Ludogorets, A Successful Bulgarian Recipe with Classy Foreign Flavor
Bulgaria's Ludogorets Razgrad stunned European football experts and fans with their performance in this season's Europa League.
A team, which only 4 years ago was competing in the amateur regional leagues, attracting several dozens of onlookers at village grounds bumpier than potato fields, is now faced with the chance to play in some of Europe's most modern venues, Juventus Stadium, Estadio do Dragao, and Amsterdam Arena.
It took hefty investments from ship-industry tycoon Kiril Domuschiev to launch the team into a new orbit. However, this alone was not a guaranteed recipe for success.
Wealthy owners have come and gone through various Bulgarian clubs, but rarely left a mark. In fact, they mostly left a trail of debts.
The vision and persistence of Ludogorets' management paid off quicker than even the biggest optimists could have expected.
With a squad predominantly made up of foreigners, some Bulgarians refuse to associate themselves with the club. However, these players go out and represent Bulgarian football with a bigger heart and commitment than most local players have ever shown.
The fusion that exists between foreigners and Bulgarians in Ludogorets is admirable, and should serve as an example to the rest of the clubs.
It is also clear that the Razgrad scouts are miles ahead of their counterparts in other Bulgarian clubs. They have managed to bring players with class to a small provincial team, of which many Bulgarians, let alone Europeans, had never heard of until recently.
In the summer, Ludogorets bought Dutch winger Virgil Misidjan for EUR 700 000. For the same amount of money, CSKA and Levski Sofia annually buy 10-15 foreign players, most of whom lack basic footballing attributes. They earn colossal salaries and spend more time in night clubs than on the pitch.
The idea of "the more the better", is clearly driving Bulgaria's traditional footballing giants downhill. Of these dozen players, rarely do they manage to sell even one at a higher price than what they bought him for.
Players like Misidjan though, can currently be sold for several million euros. In the mean time, they have also earned that much for their club through UEFA bonuses and television rights in the Europa League. This is money, which the owner Domuschiev has pledged to invest in new facilities and the youth system.
The seeds of generous investment, strategic management, and hard work are already paying off in Razgrad, and should continue to do so. Within a few years, we can expect to see many young Bulgarian players emerge from the youth system.
At the same time, there is no indication that any other club, except maybe Litex, will produce a promising generation of local players. The strategy of buying unknown foreign footballers like a bag of potatoes, hoping one or two would turn out good, is bound to leave them deep in the shadows of Ludogorets.
I ask the ill-wishers then, which is the more "Bulgarian" club?