With the mid-season break upon us, what better time to catch up on how Lilyana Dimitrova is doing in her first season at CSKA-Sofia.
On paper things are looking good for Dimitrova – after 31 competitive games, she has a win percentage of 58% and only 5 losses to her name. With a tenure of 387 days, she has also lasted longer in the role than the last four CSKA managers.
Behind the scenes… things are a little tougher and Dimitrova is struggling to live up to the board’s expectations in a few key areas, especially with the very specific club culture.
Develop players using the club’s youth system
Slightly misunderstanding the philosophy, Dimitrova took this to be a long-term vision for the club and had taken steps to invest in youth training and development. The board, however satisfied they are, wanted more club developed players active in the first team. Out of the 24 players in the first-team squad, 4 are youth players who have been with the club since they were 15 so fingers crossed a few appearances from the bench could see the board confidence change before the season is out!
Sign high-reputation players
This could not be going any worse for Dimitrova. Despite having a relatively decent transfer budget, Bulgaria is not a place many high reputation players want to move to and for those who do, their wages demands are too high for even the most financially secure clubs to afford. Dimitrova is definitely looking for a Christmas miracle to turn this one around.
Attacking football is where Dimitrova is strongest and, as she hasn’t signed a single player over 33, she is hoping this will be enough to prevent the board making a kneejerk reaction based on the other failures.
The 5-year plan the board set out is currently course which should also alleviate a bit of pressure.
CSKA have never had much success in Europe and lived up to expectations again this time around. After Graham Carey put in a world-class performance against Viktoria Plzen in the 4th Qualifying Round 1st Leg- scoring a hattrick and levelling the score twice – hopes were high that CSKA could reach the Group Stage for the first time since 2010. Unfortunately, an 88th-minute goal in the return leg ended the dream and they succumbed to a 5-4 aggregate defeat.
Kupa na Bulgaria
The Bulgarian cup is where CSKA were expected to shine and add to their previous 21 titles. Dimitrova was so confident she even fielded some second-string players in the first two rounds. It was the Quarter Final where disaster struck.
In the 64th minute, Dimitrova used her final two substitutions – not something out of the ordinary for her style of play.
In the 65th minute, Evandro was taken off with a fractured lower arm. CSKA were down to 10 men.
In the 76th minute, Atanasov picked up his second yellow card and was sent to the stands. CSKA were down to 9 men.
The match went to extra time, Cerniauskas made some sublime saves and kept CSKA in the game right up the 105th minute.
“An absolute belter”, they called the 25-yard free-kick that sailed into the back of the net.
After a bit of a wonky start due to Dimitrova wanting to be a tactical maverick with a 31312 formation* , CSKA soon found a 5212 set up was a lot more successful and are currently on a 16 match unbeaten run.
Sitting 2nd in the league, CSKA are exactly where they’re expected to be.
* when later asked why she’d chosen such a formation, Dimitrova distracted journalists by pointing at a 3 headed monkey in the distance (???) and ran from the room.
In the next blog…
We’ll be returning to Dimitrova as she ends the Preliminary Phase of the Parva Liga, maybe by then she’ll understand how the league structure actually works…