Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Bulgarian football interview

In part 8 of my global interview series we travel to Bulgaria. Ivan Simeonov hosts a weblog called Bet on Football.

Based in Sofia, Bulgaria, Ivan’s site is dedicated to posting football betting odds and international football commentary. My thanks for joining in.

FC: What are the Bulgarian football leagues are like? Do many players from foreign countries play there? If so, where?

IS: In Bulgaria we have one premier group called "A" with 15 teams inside. Of course, we have clubs all the way down to the regional groups - two "B" groups, four "C" groups and so on. All of them, excluding the premier league, are divided on a regional principle - for example West and East "B" Groups.

We can say that the football played in all the leagues across Bulgaria is not so fast and is not based on physical duels, but the players have good technique, skills, and an intelligent look on the game.

And yes, many foreign players play here - actually there are teams in the "A" group with just 4-5 Bulgarian players, such as the most powerful team in the league - CSKA Sofia, which recently beat Liverpool and Bayer Leverkusen in the European tournaments. Most of the players are from Africa but there are footballers from Slovakia, Italy, France, Croatia, Serbia & Montenegro, Brazil and Venezuela too.

FC: Bulgaria had a few good national sides in the 90's with players like Hristo Stoitchkov, since then there has been a down-turn and qualification for Germany 2006 looks unlikely, what has happened?

IS: I think nobody can say what exactly is happening now regarding the national team of Bulgaria - we have great squad full of top quality players, we made a great start in the campaign and... something happened when we hosted Sweden in Sofia. Then we suddenly lost to Croatia and Sweden again as visitors and things went wrong. Now the team needs time, more games to play and should learn from their mistakes.

The golden generation is gone, we should admit that and work harder than ever. The good news are that Stoitchkov, Balakov, Kostadinov, Lechkov are ready to help the talented young players.

FC follow-up: They say that often great players don't make great coaches. What makes you think Stoitchkov will be different?

IS: Actually I don't think Stoitchkov is going to make it. First of all he is not ready, at all, to be a coach of any national team, he just hasn't got the practice yet! And we have already seen, in the World Cup Germany 2006 qualifying campaign, a couple of very serious mistakes made by him on the pitch. For that short period of time he "managed" to insult the Bulgarian journalists, a couple of good Bulgarian players as well as the FIFA, UEFA and Mr. Johansson. He was a genius as a footballer but now needs time, time and more time to prove that he will be the same as a coach.

FC: Who are your top 5 Bulgarian players at the moment? How about all time?

IS: At the moment:

1. Dimitar Berbatov (Bayer Leverkussen)
2. Valeri Bojinov (Fiorentina)
3. Martin Petrov (Athletico Madrid)
4. Stillian Petrov (Celtic)
5. Vallentin Iliev (CSKA Sofia)

All time:

1. Hristo Stoitchkov
2. Yordan Lechkov
3. Dimiter Yakimov
4. Ivan Kollev
5. Dimitar Penev

FC: What other leagues in the world are the most popular in Bulgaria?

IS: No doubt about that: the Premiership is the most popular league in Bulgaria. You can see, all the time during the weekend, groups of fans watching British football in a number of pubs. We have fan clubs of Arsenal, Man United, Liverpool and so on. At our stadiums you can often see across the fans Liverpool or Man United shirts. I personally know fans of "exotic" teams such as Burnley, Milton K. Dons and Coventry.

We also have the chance to watch the Italian Seria A games, Spain Primera Division, German Bundesliga and French First League.

FC follow-up: Does such a high level of interest in the Premiership damage the Bulgarian league?

IS: Sure, we have games in the first league with no more that 100 fans at the stadium. Yes, it is not a mistake, 100! And it happens every weekend. But it is not a result of this high level of interest in the Premiership action - the problem is more complex: the corruption in the Bulgarian football should be uprooted.

FC: If the Bulgarian League were to join up with leagues from neighboring countries, would it be good or bad for Bulgarian football?

IS: It will be bad for sure. The teams in the region are actually at the same level of football skills. We need more European battles to improve the level of the Bulgarian football. We should use every chance playing at Anfield, for example, to learn "how to play" at top level.

*Please email if you'd like to conduct an interview (over email) or if you know the name of a weblog in your country.
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