The Instant Legend of Napoli’s Khvicha Kvaratskhelia

BATUMI, Georgia — They used to worry that the Adjarabet Arena, with its sinuous arches and illuminated exterior, would turn into something of a white elephant. Batumi, after all, is a quaint resort town; it had little need for a 20,000-capacity stadium. Dinamo, the soccer team that was to call it home, generally required seating for only half that number.

And then, at the start of April, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia arrived.

“The city lived from one match to the next,” Tariel Varshanidze, a prominent voice in Dinamo’s fan scene, said. “The atmosphere changed radically.” Matches in the Erovnuli Liga, Georgia’s top division, suddenly had the same air as “top Champions League games,” he said. “It was fantastic.”

In the three months Kvaratskhelia spent in Batumi, every seat was taken. Tourists who flocked to the beaches of the Black Sea added a game to their itineraries. Friends, relatives, neighbors, colleagues and acquaintances all started to ask regular attendees for spare tickets, whether they supported Dinamo, someone else, or nobody at all.

During games, Varshanidze said, the whole stadium cheered Kvaratskhelia’s every touch, even those fans who had theoretically come along to support the opposition. And it was not just in Batumi. “We had full stadiums in almost every city,” George Geguchadze, Dinamo’s coach, said. All of Georgia wanted a glimpse. Even games in the country’s backwaters, at stadiums that in normal times might attract only a few hundred spectators, were sold out.