Social media has become something of a breeding ground for letting the average supporter know what former football greats (and not-so-greats) are currently up to. However, somewhere mixed in with the postmen, estate agents and businessmen created by the post-football world, is former AC Milan defender Kakha Kaladze, currently serving as Deputy Prime Minister of Georgia.
Kaladze’s most memorable playing days were at San Siro, following his big money move from Dynamo Kyiv in 2001, however his early links to politics began at the start of his footballing career.
Signed by Dinamo Tbilisi in 1993, Kaladze was playing for a club that just three years previously had refused to play in the Soviet Union Championship following the fall of Soviet Communism. Five years later he moved to Dynamo Kyiv, a team that had also opposed the Soviet Union Championship in 1990, opting to wear the Ukrainian national colours as a symbol of solidarity with Ukrainian nationalism.
Kaladze was not directly linked to politics until his retirement from football in 2012, following a spell at Genoa, but he was already heavily involved with social affairs in Georgia during his time in Milan.
In 2008, Kaladze founded the Kala Foundation, which looked to generate charitable investments for Georgian nationals that had been affected by the Russian invasion, particularly those in the pro-Russian area of South Ossetia. Kaladze was able to utilise the support of a number of powerful allies, in both Ukraine and Italy, to raise €50,000 in aid, alongside a personal agreement with Silvio Berlusconi (then Italian Prime Minister and Milan owner) regarding the direction of Italian aid.
Alongside his humanitarian efforts in 2008, Kaladze was also planning for his future by creating energy resource company Kala Capital, which in turn owned a 45 percent stake in the principal Georgian hydroelectric company Sakhidroenergomsheni.
Kaladze was again able to utilise his far-reaching influence in the country to secure former Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Nogaideli as President of Kala Capital. From here it appeared that Kaladze has successfully used his position as the leading footballer in the country to create a strong business portfolio and ensure stability in his post-football career.
However, a succession of dramatic events back in 2001, during Kaladze’s first year in Italy, changed his view on Georgia and arguably influenced his decision to enter politics and oversee change in the future.
Kaladze’s younger brother Levan, a medical student in Georgia, was kidnapped by two men posing as police officers and a ransom of €385,000 was demanded by his captors.
Georgian President at the time Eduard Shevardnadze assured both the Kaladze family and the wider country that the government, police and intelligence services “would do everything to locate him.” In reality, the government did little to help in rescuing Levan Kaladze, and his brother and family were left devastated in the years that followed his disappearance. Kakha spoke of his desperation to find his brother shortly after winning the Champions League with Milan, two years after his disappearance.
“Everyday I wake up and think of nothing but my brother, I don’t know if he’s dead or alive. Each day I ask God to bring him back alive and smiling.”
The ineptitude of the Georgian government and security services in finding his brother caused great anguish within the Kaladze family, and Kakha initially declared that he would be switching to Ukrainian citizenship.
He quickly changed his mind due to his affinity within the Georgian people, however the search for his brother remained hopeless. The only source of hope was rumours of Levan being held by Chechen rebels within the country, before a chilling video of Levan was released with the student begging for clemency.
In 2005, after four years of heartbreak for the Kaladze family, eight dead bodies were discovered in the Svaneti region of Georgia, with Levan believed to be one of them. After a painstaking process, the worst was eventually confirmed as Levan was identified as one of the deceased, nine months after the bodies were found.
Exactly how or why Levan was murdered was never discovered, although rumours did circulate that his kidnappers killed him in a panic over the police potentially setting a trap during the family’s ransom payment.
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In March 2007, two men, David Asatiani and Merab Amisulshvili, were sentenced to 25 and five years respectively for the murder of Levan.
Kakha Kaladze chose to grieve in private in Milan, naming his firstborn son Levan in 2009.
It was from the tragic events surrounding his brother’s death that the seeds for Kaladze’s determination to enter into political and social influence within his native country were sown.
In 2008, whilst still playing in Milan, he joined the executive board of the JSC Progress Bank in Georgia, a financial institution created to assist the country through independent fiscal means. This project, alongside his work with the Kala Foundation, the growth of Kala Capital and his ambassadorial role with SOS Children’s Villages via FIFA, confirmed that Kaladze was set for a sustained climb up the Georgian political ladder.
Although Kaladze had grown in influence, his rise from steady and sustained became meteoric in 2012. Kaladze had remained on the fringes of political parties prior to 2012, declining to throw his considerable influence behind one particular cause.
However, in February 2012, during the last few months of his playing career at Genoa, Kaladze was persuaded to join the leading opposition party, the Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia party. The Georgian Dream party was bankrolled and led by Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, and focused on providing greater diversity within the Georgian Parliament.
Ivanishvili only formed the party in the spring of 2012, however he successfully secured Kaladze as a member alongside a number of other famous natives including former chess world grandmaster Zurab Azmaiparashvili, before sweeping to a coalition victory over the United National Movement in October.
Ivanishvili formed a government within six other parties as part of a coalition, before assigning Kaladze to the key office of Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, following his work with Kala Capital. Ivanishilli then took the somewhat unorthodox step of naming Kaladze, a relative political novice, as Deputy Prime Minister on the same day.
The appointment of Kaladze to the joint role was greeted with some misgivings in both Georgian political and energy sectors, as his role with the government could see a conflict of interests given his position at Kala Capital.
Keen to quash any potential conflict or speculation, Kaladze chose to end his investment in Sakhidroenergomsheni by selling the 45 percent stake that Kala Capital had in the company to the GMC Group. In fact Kaladze was so keen to distance himself from rumours of foul play that he released an official statement, quoting that the sale would begin within 10 days of him taking office.
Despite Kaladze’s progress in his role, he has still remained the subject of criticism from those who believe his indirect role and continued investment in Kala Capital constitutes a conflict of interests. This negativity has not deterred Kaladze from overseeing significant change within the Georgian energy sector, including the reintroduction of Russian gas shipments to the country and the development of both wind and hydroelectric power supply.
Despite a tumultuous period in Georgian politics, which has seen Ivanishvili resign from office, and two further replacements come into the Georgian Prime Minister’s job, Kaladze has remained steadfast throughout.
He is widely regarded as a consistent and fiercely nationalistic member of the Georgian Parliament, whose political nous and recognisable public profile has marked him as a potential future leader of the country.
Kaladze’s footballing career took him from Georgia to Ukraine and Italy, and he established himself as the most successful footballer the small nation has ever produced. His life of resilience and an ability to inspire appear to have served him well in his transition from defending crosses to attacking energy shortages.
Whilst Kaladze is by no means the only footballer to move into politics in retirement, his ability to transfer business acumen into political power is certainly not a trait associated with those who have crossed the white line at some of football’s biggest cathedrals.
By Feargal Brennan. Follow @FeargalBren