Former Bulgaria coach Stanimir Stoilov returns to the A PFG scene this weekend when he takes charge of PFC Botev Plovdiv for the first time.
The 46-year-old, appointed in December, made his name in the middle of the last decade by guiding PFC Levski Sofia to the UEFA Champions League group stage before taking the national-team job in 2009. He also has experience with PFC Litex Lovech and with Anorthosis Famagusta FC in Cyprus.
A winner of many domestic trophies as both player and coach, Stoilov has high hopes for Botev Plovdiv, historically one of Bulgaria's most successful teams. The Canaries were flying high until the 1990s, having claimed the league title in 1929 and 1967 and lifted the domestic cup in 1962 and 1981. During that time they regularly posed the stiffest challenge to the two Sofia giants, PFC CSKA Sofia and Levski.
They also made their mark on the continental stage, registering memorable home victories in the European Cup Winners' Cup against FC Barcelona (1-0) and FC Bayern München (2-0) in the 1980s, even if they lost on aggregate each time.
Their brand of attractive football was unrivalled, with the likes of Dinko Dermendzhiev, Viden Apostolov, Georgi Popov, Petar Zehtinski, Georgi Slavkov – recipient of the European Golden Boot in 1981 – Kostadin Kostadinov and Atanas Pashev attracting large crowds for matches. The great Georgi Asparuhov also started his career there in the early 1960s.
However, while the last two decades have been a roller-coaster ride between the top flight and the second division, the club are now financially stable and last summer rejoined the elite. The Canaries finished the first half of the season in fifth position, a point behind third-placed Litex Lovech, but the arrival of Stoilov signalled their intention to push on even further.
"I am not here only to win domestic league games – I want Botev to be playing in European competition again," said Stoilov, when unveiled after signing a two-and-a-half-year contract. "Of course, this cannot be done in a day or two. The process is long and hard, but I have always aimed high as a coach and this will be the case at Botev."
A veteran of many encounters with the Canaries from his playing days, Stoilov recognises the supporters' thirst for expansive football. Consequently, he has vowed to stay true to the club's renowned style. "I know how loyal and passionate the fans are," added Stoilov, whose side visit PFC Slavia Sofia on Friday for their first A League fixture after the winter break.
"They have suffered a lot recently. I am totally aware that Botev must play a certain [type of] attacking football and I need to make the fans happy. The history, the tradition and style mean a lot here and that's why this is a great challenge for me."
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