As a player at Manchester United, Dimitar Berbatov’s curiosity for leadership was aroused by seeing the books in manager Alex Ferguson’s office.
A biography of Napoleon Bonaparte has impressed one of Bulgaria’s greatest strikers, who is currently campaigning to lead his national football federation – a chaotic recent history.
“It was the first book that caught my eye,” Berbatov told The Associated Press in an interview, recalling his stint from 2008 to 2012 playing for a coach whose management style was studied at Harvard Business. School.
“I was like, ‘Boss, what’s up with all the autobiographies?’ And he’s like, ‘Well, Berba, I’m leading an army in a way. If I can take something from all the books I’ve read, I can apply it to my own philosophy of leading you.” Berbatov has clear ideas on how he would get Bulgarian football out of a crisis prolonged. The national team was once a staple of the World Cups – qualifying for seven out of 10 editions until 1998 – and reached the semi-finals in 1994.
In fact, obtaining the keys to the presidential office of the federation is the current issue.
Berbatov won a Bulgarian club vote last week, held an hour after an official meeting of the Bulgarian football federation was cancelled. The current president, Borislav Mihailov, was the guardian of this team in 1994.
The federation reacted on Wednesday by suspending dozens of clubs that took part in the match.
The legal stalemate is “ridiculous”, said Berbatov, and he called on football’s governing bodies FIFA and UEFA to help restore order. He wants an ”honest congress” to clear things up.
“What’s happening now is sad,” he said in an online interview this week. ”No one wins. I don’t want it to be like this.” Bulgarian football’s decline on the pitch has been evident since its last appearance in a major tournament, the 2004 European Championship with Berbatov as Bayer Leverkusen’s star striker.
Off the pitch, trouble was broadcast to the world in October 2019 when England traveled to Sofia for a Euro 2020 qualifier. England won 6-0 but the game was arrested twice as Bulgarian fans gave Nazi salutes and aimed monkey noises at black players.
“It’s something that should never happen in the world of football,” Berbatov said.
Mihailov, who had led the federation for 14 years, resigned the next day under pressure from the then prime minister. The offices of the federation were raided by the police.
Mihailov returned 18 months later, a day after Berbatov launched his campaign.
Mihailov’s election victory last October was recognized by FIFA and UEFA, but was challenged in court. The result hasn’t dampened Berbatov’s campaign team, which includes two other Euro 2004 stars, Stiliyan Petrov and Martin Petrov.
“I gathered a very good team around me that follows my way of seeing things,” Berbatov said. “An honest way, according to the laws of Bulgaria.” FIFA and UEFA wrote to the federation this week saying they are ”seriously concerned about the situation of Bulgarian football” and acknowledged ”ongoing legal proceedings” regarding the election of the last year.
With the future uncertain, Berbatov is planning a 10-year strategy to kick-start youth development in the country that produced 1994 Ballon d’Or winner Hristo Stoichkov.
Berbatov has appeared in two Champions League finals – for Leverkusen in 2002 and United in 2009 – but the current national team has no player at a top club in any of Europe’s big five leagues.
“We have to make sure our academies have a philosophy of playing football,” he said. “It hasn’t worked for so many years because everyone is working independently and no one is listening.” Berbatov cites Croatia, 2018 World Cup finalists whose population is just over half of Bulgaria’s nearly 7 million, as an example to follow.
Bulgaria will face Croatia next week in a friendly match in Qatar, two days before FIFA’s 211 member federations gather there for their annual congress.
“I have every right to go to Doha as well to represent my country,” Berbatov said of the uncertainty, “but of course nobody wants such a thing to happen.”
(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)