The start of the year in Bulgaria has been dominated by the return of former international midfielder Krassimir Balakov, who has taken over as coach of PFC Chernomorets Burgas after 18 years in Portugal, Germany and Switzerland.
The 43-year-old scored 16 goals in 92 appearances for his country and was a key figure in the side that reached the semi-finals of the 1994 FIFA World Cup, yet spent most of his club career outside his homeland after moving to Sporting Clube de Portugal in 1990, going on to enjoy a five-year spell with the Lisbon side before eight seasons at VfB Stuttgart prior to his retirement in 2003. Those travels brought him into contact with coaches of the calibre of Sir Bobby Robson, Carlos Queiroz, Joachim Löw, Felix Magath and Ralf Rangnick and, after three years as a coach in Switzerland – two with Grasshopper-Club and one at FC St. Gallen – hopes are high he can impart some of that experience at Chernomorets.
'Positive and ambitious'
His new club have certainly shown plenty of faith, giving Balakov a five-year contract, and his former assistant at Grasshoppers – also a team-mate with Bulgaria – is similarly confident. "Balakov is a positive person and a very ambitious coach," Alexandrov told uefa.com. "He will overhaul his new club. As a player he was one of the greatest attacking midfielders in the world during the 1990s and without doubt his team will play offensive football. But Balakov will also work on the defensive part of the game; he wants all his players to fight to win back possession. As a player he was the perfect blend of flamboyant Latin style and German discipline. Such a blend should be expected of his new side and I'm sure he'll be successful. There must be patience, but his work will bear fruit."
Will to win
Balakov is the first high-profile member of Bulgaria's 1994 squad to take over at a top-flight team, although Hristo Stoichkov had a three-year spell in charge of the national side while Borislav Mihailov and Yordan Lechkov are president and vice-president respectively of the Bulgarian Football Union. With his new club lying ninth in the 16-team A PFG standings at the season's halfway stage, 14 points behind leaders PFC Levski Sofia, Balakov certainly has a task on his hands yet Alexandrov – now assistant coach at another Swiss side, FC Luzern – believes his experience will help him rise to the challenge. "As a player he worked under some of the best coaches on the continent," he explained. "Also, Balakov hates losing and that's why his playing career was so successful. He has learned a lot and now the time has come to show his coaching potential. It's just matter of time before he proves his qualities."
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