Nemsadze sets sights on first trophy to end wilderness years

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The Independent Football

Football can be a risky business in Georgia. As the Republic of Ireland players found out recently, knives are not only brought to the ground, they are used. When the brother of Kaka Kaladze was kidnapped at gunpoint to force a ransom from the Milan player, it underlined why most Georgian players prefer to be away from home.

Yet hostilities will stop for a while this afternoon. The Scottish Cup final is being shown live on television and the prospect of their favourite son, Georgi Nemsadze, earning his first-ever honour is something that would unite most of his compatriots.

The Dundee playmaker is not the most famous of his country's footballers. That is now Kaladze, especially after his triumph in the Champions' League final at Old Trafford on Wednesday. Nor does he have the kind of wealth that can match Georgi Kinkladze's largesse on blowing his first wages at Manchester City on a Ferrari.

However, the 31-year-old is rich beyond measure when it comes to ability and the respect of his contemporaries. Nemsadze is Georgia's captain, whose move abroad a decade ago inspired other to follow, yet who never received the rewards he merited.

"Georgi is a great player," said his friend Shota Arveladze, who will confront Nemsadze - and Dundee's other Georgian, Zurab Khizanishvili - at Hampden today. "He could play in any league in the world but he is happy here and that matters a lot to him," the Rangers striker explained.

Arveladze moved to Ibrox from Ajax on the strength of Nemsadze's recommendation about life in Scotland. The pair had once been team-mates together in another foreign country, Turkey, and were glad to resume their friendship. Indeed, Nemsadze's family will travel to Hampden with Arveladze's today.

As far as Jim Duffy, the Dundee manager, is concerned, Nemsadze is the key to the contest. "He is to our team what Barry Ferguson is to Rangers," Duffy said. "He has great composure on the ball, wonderful passing and vision."

Nemsadze also has a goal touch. He struck the winner on his last visit to Hampden, the semi-final success against Inverness Caledonian Thistle, to put Dundee into their first Scottish Cup final in 39 years and earn himself the undying gratitude of the Dens Park fans.

Nemsadze has found a home on Tayside that other locations in his diverse career just could not provide. Before he was recruited by Ivano Bonetti in June 2000, the midfielder had played for five different clubs in just over 12 months, in Italy, Georgia, Russia and Ukraine.

He first moved abroad in 1994 when he joined the German Second Division side Homburg, then hooked up with Arveladze at Trabzonspor. "I only stayed a year because Turkish clubs change their foreign players every season," he said.

Nemsadze then came under the influence of Christian Gross when he joined Grasshopper in Switzerland. "It was a great club, so well organised, but the professionalism behind the scenes was not matched by some of the players," he said.

Next stop, Reggiana. Italy is supposed to be the El Dorado for professional footballers, but for Nemsadze it was hell. Reggiana plunged to two successive demotions, and when Nemsadze got there in 1998, their Serie B status was just about to expire. The Georgian had to buy out his contract because Italian labour laws do not permit foreigners to play in Serie C.

"It was the lowest point in my career," he said. "I loved the idea of playing and living in Italy, but I could not." Not surprisingly, Dundee was a haven of stability in contrast to such experiences. Bonetti remembered him from Italy and made him his first signing on taking over at Dens Park. Nemsadze was simply glad to be able to provide a stable home for his wife, Rusuda, and their three children.

"Football has given me friends around the world," Nemsadze said. "However, in Scotland, I have become closer to the people who live there than I ever did in Switzerland or Germany, and provided a comfortable life for my wife and children."

The comforts of home are somewhat dubious. When Nemsadze is at his home in Tibilisi, he keeps a gun tucked away in a drawer in case they are victims of burglary. "Everyone in Georgia keeps a gun," he assured. "I have no intention of using it."

Others are not so honourable. When Kaldadze's brother was held ransom, his kidnappers threatened to shoot him unless the money was paid quickly. Some of the Georgian national side refused to play in a match against Italy in a show of solidarity with Kaladze, but Nemsadze refused to do so, because he values his honour as captain a great deal. Equally, he was embarrassed at the knife-throwing intimidation of the Irish on their visit to Tibilisi.

The only shoot-out he would take part in involves penalties, not guns. He is probably a good deal more deadly, too. "No one is better when it comes to being cool out on the pitch than Georgi," Jim Duffy said.