The State of Bulgarian Club Football

May 21, 2019

Written by:

Parva Liga

Founded: 1924

Most Championships: CSKA Sofia, 31

Last 5 Winners: Ludogorets (18/19, 17/18, 16/17, 15/16, 14/15)

UEFA Ranking: 28th

Highest Ranked Club: Ludogorets, 58th


Interview with Bulgarian football writer Metodi Shumanov

Since the Europa League was rebranded, Ludogorets have made the last 16 once and the last 32 twice. Have the recent years been thought of as successful for Ludogorets in European football?

Following their two Champions League group stage appearances, Ludogorets have set the bar relatively high. Reaching the Europa League group stages and then playing in the knockout rounds is the bare European minimum for the perennial Bulgarian champions – this is when a season could be considered successful in terms of European performance.

The sensation here, in Bulgaria, though, is that the Europa League is where our teams truly belong and can sometimes punch above their weight to advance to the knockout stages.

Are Ludogorets the outlier in a weak league or are there other sides you expect to do equally as well in Europe over the next few years?

Ludogorets are now chasing their eighth consecutive league title which speaks volumes about the level of competition we’ve been witnessing in the Bulgarian top flight over the last decade. This total dominance can only be compared with the hegemony local powerhouses such as Dinamo Zagreb (11 titles in a row) and Olympiacos (7 straight titles) used to have in Croatian and Greek football just recently.

One might argue Ludogorets’ winning streak has coincided with loads of constantly disappointing performances from traditional heavyweights like Levski and CSKA-Sofia. Both clubs from the Bulgarian capital have been struggling financially for years (a few years ago CSKA event went bankrupt) and it is no surprise Ludogorets’ rise to prominence has coincided with the fall of Sofia’s footballing giants.

As far as their favourite teams’ performances in Europe are concerned, both sets of fans have (sometimes unrealistically) high expectations from Levski and CSKA-Sofia to deliver on the international stage but both could be considered underachievers in the local league and in Europe in recent years. In that sense, Ludogorets are way more consistent.

Is getting to the last sixteen of the Europa League seen as a remarkable achievement back in Bulgaria or do fans hope for more?

Every time a Bulgarian team manages to reach the group stage of a European competition is considered a really decent result. And if that team advances from the group stages and qualifies for the knockout rounds it’s regarded as a massive success.

Do most of the country get behind the Bulgarian side playing in Europe or is there a lot of tribalism still apparent?

It could be the case that people from cities different to capital Sofia support Ludogorets in their European clashes. But as far as Levski and CSKA-Sofia fans are concerned, that feat is absolutely impossible. So, tribalism is still a huge thing in Bulgarian football.

How do you think the Europa League 2 will affect Bulgarian EL performances and what has been the reaction to the formation of the competition in Bulgaria?

I don’t think people here are truly familiar with UEFA’s concept of creating a cheaper version of the current Europa League tournament. Playing in Europe is a rare occasion for local teams nowadays so any opportunity to appear on the international stage will be welcomed by local fans.

What would you like to see UEFA do to level the playing field more for small European sides?

I think the gap between Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United and the other super clubs, on one hand, and the ‘normal’ teams, on the other, is getting bigger and bigger to such an extent that it’s now absolutely impossible to fill it.

One way of levelling the balance would be to return to the old European Cup format where only the champions of their respective countries are allowed to participate. Of course, as already mentioned, that will never be the case under the watch of all those super clubs.

Another idea might be to organise smaller, geo-restricted tournaments to give more ‘ordinary’ clubs something meaningful to play for but unfortunately here, on the Balkan Peninsula, that format could lead to various troubles given the complex historical background countries in the area share between them.

Interview with Bulgarian football writer Metodi Shumanov

Find all your Champions League betting odds here

A Europa League infographic


Author: Tom Mortimer

Tom is the editor at Betting Circle and has been creating online content for over 10 years. Tom mainly writes about sport and gambling, but every now and then also delves into fleshier subjects like politics and psychology. When he was 18 he created HungarianFootball.com and over the last few years he's written on a freelance basis for ESPN, WorldSoccer, Goal.com, among many others.

Twitter @TMortimerFtbl


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