World’s Football Champion
E.S How do you understand the expression «social justice», and does it exist in football?
Social justice should exist, but in many cases it does not work for the simple reason that nowadays the sport is measured from one day to the next, and when you don’t have a strategy, it’s very difficult. I’ve always worked with strategy, I’ve always had strategy coaches who have worked on the basis of a strategy for our development, and that’s why I succeeded because I have always worked with such a strategy: what and how to do, for how long, for how many years to reach the top level in every respect as an athlete. I, as an athlete, have always insisted on justice, but in many cases the «social justice» is measured by money. We are used to the opinion that if one doesn’t have the money: he is unable. For me this is very insulting. I don’t accept such people: let me pay and I shall play my sport – football, for example.
E.S Tell us about the football school in Etropole.
The children are there all year round with the coaches; they eat, go to school together, and have medical care and constant observance. Each year, the casting is done and I personally choose from these children. Anyone is welcome to the casting in Etropole in August. And there is, as you say, «social justice».
E.S What was your goal when entering into professional football: money, fame, patriotism or something else?
Love. Love for my sport. My last name is on a sports family. My grandfather, my father, may they rest in peace, my cousins were big athletes of Bulgaria – in football and in basketball. Therefore my path was mapped out to be athlete, and I’m happy that I’ve gone down that road, since I was very small boy, because I did love football and that’s why I chose this sport. Everyone in my family has made it to the much higher level, so that it is inherited. My success is a result of hard work, of many years of solving various issues and my ambition has always been to be the number one. I set this goal from the very beginning, when I started my career. I wanted to play football, over the years, wanted to play in the men’s team, then I wanted to play in Hebros, then wanted to play at CSKA, then wanted to play abroad, and all this has been achieved step by step. Child dreams were to achieve the goal step by step – in the national team, teens -team, youth- team, in the Olympic team, the men’s team. So Barcelona realized that I had the skills and that’s why they bought me, other teams wanted to have me too, but Barcelona was the first team that came up with a concrete offer. I have achieved all in my life.
E.S Wasn’t there a vacuum?
No, because everything has been fulfilled.
E.S Is there happiness in money and what is happiness?
Money has never been important for me. I’m a happy person and my wealth is measured by how many friends I have. I chose my friends, I have many acquaintances but very few real friends and these are my wife, children, sons-in-law, my god-father and some others which are important to me. For me, happiness is to be with your friends and to be peaceful. It is not in the material world. Money is something else: fun. You can have small money; you can have lots of it and still not to have a dissent life. So, for me the money have never played an important role. I know my price, I know what I’ve achieved, I know what I’ve taken as a material, and never pay attention to those things. My wife is the person who deals with things at home, so these things are her problem.
E.S What is Bulgaria for You?
I am proud to be Bulgarian. A small country, which gave a lot of great athletes to the world: Olympic, world, European. The first Bulgarian winning the “Golden Ball”, the first Bulgarian becoming Master of the World Championship, but I never say “I”, because it is all thanks to my family, friends, colleagues, trainers, masseurs, physiotherapists and my doctors. This word “I” -don’t use it. Though many times I hear it: “I” did this and that, “I” scored this goal, “I” did so that the team won. If someone said “I”, I would immediately put him away and close the case. I remember something very important in my career, said by a great coach Johan Cruyff: never tell a football player “I” did it. That’s why I don’t use the word “I”.
E.S Do you have any favorite sites and what would you recommend to the guests of Bulgaria?
We have a wonderful country, but we don’t have a state. We have the sea, The Balkan, caves, monasteries, we have a great history. The guest, who comes, should first land in Sofia. Then I would recommend Bachkovo monastery, Rila Monastery, Etropole monastery, Elena Balkan, the cities of Varna, Bourgas and Sozopol, The Seven Rila lakes, we have many sacred places, with which we pride ourselves as the place of Baba Vanga. There’s a great ski area near the city of Bansko. Many tourists come in the winter, many tourists come in summer. We are a small country: 500 km from end to end. In 3-4 hours you can go where you need, to visit a place, to feel comfortable, because our food is nice too. I recommend the Shopski cheese, the mixed grill, stuffed peppers, cabbage rolls, yoghurt, Bulgarian cheese – we are proud of all this.
E.S Which feature do you most prize in people and if possible individually in women and in men?
A man has to be honest. But you know very well where ends the honesty. My attitude is a bit different. When talking to people I look them in the eye. Because, when you look somebody in the eye, you can estimate what you think, what you want, If you’re honest or not, whether you’re looking for the benefits. To be honest and talk to people by looking them in the eyes: this is the best feature. I always evaluate people – be it a man or a woman, but whatever the talk is about: the eyes stared at each other. If you are honest, it is very easy to communicate with people, and if you are not, you have no chance to communicate with me.
E.S The human flaw not to forgive?
The theft, the murder, the rape, the bullying. I do not forgive these things.
E.S Is there a historical figure that inspires you?
We have lways been proud of what our revolutionaries had done. I would also mention Georgi Ivanov, Alexander Alexandrov, these are people who had been in the Space. There are also athletes that inspire me, whom I admire and am proud of. Some of them are my friends: Valentin Yordanov – the biggest wrestler in history, Stefka Kostadinova – which is the record holder in the high jump, Tanya Bogomilova – Olympic champion in swimming, Lyubo Ganev, who is one of the best volleyball players, along with Bore Kyosev. Sport gives you this power, this confidence, that in a small country, such athletes could be born.
E.S Do you have any other”pipe-line” dream and what is it?
All the goals that I set as an athlete have been fulfilled. As a person too: I have a wonderful family, 30 years together with my wife Mariana, we have two wonderful children, now a granddaughter. I am a happy father and a happy grandfather.
E.S If people were birds, what would you be?
Perhaps my gaze is a bit like an eagle – to see everything. That’s why I’ve succeeded, because I keep an eye on a lot of things and simply try to protect myself from some things. The eagle always protects against the others. So, I have a dull eye.
E.S Do you believe in signs and symbols?
Naturally. The Eighth is my favorite number because it never ends. On 13th (if it is Friday), for example, I never travel.
E.S Are you an Orthodox Christian?
Yes, I visit church, I go to monasteries. I respect our history, I’ve visited almost all monasteries in Bulgaria. I go to many churches, when I have a chance.
E.S When you meet with God, what are you going to tell him?
If I meet him some day, I will tell him “Thank you Uncle”, because I carry his name. He’s up there, I’m down here. That’s why I try to not get mad. I’ve always tried to be me myself and from there on, when you map out the path we should follow it. Then it is much easier to achieve your goal.
Interview by Evgenia Styleofsky