Zurab Khizanishvili made a total of 51 appearances for Dundee. 43 came in the league, 5 in the Scottish Cup and 3 in the League Cup. He also won the SFWA Young Player of the Year Award in 2002/03 and remains the only Dundee and foreign player to do so.
Zurab was kind enough to take time out to answer some questions for us so here is what he had to say below!
UWTB | You Had a few trials in England before joining Dundee. What swayed you into turning your back on the glitz and glamour of the English league to try your luck in Scotland?
ZK | It is true that I had a couple of trials in England, specifically in West Ham and Arsenal but with the recommendation of George Nemsadze, Dundee offered me a contract and I accepted it.
UWTB | It was seen as a massive coup for the club to sign a much sought after youngster who had many top clubs chasing him. What was your first reaction of the city and fans?
ZK | Surely, for a 17-18-year-old youngster it was a great achievement to play in Great Britain. Before I was absolutely stranger to them but I will always remember their support and warm welcome forever.
UWTB | When you did make your debut, what was your thoughts on the standard of football on display?
ZK |As far as I remember my debut match was away against Dunfermline. It was crucial game we had to win to get in to top 6. We won 1-0 and I was really excited.
UWTB | You were side-lined for around nine months in your time at Dens with a serious
knee injury that also threatened to end you’re playing career. How did you deal with that and what did the club do to help you? Did you ever think that it could be the end of your career?
ZK | It was hard time in my professional career. I had massive support from the team and also the coach (Bonetti) played a great role. For the surgery, they sent me to Italy (Bologna). My rehabilitation lasted for 4 months. My professional career was under threat because I didn’t know if I would be able to play football again. Fortunately, after 1 year I was back to normal.
UWTB | You made your long-awaited comeback in November of the season after and ended up being sent off in a 3-0 defeat to Rangers at Dens Park. Not exactly the welcome back you would have been expecting?!
ZK | The Match against Rangers at Dens Park I remember very well. Personally, I still think that red card was unfairly given to me but despite that I accepted it. My only wish was to overcome my injuries and keep going towards to play professional football.
UWTB | Despite that, you became one of Dundee’s most consistent players that season and helped the club to their first Scottish Cup final in over 30 years. Could you describe that season to us?
ZK | It was massive achievements for a club to play in a final after 30 years. Unfortunately, we lost the game against one of the strongest teams that time in whole Europe, not just in Scotland.
UWTB | Jim Duffy described you as “just about the best young defender in Scotland at the moment.” How different was it from having Ivano Bonetti then Jim Duffy manage the team?
ZK | Both were amazing personalities but had a completely different approach to business. I’m very lucky I had chance to work with both great managers. They put great effort in my development and I still have great relationship with both.
UWTB | You picked up the SFWA Young Player of the Year that year. You remain the only Dundee player and also only non-Scot to ever be selected for this award. Was it nice to be acknowledge for your performances, especially after recovering from such a bad injury?
ZK | It was great achievement for me to become the first foreign player to win SFWA young player for 15 years. I’m proud to hold the record up to date.
UWTB | Your career at Dundee was rumoured to be at an end that summer and you eventually moved to Rangers but it was not without controversy. Were you aware that both clubs were at loggerheads with the compensation offer?
ZK | I never took a part in this dispute and court decided that Rangers had to pay compensation to Dundee. In a bottom of my heart I felt sadness to leave Dundee but at the same time I knew it was a beginning of new era in my professional career.
UWTB | What was the stand out moments for you here, professionally and personal?
ZK | Dundee played an important role in my life. I brought up and refinement as a player and person.
UWTB | Out all of the players that you played with during your time here, who was the most talented and which player was the best you played alongside?
ZK | I had an opportunity to play alongside many great players such as George Nemsadze and the captain Barry Smith. I still maintain friendly relationships with all team members.
UWTB | Dundee fans still remember you fondly. Have you anything you would like to say to them?
ZK | It is great to hear that Dundee fans are still remembering me. I would like to say massive thank you for sharing any progress or failure with me. I always felt their love and support throughout my time in Dundee.
UWTB | Lastly, thank you for agreeing to answer these questions for us, I’m sure the fans will be more than happy to hear you talk about your time at with the Dees.
ZK | Thank you indeed
All the best for the future! Dee4Life!