On Wednesday PFC Ludogorets Razgrad will look to add a new chapter to their fairy-tale script when they begin their UEFA Champions League campaign on Wednesday.
Only once have a Bulgarian side reached the UEFA Champions League group stage – PFC Levski Sofia in 2006 – but it would seem that nothing is beyond Ludogorets. Two seasons ago they were promoted to the eastern second division, last year they reached the top flight for the first time and in May they secured a domestic double. Last week they lifted the Bulgarian Super Cup just for good measure, and now comes a second qualifying round tie against GNK Dinamo Zagreb.
The man behind the success story is 37-year-old coach Ivaylo Petev. A key part of PFC Litex Lovech's emergence during his playing career, Petev was forced to retire in 2009 but has never looked back since taking charge of Ludogorets in the second tier. "The idea at that time was just to develop young players and stay in the division, while for me the aim was to get more coaching experience," he told UEFA.com.
It was the arrival of new owner Kiril Domuschiev midway through the 2010/11 campaign that boosted the club's meteoric rise. "We were able to boost the squad with quality players," added Petev. "Promotion also changed the club and everyone was totally committed and determined to succeed in the top flight. We did not dream of such highs 12 months ago, but we wanted to work hard and give our best and we are reaping the benefits. Now we must quickly adapt to the pressure resulting from our success."
Petev experienced UEFA Cup football as a player with Litex in 2001 but knows he can expect a European baptism of fire in the dugout. "As a player it was easier," he said. "Now there is more responsibility and greater pressure; everything depends on you. As coach you have to prepare the team in the best possible way and you must make the team work well on the field.
"It will be very hard against Dinamo. They have been dominant in Croatia for several years and play regularly in the group stages of UEFA club competition. But we have experienced players who know how to cope with pressure and we will have the support of our fans, who have been excellent so far. I'm sure everyone connected with the club will have the right attitude and give their best. We definitely have a chance and we will try to take it."
For Petev, though, a young and aspirant coach, this is just the latest step in a career which promises a great deal. "I played under some great tacticians and learned a lot," he said. "I've tried to take the best from them and now I'm trying emulate them. I have also been for coaching courses at clubs like FC Barcelona, Espanyol and Valencia. A man must always try to improve and I am continuing to learn. I want my team to have an identity that everyone recognises.
"The aim at the club is to play consistently in UEFA club competition so we have to make solid foundations. Recently we opened our new academy, which has fantastic facilities and conditions. We want in several years to have local talents in the first-team squad. The current players are wonderful examples for the young kids. Ludogorets is a long-term project."
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