Season 17 – Pirin (Blogoevgrad) – Bulgarian A Group

My first season at the pinnacle of Bulgarian soccer, though Pirin played here before I came. We started off with three straight losses, all without scoring, though we were ‘in’ each game.

I was a bit worried that there’s no way that any manager, starting that way, and with a transfer budget of $52m, would spend nothing, so I panic-bought an AMC for $610k more than my previous record signing. He was good, and I didn’t overpay, but I was a bit disappointed that I felt I had to buy him.

Anyway, even with Costly AMC, our season continued in the same vein – being competitive in every game – not quite classy enough to mix it with the big boys, but better than the obviously poorer teams. We finished 11th (predicted 14th), a comfortable 11points clear of the third relegation spot.

And we had very favourable draws in the Bulgarian Cup (home each round to the final) where we played Beroe, and were well beaten though the score was only 1-0.

We had chances to get up to a top half finish but drew our last two home games against beatable opposition, but on the last day Beroe took the League from Levski (Sofia) so did the Double. Since we were runners-up in the Cup, we get to play in the EURO cup next season!

Even in the A Group there’s no reserve fixtures, so any reserves have to go on loan to get a game. But the U-19s won their league, and there should be some that can make the step up.

Star of the year for sure was our Polish U-21 GK, though Costly AMC and a couple of others performed well.

Players in: 5 for $775k (!)
Players out: 8 for $2.5m

League Position – 11th from 16

P30 W9 D10 L11 -9 11/16

Season 18 – Pirin (Blogoevgrad) – Bulgarian A Group

A very strange season.

We played much better overall this season than last, yet still underachieved somehow. We were capable of beating anyone, yet we had horror shows like losing 1:7 away at Loko (Sofia) and 1:6 (got the 1 in the last minute) away at Nesebar, and could draw 0-0 at home to anyone.

We also lost Costly AMC after our brief appearance in the EURO cup alerted European teams to his ability – he eventually went in the January window to Grasshopper for $17.75m! That brought our transfer budget to $97.9m. 

I spent $2k on a GK that the fans thought would be trouble but he took over from Polish GK when his confidence went and saw us through to the end of the season. I also brought in an ST on a transfer agreed in November, but not before he scored a hattrick against us for his old club.

So the league was OK, inconsistent but safe.
The EURO cup was good, beating Bangor City (Wales) 4-1 overall, then Verteks (Croatia) 5-2 to get into the first round proper against Lazio (Italy) whom we played really well against but lost 4-1. Lazio eventually got to the final.

And finally the Bulgarian Cup was great. Every game was open, because we played most games away, and we had to play A teams all but our first round. Marek (3-2), Naftex (3-2), Loko (Plovdiv) (3-2) our one home game, Spartak (Varna) (4-2) lead to the final against Botev (Plovdiv) and we dominated the game to win 3-0 and win our first ever Bulgarian Cup. That means we qualify for the EURO cup again!

Players in: 4 for $2.3m
Players out: 14 for $28.5m

I feel a little unhappy generally about the youth development and the fact that I’m having to spend transfer money.

Of course, no manager would be expected (or allowed probably) to spend nothing with a transfer budget of almost $100m, so I’m following the scouts leads for younger players as best I can. But the fact that the reserves don’t play in a league is a major stumbling block here.

The U-19s just retained their league so there’s definitely some potential but without a level ahead (games against stronger players) to help them there doesn’t seem much chance to really progress.

My only choice is to eliminate the reserves and push players at 19 straight to the first team, which for the most part they’re not ready for. Normally that can happen under the AssMan and I can skim the best off the reserve team, but now I suppose I’ll have to play a more active role …

Not to say it’s all bad of course, half the team still came through the ranks and it’s the young players the scouts find that generally move on quickly, but I wanted to be more self-supporting than this by this stage.

P30 W12 D7 L11 -5

League Position – 8/16 Media predicted 16th!

Season 19 – Pirin (Blogoevgrad) – Bulgarian A Group

This was the archetypal ‘Game of 3 halves’.

Prologue

So I took the time to set up the Reserves as a catch-all for the players I need to be rid of. Won’t-make-it-too-old-for-U-19 or poor-discipline-first-team or going-away-at-the-end-of-the-season all go here, on the transfer list and available for loan.

As I was sorting out what had accumulated in the Reserves, I realised that there were several decent players here that I’d been ignoring.
Asked for the youth facilities to be improved.
Media says we should finish 11th, board say brave fight against relegation.

Part the first – Glorious summer

We started off really well, 12 game unbeaten streak looking ominously good, every part of our game clicking. Through the EURO quals against Zimbru (Moldova) (10-0) and Club Brugge (Belgium) (3-1), 2nd in the league to Litex. The 13th game was the EURO 1st round against Brondby (Denmark), and by 20mins we were 2-0 up.

They had a couple of lucky goals and brought it back to 2-2 by HT and that’s where it ended.
No heads went down, still a good result and plenty to play for in the second game.
But …

Part the second – Now is the Winter of our Discontent

(This program brought to you by the words Wheels and Off.)
The next game (mid-September) was away at narrow leaders Litex, and we weren’t anywhere near our best in a 0-2 loss. Then the hits just kept coming in a race to the bottom of aquaplane-y proportions.

We wouldn’t win again in the league until March and the only game we did win was in the Cup against B group Spartak (Pleven) (1-0). We found all kinds of clever ways to lose games and not score. Ended up 13th (of 16) ahead of the relegation places by just a couple of points after a 0-3 embarrassment to Vidima-Rakovski.

The Winter break.
Thank All That’s Holy (and the Bulgarian F.A.) for the Winter Break.

Normally 80ish game days of clicking Continue gets a bit dull, but here there was good news. Main DC gets better … starts training again. etc.
In the January window the only business I did was to get rid of my Should-be-great-but-isn’t-ST, and wonder idly whether the board would let me keep my job if we went down.

Part the third – Did that second part actually happen or was I just in the Shower?

P15 W8 D5 L2 in the run-in, playing like we were at the beginning of the season. Dominated most games including the two losses.

The last game of the season was at home to Vidima-Rakovski and the chance for revenge, to send them down and seal 3rd place for the final EURO spot (Litex and Loko (Plovdiv) were way ahead).

Lost 0-1 from an own goal in almost their only attack of the game, so had to ‘settle’ for 4th and no Europe next year.

Epilogue

The U-19s retained their league (3 in a row), the youth facilities are state-of-the-art, and we have many reasonably good players coming through.

I won’t say the future is bright because the big spenders in the league should still be able better than us, but it’s worth it to hear something like this from a player:
“[Blank] is delighted to sign a new contract for the club of his dreams!”

Players in: 1 for $275k before I looked through the reserves and saw I had someone almost as good as him already. D’oh.
Players out: 15 for $5m.

League Position – 4th from 16

P30 W12 D10 L8 +4

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