Berbatov v Mihaylov and the battle for Bulgarian football’s future

Ťwo years ago, almost to the day, Bulgarian football made headlines for all the wrong reasons. On the pitch Bulgaria lost 6-0 to England in a record home defeat. Off the pitch, in the stands of the Vasil Levski stadium in Sofia, racist abuse was directed at England’s black players.

The infamous Euro 2020 qualifier took place on 14 十月 2019; the next day Borislav Mihaylov resigned as president of the Bulgarian Football Association. Immediately a temporary president, Mihail Kasabov, stepped in and it was reported that he would be in the position until a new permanent head was elected. Yet for reasons including the pandemic, no election has happened.

Fast forward from that match to the end of April 2021 and two significant events occurred in the space of 24 小时. 第一的, 上 27 四月, the former Tottenham, Manchester United and Fulham striker Dimitar Berbatov announced his intention to run for president. Forming part of his team are two other Premier League household names with whom Berbatov is good friends: Stiliyan Petrov and Martin Petrov. Berbatov’s slogan for his presidential campaign runs: “The (电阻)Evolution is here!”

A day later Mihaylov surprisingly returned to power after it turned out that his resignation had never been accepted by the FA’s executive committee. “I’m now well rested and coming back to finish my term,” Mihaylov told local media after his 558-day hiatus.

He insisted there would be presidential elections in February 2022. But Berbatov’s camp struck back, calling for emergency elections and starting a petition among the clubs. As per FA rules, the petition had to be backed by at least one-third of clubs in Bulgaria. Berbatov’s team got that, 和 191 clubs on board, but the FA questioned the documents of 35 其中. A Sofia court ruled in Berbatov’s favour, setting a date for emergency elections: 12 十月 2021.

Exactly 508 clubs have the right to vote and there are six presidential candidates, with Mihaylov and Berbatov the main contenders. Both use the word “change” a lot.

“It’s time for a radical change – Bulgarian football needs to be fully shaken up,” Berbatov told the Guardian. “The lack of results, the constant scandals, the suspicions of corruption, the racist incidents in the England game, police entering the FA’s headquarters … all this reflects the level Bulgarian football is currently at. And it just shows how much this radical change is needed. Having said that, I feel ready to take the responsibility for delivering that change.”

Mihaylov, a former Reading goalkeeper, is targeting a fifth presidential term, having occupied the position since 2005. ”[When I resigned in 2019] there was a lot of pressure,” he told Sportal.bg in a recent interview. “When you’re at the top, the place is always windy. Everybody knows that what happened against England was anything but coincidence. Bulgaria has never been a racist country; everything was orchestrated. I’ve drawn many conclusions ever since regarding the changes that need to happen.”

Mihaylov was the goalkeeper and captain of Bulgaria’s golden generation that reached the 1994 World Cup semi-finals; Berbatov the star of the last Bulgaria team that made it to a major tournament: 欧元 2004. That was 17 long years ago, so how can Bulgarian football get back on track?

“Changes are needed on every level but it all has to start with developing the youth football structures,” Berbatov said. “These are the foundations to build upon. Then any form of corruption within Bulgarian football has to be eradicated and all sorts of dependency ended.” Should he win, among his priorities will be “transparency, modernisation and restoring the public’s interest in the game”. 他说: “This is the only way for our national and club sides to achieve better results.”

Mihaylov puts his focus on building grounds in the next few years. “A new national stadium needs to be built, plus a few smaller venues,“ 他说.

With or without new grounds, fans in Bulgaria hope for a better football future. There have not been any racist incidents since England’s visit but it is also true that because of the pandemic many games have been played behind closed doors or with a very limited capacity. Now the stage is set for elections that will shape the future of the country’s football.

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