Burgas may be best known to those outside Bulgaria as a Black Sea resort but the town's local football club are now making a name for themselves under the experienced hand of 1994 FIFA World Cup semi-finalist Krassimir Balakov.
The former Bulgaria playmaker took the helm of PFC Chernomorets Burgas in January, bringing coaching experience from VfB Suttgart, where he assisted Felix Magath and Matthias Sammer, and Swiss clubs Grasshopper-Club and FC St. Gallen. Nicknamed 'the Sharks', his team are currently top of the A PFG with 26 points from ten games – not bad for a club who have never finished higher than fifth.
"I have arrived at the club with a long-term project," Balakov told uefa.com in his role as ambassador for the Bulgarian leg of the UEFA Champions League Trophy Tour, presented by UniCredit. "It is very good that we are doing well now, but we should be realistic. We are working really hard and the results are good but we haven't targeted the title. We don't dream at Chernomorets. We achieve what we've planned and I hope at the end of this plan to get where we are heading – and that is the top. Our aim is to finish higher in the table than last season."
To that end, the 43-year-old has rebuilt on and off the field. He returned to Germany to sign goalkeeper Pascal Borel and midfielder Jochen Seitz, and added Venezuelan international Héctor Gonzalez, blending those players with foreign talents including Marcio Abreu and Aleksandar Stoimirović, plus experienced Bulgarians Trayan Dyankov and Plamen Krumov. Crucially, Balakov also recruited ex-Stuttgart team-mate Fredi Bobic as executive director, but not all the developments have revolved around personnel. "A lot of things have changed," said Balakov. "Mostly the mentality of the people that work at this club has changed and a good team spirit has been produced, where you can see the desire and the striving for something bigger and different with every day."
If Chernomorets do succeed this season, they will hope to improve Bulgaria's fortunes on the international stage; in addition to missing out on the FIFA World Cup, their only remaining clubs in Europe – PFC Levski Sofia and PFC CSKA Sofia – have just one UEFA Europa League point between them. "We have to work hard on this," Balakov said. "We missed four, five or six years in which unfortunately we 'slept', and we didn't put a solid base for the development of new talent in place. But now is the time to react, and in the next five to six years create footballers [of similar talent to the 1994 generation] so we can enjoy success at international level."
The dream, of course, is that the UEFA Champions League trophy would visit Bulgaria in the possession of a club rather than on the Trophy Tour. "This trophy has come to us for the first time," Balakov said. "For the people and for football fans this is something wonderful, and I hope that one day we'll have the fortune to win it really and to have it back in Bulgaria. I think that this initiative is very good. As I said, this trophy is coming through Bulgaria for the first time. That is one very good tradition and good promotion for the biggest and strongest tournament in Europe."
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