One of Bulgaria’s historic clubs with 74 titles, Levski Sofia, are representing their country in European football after an absence of two seasons.
A heavy 7-0 defeat on aggregate against Cyprus side AEK Larnaca had abruptly cut their European journey in the 2019/2020 season. That was just the beginning of a season which turned out to be a nightmare for the Levski Sofia clan.
In 2020, the club went through a difficult financial period which was the fruition of a long time of mismanagement which had hit rock bottom when Covid-19 forced the football activity to shut down.
Half way into 2020, club legend and former Bulgaria player Nasko Sirakov, took over as majority shareholder and a new roadmap was immediately set for the club with the removal of lucrative contracts and the acquisition of players on short-term contracts or home grown players.
According to Bulgarian reports, in fact, Levski’s academy was the only department of the club which did have its budget reduced.
Levski had accumulated a debt of 2.8 million euro and at some point during the 2020/2021 season they were closer to relegation rather than challenging for at least a spot in European football.
“At the moment, everyone in Levski is in euphoria,” Bulgarian journalist Teodor Borisov told the Times of Malta.
“Only a year ago, the team was close to bankruptcy and it was not visible how it would be saved, while now it eliminated a team like PAOK.
The responsible behind this resurge is majority owner Nasko Sirakov and coach Stanimir Stoilov. They both managed the side that reached the quarter finals of the UEFA Cup in 2006 and played the group stages of the Champions League the following year.”
Borisov explained how last year, these two people returned to the club and managed to weather the storm. This was also thanks to the financial contribution of some fans who helped to pay off the huge debts.
“The team had not won any trophy since 2009, but managed to defeat arch-rivals CSKA Sofia in the domestic cup which guaranteed them a spot in the Europa Conference League,” Borisov added.
“Before the match with PAOK, Levski had eliminated only one opponent in Europe in the last 12 years, but now the fans are dreaming of something more.
They call their European matches the Fairy Tale, and the motto is a statement by coach Stoilov – “We continue to dream.”
In the two-legged affair against Greece’s PAOK, Levski qualified after a 2-0 victory in Bulgaria and 1-1 draw on Greek soil.
The Bulgarian journalist indicated the excellent organisation at the back and the efficiency in attack as the two factors that allowed Levski Sofia to overcome PAOK.
“Levski’s current team has no stars, although it includes to players who won the Footballer of the Year award in Bulgaria such as Georgi Milanov and Ivelin Popov,” he explained.
“One of the key players is Welton Felipe, who came from the Brazilian Serie C and which is the example of excellent scouting.
Against PAOK, the defense did an excellent job, especially Jose Cordoba and Noah Sonko-Sundberg. I will not hide the fact that everyone was expecting to play against Velez Mostar, against whom Levski had historic clashes in 1986.”
Borisov recalled CSKA Sofia’s last-gasp qualification against Maltese representatives Sirens a few years as a reference point for Levski not to take this match lightly.
Levski Sofia picked up three points in their opening two games of the domestic league. They opened their commitments with a narrow defeat against CSKA before scoring 5 past Spartak Varna.
Back in 2018, Levski Sofia had played in Malta when they were one of the participants in the V18 Tournament which included also Gżira United’s opponents in this round Wolfsberger AC of Austria.
Levski’s coach back then was former Lazio Delio Rossi, who had also joined the Times of Malta for an exclusvie interview about his coaching career.
Photo: Levski Sofia
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