripped up the Italian coaching manual with his zonal play in the late 1980s, Milan's back line has set the standard against which defending must be measured.

Chinks of light rarely open up against them in the Champions League and how Emmanuel Adebayor may come to rue his header against the crossbar in the dying moments at the Emirates Stadium two weeks ago.

"It was an incredible miss," says Kakha Kaladze, the 30-year-old Georgian who, after seven years at the club, is an established member of Milan's elite rear guard. Kaladze put in an otherwise impeccable performance in shutting out the big Togolese striker and the comment wasn't intended as a slight on Adebayor, for whom Kaladze is full of admiration. "He has everything, he's the complete forward and it's not easy to mark him. He's strong, fast and very good technically. Tall players like him are not always so mobile or so skilful."

Milan are aware that not having scored in London may leave them vulnerable to the impact of away goals at San Siro but the European champions are satisfied with the job done. "It was a very difficult game and we defended well, not just the back four but the whole team," Kaladze said. "Arsenal are very well organised tactically and attack with a lot of players, with very fast players in midfield and up front. They had a couple of chances but we didn't concede. We needed luck too but luck plays a big part in football."

So it does. Tomorrow night's game might have been more difficult for Milan had Arsenal not lost Adebayor's strike partner, Eduardo, to a broken leg from the lunge of Birmingham City's Martin Taylor just over a week ago.

Kaladze refused to be part of the defenders' union when talking about the incident. "It was a really ugly foul. I believe the Birmingham player when he says that he didn't intend to hurt Eduardo but we have to be gentlemen on the pitch. That doesn't mean you just stand there and let the other team play. You have to tackle, to compete, to be hard even, but not like that. Football is our bread and butter.

"When a player gets hurt that badly he always wonders whether he will come back and what kind of player he will be. I didn't want to look at the photos because it scares you."

The vicissitudes of fortune and the mental strength needed to deal with them are themes that Kaladze naturally gravitates towards. Given the circumstances of his life it is hardly surprising.

Kaladze began his career as a 16-year-old with Dinamo Tblisi in his native Georgia. In 1998, after four years at the club, he was signed by Dynamo Kiev of the Ukraine. His form for Kiev and for Georgia got him noticed and in 2001 Milan made him the most expensive Georgian player in history when they paid Kiev €16m (£12.2m). It should have been the start of a dream but it quickly became a nightmare.

In May 2001, Kakha's brother Levan, a medical student, was kidnapped and a ransom of $600,000 (£302,000) demanded. With the Georgian government refusing to placate the kidnappers, Kaladze's family endured five agonising years, torn every day between hope and fear. On 21 February 2006, their worst fears were realised when police confirmed that one of eight bodies found in the Svaneti region of the country was that of Levan.

In playing on through the ordeal, Kaladze showed the kind of courage that puts the demands of a mere football tournament into sharp perspective. But it was against this terrible backdrop that the player experienced one of the greatest nights of his life, when Milan beat Juventus to win the Champions League at Old Trafford in 2003.

"The league is important but the Champions League is incredible to play in. When you lift that beautiful cup with the whole world watching you really understand the difference. In the league you know that if you lose a game you can always make up the points. But when you know that if you make a mistake you're out, you really have to concentrate. We have players who are mentally strong, who know how to deal with these games. There are other great teams but they often have difficulty when the pressure is turned up."

Kaladze was talking on Friday at Milanello, Milan's training ground, prior to Saturday's disappointing 1-1 home draw with Lazio. It was two more points dropped in the chase for fourth place in Serie A, which, for a second consecutive season, is probably the best Milan can aspire to. They are currently fifth, four points behind fourth-placedFiorentina.

Kaladze was unsettled in the early years at Milan when he failed to hold down a regular place in central defence – Ancelotti preferred him at left-back – and he may have to compete with Alessandro Nesta, who is returning from injury, and the eternal Paolo Maldini for a place at the heart of the defence tomorrow.

Speculation that he wanted a move made him the target of Chelsea and Liverpool but the player insists that the two Premier League clubs have missed the boat. "When great clubs are looking for you it makes you feel good about yourself but I'm a Milan player until 2010 and I would like to end my career here."

Beyond Milan, Kaladze's sights are set on going into business but it won't be running a bar, founding a soccer school or becoming a television pundit.

He and several business associates have recently been granted a licence to set up a bank in Georgia. "I always look to the future. When you're playing all the time you're not aware of the years passing. A footballer's career is like a good film. It seems to just fly along and all of a sudden, it's over."

Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
News
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
News
newsAstonishing moment a kangaroo takes down a drone
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'