The new national coach of Bulgaria – Mladen Krastaich announced his first list of 23 called players, and he immediately caused a wave of reactions. And as always they are on both poles of opinions and sentiments.
The reason becomes clear from the first reading of the list. Many new names, nine debutants, 22.3 years average age and an almost completely different team.
In the last decade or so, every new coach has come in and at his first press conference talked about “rejuvenation” and construction of “new team”but with the exception of some attempts by Yasen Petrov, the old muzzles were part of a failing lineup.
The first thing that we can say for sure about the work of our new national coach is that even with his first team, he acts very boldly and with a lot of scale. The phrases “rejuvenation” and “new team” are already visible from the list of players. Of course, this brings a pleasant breath of something new and some kind of change, but always such an action can also hide a serious risk.
But we will immediately ask the question: Can it be worse? In June, our national team took home 5 goals from Georgia and failed to beat Gibraltar. Then players with a lot of serious experience were on the line. Well, a group of youngsters could hardly do worse than that.
Mladen Krstaic and his boys will start by hosting Gibraltar on September 23, and three days later in Skopje they will have their first extremely tough test away to North Macedonia.
And this is what makes this composition of Krstaich so revolutionary, interesting and completely unexpected.
As mentioned, the average age was 22.3 years. By comparison, the group that took two points from four games against modest opposition in June had an average age of 26.9 years.
For comparison with our opponents. Gibraltar’s latest selection has an average age of 27.4, while North Macedonia’s is 26.5. Certainly, these 22.3 years make us, if not the youngest, then one of the youngest national teams in Europe. When all the lists come out, surely such a reference would be extremely curious.
Only four players in our squad are over the age of 25, and only one has turned 30. That’s winger Radoslav Kirilov, who celebrated his 30th birthday at the end of June. And this “most experienced” in our team is actually a player with 7 matches for Bulgaria, only three of which as a starter, and only one of them – in an official match.
In the “experienced” column, we can only put Anton Nedyalkov and Kiril Despodov, who have respectively 24 and 31 matches for Bulgaria. The rest of our national players have a rather insignificant experience in the representative team.
Nine of the players called up did not make a single appearance, and eight of them were never even called into the squad.
We have two 18-year-olds in it. Marin Petkov, who, although extremely talented, is a player with the role of reserve in Levski, as well as Nikola Iliev, who does not even play men’s football. The striker is the top scorer of Inter’s primavera, he had the main credit for the championship, but we are still talking about youth football. His call-up to the men’s national team is certainly a surprise.
Iliya Gruev is a debutant with a very late call-up. Last season he was part of Werder, who won promotion to the Bundesliga, and now he is part of the team in the elite division. Enters as a reserve in all matches.
He may not be a starter, but training every day with Werder for the last three years certainly gives him a training and tactical knowledge that no Premier League player has.
The debutant is Hristiyan Petrov from CSKA. A boy who until last season played in the Second League, but the circumstances and the lack of healthy defenders gave him a chance to play for the capital giant, and a month later to become a national team.
The midfielder of Ludogorets – Ivan Yordanov, who is increasingly finding a place in the composition against the background of highly paid foreigners, is also a national player for the first time, and another extremely surprising name is that of Ioan Stoyanov. A boy raised and built as a footballer in Israel. The locals even refused to let him into our youth team a year ago, they wanted to keep him for the Israeli team. But Stoyanov chose Bulgaria. He is a right full-back in Apoel Be’er Sheva, which is among the leading teams in the country.
A fact that cannot be denied is that Yasen Petrov also gave a chance to extremely young players. Even in the World Qualifier in Belfast against Northern Ireland (0:0) our defense was made up of three full debutants as well as a goalkeeper with 0 caps behind him.
The difference is that Petrov never failed to call the experienced ones – those who were invariably in every lineup in the last 5-6 years.
However, Krastaich did. We will not analyze whether it is deserved or not, we will only list facts. Nikolay Mihailov is not in the squad, the official captain Georgi Kostadinov, who plays in APOEL, is not there, Kristiyan Malinov, who is a starter in the Belgian Leuven, is not there, Ivaylo Chochev is not there, who, although in the role of a midfielder, has 9 goals in 8 games since the beginning of the season.
Georgi Milanov from Levski is gone – a man with 47 games for Bulgaria, Spas Delev from Ludogorets is also gone. Only these five listed have a total of 230 matches in the Bulgarian team. Krstaich clearly showed that he wants a new team, with new faces. Something that many said but did not do.
Of course, this is where the doubts come, because we can immediately say that these young guys, especially in the midfield, would bend in Skopje. We know what kind of match and what kind of tension awaits us there. Probably, the hosts have been thinking only about him for several months.
In no case will it be a surprise if Bulgaria does not shine with a game from the first minutes of Krastaich. But after all, when was the last time you remember the home selection shining with a game?
Many would say that the national team is where you call up the right people for the right time, not a place to experiment and rejuvenate with beardless guys. There are dozens of reasons for opposing the election of Krstaich, and in the event of an unconvincing performance, we may witness the dismissal from duty and a waterfall of insults and criticism.
But then again, we have to wonder if the performance can really be more unconvincing than what we were embarrassed to watch in June. Because the definition of those matches against North Macedonia, Georgia and Gibraltar was indeed “shame”.
The headlines were even about historic failures and new lows, and completely justified. Both in the background of a game and in the background of results. So why bother with such a revolutionary approach? Losing to bearded guys is worse than losing to experienced players right? And in one case at least we can mention words like “future” and “potential”.
Perhaps at a time like this, when we’re all united around the thought that our team has never been weaker, it’s time to see a reboot, something new and different. At least let’s try. If this radical rejuvenation isn’t tested in two pointless Nations League games and controls against Cyprus and Luxembourg in November, when will it be? In the qualifiers for Euro 2024?
Certainly, Krstaich’s decision is a brave one. And it will depend only on his work around matches and on the young guys called up, whether after the clash in Skopje we will talk hopefully about the awakening of our football team, or we will again look for the new change.
Because if she doesn’t come with these young players now, the sad news is that there really won’t be any more.
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