Daniel Borimirov, 36, may be among the oldest players to have competed in this season's UEFA Cup, but he remains one of PFC Levski Sofia's golden boys.
Daniel Borimirov may be among the oldest players to have competed in this season's UEFA Cup at the age of 36, but he is still one of PFC Levski Sofia's golden boys.
While all his team-mates from the Bulgaria side that reached the 1994 FIFA World Cup semi-finals have hung up their boots, Borimirov continues to impress. He may well be rewarded for his perseverance if Levski can continue their superb UEFA Cup run with a home win against Italy's Udinese Calcio tonight.
"There's no great secret to having such a long career," the midfielder told uefa.com. "It's down to a player's mentality. I have always been very disciplined in my physical preparation and I keep myself in optimum shape. But above all, it's in the genes. I have sporting genes and that helps me play at such a level at my age." Having starred at USA '94, Borimirov could have been forgiven for thinking his best days were behind him, but Levski's journey to the UEFA Cup Round of 16 has been a pleasant reminder of the excitement of top-level competition.
"To be honest, when I returned to Levski, I never dreamt of playing for a place in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup," he said. "In terms of what it means to the fans, this campaign is close to the great times I had at Levski in the mid-90s and I am happy to be part of both eras." Levski's last-eight chances look good following the goalless draw in Udine seven days ago, and the statistics are in their favour. "We have scored in every UEFA Cup home game and are yet to concede at home," said Borimirov.
Levski's European progress may have surprised many, but not Borimirov, who believes team spirit and a settled squad have been critical. "We have managed to keep the same squad with no major changes for the last two seasons," he said. "Everyone knows what their responsibilities are on the pitch and after so many hours of hard work, we have moved to a new level as a team."
Borimirov returned to Levski in January 2004 after a successful nine-year spell in Germany with TSV 1860 München. Three months later Stanimir Stoilov, who is just three years Borimirov's senior, arrived as coach, reuniting the pair who had enjoyed a fruitful partnership as Levski team-mates.
Stoilov's leadership has brought Borimirov to unprecedented heights in club football, but with all his experience, does the midfielder have any ambitions left? "I have not scored for Levski in Europe since 1993," said Borimirov. "I will be happy if I score again, but the most important thing is that the team wins, not who scores the goals."