Bulgaria's Yugoiztochen Region may have a young team in the UEFA Regions' Cup but there is plenty of experience on the bench in the shape of coach Krassimir Manolov.
The 56-year-old made his name in Bulgarian football with PFC Lokomotiv Plovdiv and PFC Botev Plovdiv in the 1970s and 1980s, being dubbed the 'Little Eagle'. He went on to have a cosmopolitan coaching career as far afield as Malta and the United Arab Emirates, and in recent years has become more than familiar with Europe's premier amateur competition.
He was assistant to Angel Stankov as hosts Yugoiztochen reached the 2007 final, and also led them in 2009 qualifying before guiding them to a place in this week's Veneto tournament by topping intermediary round Group 2 in April.
"Yes, you could say I have a lot of experience, and I hope I manage to transmit this to the players," Manolov told UEFA.com. "First, I want to say that these tournaments are really great occasions. They are like the major UEFA tournaments. It is a great honour for the players to take part in such finals. The atmosphere, the quality, everything is there.
"In 2007 we had players like Boris Galchev and Kostadin Stoyanov, who were amateurs, but after the tournament they became professionals and even won senior caps for Bulgaria. They are wonderful examples and advertisements for the event."
Despite his side's youthful complexion, Manolov believes there is a decent chance of a breakthrough. "Looking at the other squad lists, I think we are probably the youngest team," he said. "But this isn't necessarily a disadvantage. Our Group B opponents are very tough obviously – Russia, Spain and Belarus.
"The disadvantage with these tournaments is an inability to scout the opposition. To some extent, teams enter the competition blind. Our opponents qualified last autumn, while we did so in April. I think this is good for us because there are no major changes in the squad. The boys know each other as they played together just two months ago. We gathered for a training camp at the start of the week. We don't have much time, but the players know each other and that is a plus."
Not only was Manolov assistant boss when Yugoiztochen lost an epic 2007 final to Poland's Dolnośląski Region in front of a partisan home crowd in Sliven, but 33 years earlier he was in the Bulgaria team that won the International Youth Tournament in Sweden. "Of course, I have great memories as we became European champions," he said.
"Before those finals we participated in a big U18 tournament in the USSR with the eastern European countries. It was called Druzhba. We won the final in Donetsk and I was top scorer. That success gave us a lot of confidence. We went to Sweden not as favourites at all, but we were quite positive. We also had players like Radoslav Zdravkov, Tsvetan Yonchev, Spas Dzhevizov, Kuncho Kasherov, who later became stars in the Bulgarian league. We won the trophy and I am sure all the boys treasure that moment still.
"Now there are some common points as we will not travel to Italy with a big reputation. But we will be quite positive and we will give our best and see what happens."
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