By Margarita Antidze
TBILISI (Reuters) - Kakha Kaladze climbed to the top of world soccer as a defender for Italian club AC Milan, and now his career is taking another turn: he wants to become the mayor of 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 ex-Soviet Georgia's most recognizable public figures.
He told Reuters after a campaign event he considered his career in sport was good preparation for politics. 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 percent support among likely voters, the National Democratic Institute said in a report this month -- more than any other candidates.
His closest competitor is likely to be Zaal Udumashvili, a well-known former television 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 favorite, 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 resident of the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.
Kaladze's soccer career included a spell at Ukrainian club Dynamo Kyiv, then a period at AC Milan during which the club were Italian league champions once and won 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. He has served as energy minister and deputy prime minister in governments dominated by Ivanishvili's allies.
In the race for mayor of the Georgian capital he has promised to solve problems with traffic 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 focusing on how he will fulfill his promises.
"I don't see October 21 (the election day) as a problem. I anticipate difficulties after October 21. We will have serious challenges, but I hope that we will overcome all difficult barriers," Kaladze told Reuters.
(Writing by Margarita Antidze; editing by)