Kaladze: Italy football star turned Georgia minister
Kakha Kaladze has enjoyed the peak of football success but his latest triumph in Georgia's hard-fought elections may see him making his debut on unfamiliar ground as the country's deputy prime minister.
Twice winner of the Champions League with Italy's AC Milan, Kaladze has been nominated as vice-premier and minister of regional development and infrastructure in the next government after the Georgian Dream coalition's shock victory in last week's parliamentary polls.
Kaladze quit football this year to campaign alongside Bidzina Ivanishvili, the billionaire tycoon who leads the coalition that has transformed the ex-Soviet state's political landscape by defeating President Mikheil Saakashvili's once dominant ruling party.
"When I announced that my football career had ended, I said that the most important match in my life was starting now," the 34-year-old retired defender, one of the most successful players in Georgia's history, told AFP during the election campaign.
The campaign turned bitter when pro-government television stations broadcast covert recordings that they alleged proved that some Georgian Dream politicians including Kaladze had links with organised crime bosses -- claims that the ex-footballer described as "absurd".
"I have nothing in common with the mafia, neither in the past nor now," said Kaladze, who still looks like an immaculately-styled Italian football star with his shock of dark curly hair and designer stubble.
Kaladze, who owns the majority of the Tbilisi-based Progress Bank, was also hit by a $10.3 million (7.9 million euro) fine for alleged illegal political financing.
But he went on to triumph in his hometown constituency of Samtredia as Ivanishvili's Georgian Dream surprised pollsters and surged to victory nationwide.
The powerful defender forged his reputation at Dinamo Tbilisi, where he won the Georgian league championship five times before moving to Dynamo Kyiv and adding three Ukrainian titles.
Italian giants AC Milan then signed him for a Georgian record fee of 16 million euros, but during the years that followed, he experienced tragedy as well as success.
He won Italy's Serie A title as well as two Champions League victory medals, but also lost his brother Levan, who was was found murdered in 2006 after being kidnapped for ransom five years earlier by Georgian criminals seeking to profit from Kaladze's football riches.
Kaladze quit football this year while still playing at the highest level with Genoa in Serie A, but he quickly realised that his new game of politics played by less gentlemanly rules.
"There are many more challenges in politics than in sport," he acknowledged during the campaign, adding that he expected "difficult matches ahead".
He could soon be tackling decrepit sewerage systems and crumbling provincial roads rather than the superstar strikers of Italy's Serie A.
But despite his admitted political inexperience, Kaladze said he was ready to get down to work in his far less glamorous new role.
"There still are many places where roads and water supply need to be improved. We will do this," he said in his first televised comments after his ministerial nomination.
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