One of the greatest Bulgarian players of his generation, Krasimir Balakov is eager to raise the bar for PFC Litex Lovech after taking over as the club's new coach.
A third-placed finish in Bulgaria last season has opened the door to Europe once more for the Oranges, and Balakov wants his exciting young side to "be ready for kick-off" when their adventure begins in the first qualifying round next month. "I will demand discipline and total focus," the 48-year-old said. "It is important for the players to keep their concentration from the first minute to the last. The aim is to build a classy, competitive team that will be capable of achieving the targets we set."
Target No1 is still success at home. Under Zlatomir Zagorčić and Miodrag Ješić, Litex challenged PFC Ludogorets Razgrad for top spot in the A League for much of last term, fading a little late on and eventually coming third, below runners-up PFC CSKA Sofia on goal difference. Balakov would love to improve on that in 2014/15. "Our target is a top-three finish," he said. "If we manage to finish top, that would be an unbelievable achievement."
Unbelievable, but not unprecedented. Litex have won four titles – most recently back-to-back ones in 2009/10 and 2010/11 – as well as four Bulgarian Cups, and having taken a good look around, 1994 FIFA World Cup hero Balakov reckons they have the makings of another fine side. "I spoke to the club's owner Grisha Ganchev about the project," explained the former Sporting Clube de Portugal and VfB Stuttgart player. "We saw that we had identical visions for the future when we signed the contract.
"For Litex, it is very important to play in Europe," continued Balakov, who has agreed a two-year deal. "We are not afraid of working hard – that is the way to reach the club's targets. Things in Bulgaria happen slowly, but we want to win every single game. We want to keep developing young players. I have seen for myself the high standard of the Litex academy. There are ten or 12 very talented youngsters here and my task will be to continue my predecessors' good work."
Having coached Grasshopper Club, FC St Gallen, PSFC Chernomorets Burgas, HNK Hajduk Split and 1. FC Kaiserslautern, Balakov is now hoping to take Litex to the next level. "Litex played a huge role in the Bulgarian league last season," he said. "We can build on that and do even better."
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