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Former Soccer Star Kaladze Looks Toward New Goal: Mayor Of Tbilisi

Kakha Kaladze addresses a rally of the ruling Georgian Dream party after the parliamentary elections in Tbilisi in October 2016.
Kakha Kaladze addresses a rally of the ruling Georgian Dream party after the parliamentary elections in Tbilisi in October 2016.

Former AC Milan defender Kakha Kaladze says he has a new goal -- becoming mayor of Tbilisi.

The 39-year-old, who twice won the European Champions League title while at the Italian club, says that the lessons he learned on the soccer field about teamwork have prepared him to lead the Georgian capital's government.

Kaladze, who has already served as a government minister since he retired from soccer in 2012, is running as a candidate from the ruling Georgian Dream party in an October 21 election that polls show he is likely to win.

"Every time I talk about success in politics or in sport, I stress how important it is to have a team of professionals," the Reuters news agency quoted him on October 19 as saying.

One of the country's most recognizable citizens, Kaladze has the backing of Bidzina Ivanishvili, the Georgian Dream founder and former prime minister who is the South Caucasus country's richest man.

After a long career that included 340 games in Italy's top league and 83 appearances for the Georgian national team, Kaladze went into business with investments in Georgia, Ukraine, Italy, and Kazakhstan.

He also turned to politics immediately after retiring as a player in 2012, when the former Soviet republic was going through what he called a "very bad political situation."

Georgian Dream defeated long-ruling President Mikheil Saakashvili's party in parliamentary elections in October 2012, and Ivanishvili served as prime minister for a year.

Joining forces with Ivanishvili, Kaladze became deputy prime minister and energy minister, posts he held until July 2016, when he stepped down to run for mayor of Tbilisi.

A survey this month by the National Democratic Institute showed Kaladze led all candidates with support of around 30 percent. Zaal Udumashvili, a popular former TV anchor who is representing the opposition United National Movement, is Kaladze's closest challenger. If no candidate wins a majority in the first round, the top two vote-getters face off in a second round.

Kaladze has run on a platform of boosting Tbilisi's economy by ramping up tourism, simplifying government and bureaucracy, and creating a new transportation network.

"Tbilisi has huge potential to grow into one of the best cities in the world and I feel a big responsibility to the city. Our prime goal is to show our ability to solve the city's day-to-day problems. There are a lot of problems to be solved with transportation and the renovation of the old Tbilisi," he was quoted by Forbes as saying earlier this month.

"It's a big challenge for me but I am sure we will win, not only in this election, but in solving these problems that face our citizens every day. This is a beautiful city with great potential to become a more attractive destination for tourism and business. It has the potential to become a real regional center."

Written by Alan Crosby, with reporting by Reuters and Forbes