Football: Former AC Milan and Georgia defender Kakha Kaladze goes from the San Siro to running for Tblisi mayor

Former footballer Kakha Kaladze, 39, wants to become the mayor of Tbilisi, the capital city in his native country of Georgia.
Former footballer Kakha Kaladze, 39, wants to become the mayor of Tbilisi, the capital city in his native country of Georgia.PHOTO: FACEBOOK/KAKHA KALADZE

TBILISI (REUTERS) - Kakha Kaladze climbed to the top of world football as a defender for Italian Serie A club AC Milan, and now his career is taking another turn: he wants to become the mayor of Tbilisi, the capital city in his native country of Georgia.

Kaladze, now 39 and running as a candidate for the ruling Georgian Dream party, has an advantage over the other seven candidates in the field as one of Georgia's most recognisable public figures.

He told Reuters after a campaign event that he considered his career in sport as a good preparation for politics and it taught him about teamwork.

"Every time when I talk about success in politics or in sport, I stress how important it is to have a team of professionals," he said.

Kaladze has more than 30 per cent support among likely voters, the National Democratic Institute said in a report this month - more than any other candidate.

His closest competitor is likely to be Zaal Udumashvili, a well-known former TV anchor who is representing the United National Movement, an opposition party.

The result may have to be decided in a second round run-off.

Some voters see Kaladze as the favourite, in part because he has the backing of Bidzina Ivanishvili, the founder of the Georgian Dream party and Georgia's richest man.

"I'm sure Kaladze will be elected as a mayor," said Nugzar Malkhazashvili, a 47-year-old doctor and Tbilisi resident.

Kaladze's football career included a spell at Ukrainian club Dynamo Kiev, then a period at AC Milan, where he won the Italian league once and the Uefa Champions League twice.

He finished his career at another Italian club, Genoa, before retiring in 2011.

Kaladze was also a successful businessman, owning a handful of investments in Georgia, Ukraine, Italy and Kazakhstan.

He entered politics in the year he retired, becoming an active supporter of Ivanishvili.

The former Georgian Footballer of the Year has served as Minister of Energy and Deputy Prime Minister in governments dominated by Ivanishvili's allies.

In the race for mayor of Tbilisi, he has promised to solve traffic gridlock by building new roads and overpasses, improve ecology by constructing new parks and green zones, and to address education and healthcare problems.

He said he was already looking beyond the election, and is focusing on how he will fulfil his promises.

"I don't see Oct 21 (the election day) as a problem. I anticipate difficulties after Oct 21. We will have serious challenges, but I hope that we will overcome all difficult barriers," Kaladze told Reuters.