Bulgaria coach Luboslav Penev sprung a surprise last month when he agreed to take charge of PFC Botev Plovdiv while retaining his national-team role – on Thursday, he returns to European club competition, against San Marino's AC Libertas in the UEFA Europa League first qualifying round.
Penev is no stranger to this competition, having taken PFC CSKA Sofia to the group stage in 2009, his first year in the dugout. He enjoyed further domestic success with PFC Litex Lovech, winning the 2010/11 Bulgarian A League title. Now he will look to engineer similar results with Botev Plovidv, though he has already faced difficulties; star midfielder Anicet has left for title holders PFC Ludogorets Razgrad and forwards Younès Hamza and Férébory Doré are also expected to leave.
Penev, however, has proven his fighting qualities as both a player and a coach and is relishing Thursday's game in Burgas. "We must not underestimate Libertas," said the former Valencia CF and Club Atlético de Madrid centre-forward. "I have watched several of their games and I am constantly telling the players they should be totally focused. We must approach the game as total professionals.
"There might be a little absent-mindedness because of the difficult times at the club at this very moment, but I am sure there will be no complacency. The players know very well that they must give their best. We should be calm and play our game – that is the plan.
The most important thing now is to stay calm and I have explained that to the players."
Penev's man-management skills are widely admired and he is optimistic that his ability to get his players into the right frame of mind should reap reward against Libertas. "We should go and try to decide everything in the first leg," he added. "I have my style, a philosophy and my personal methods for motivation. I am confident the players will respond in the right way."
Though plenty of eyebrows were raised when Penev announced his decision to combine his old job with his new post – Bulgaria begin their UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying campaign against Azerbaijan in September – the man himself remains sure the dual role can work for both parties. "I can't see that there will be any problems," he added. "I want the best for both Bulgaria and Botev. I have been in charge of the national team for more than two and a half years and things are quite clear to me.
"I am a young coach and I may see that I miss the everyday work. At this moment I am confident that my assistants and I can do both jobs. We have put in a lot of effort during preparation and I am looking forward to the new season – we will try to get as far as possible."
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