By Andrew Haslam
Krassimir Balakov officially retired from football on Thursday with a farewell game at VfB Stuttgart's Gottlieb-Daimler-Stadion.
The 37-year-old scored twice in his final appearance - once for the Stuttgart selection and once for the Balakov 'Dream Team'. "It is a weird feeling to be going, but I am really pleased with the way the game went," Balakov said. The match ended in a 8-7 win for the 'Dream Team'. Markus Merk, who refereed the UEFA Champions League final on Wednesday night, took charge of an event that proved a fitting end to Balakov's illustrious career.
At half-time, Balakov's former Stuttgart team-mates Bobic, Gerhard Poschner and Marko Haber formed a rock band, called 'The Tragic Trio', a parody of the 'Magic Trio' of several years ago which featured Balakov, Elber and Bobic, to keep the crowd entertained.
The Bulgarian midfield player admitted recently that retirement had been on his mind for a while. "Physically I still feel in top shape, but I feel tired in my head," he said. He signed off on a perfect note, after helping Stuttgart to second position in the Bundesliga and a place in next season's UEFA Champions League, his experience guiding the team's younger players through a challenging campaign.
Balakov has been a role model throughout his career, with his professionalism and ambition standing out. His dedication and talent led to 93 caps for Bulgaria, with the highlight of his international career coming at the 1994 FIFA World Cup when Bulgaria reached the semi-finals for the first time in their history, defeating Germany 2-1 in the quarter-finals.
At the time Balakov was playing for Sporting Clube de Portugal, with whom he won the Portuguese Cup in 1994/95, before moving on to Stuttgart that summer. A DFB-Pokal Cup followed in 1996/97 but despite his talents Balakov was unable to claim a German league title. "
If I had played for FC Bayern München for five years, I might have won five championship medals," he said.
After eight years with Stuttgart - in which he scored 54 times in 236 appearances, the majority of his goals being spectacular free-kicks - Balakov is now preparing to make the gradual transition into coaching, starting at Stuttgart as Felix Magath's assistant.
"I am really looking forward to the new job," he said. "I want to achieve a lot with Stuttgart. We want to give Bayern a run for their money next season and challenge for the title." Perhaps the Balakov story is just beginning.
Additional reporting by Nedko Kyuchukov and Manfred Christoph
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