Sunday, December 13, 2009

CSKA got another double, just like the year before winning both championship and cup. Same squad, same performance. Only one new player – one Stefan Mikhailov, acquired by lowly Second Division club, something unusual for the Reds, but than Mikhailov was hardly intended to be a starter. He was minded to be back up of aging Petar Zhekov, the all-time goalscorer of Bulgaria. Mikhailov eventually became a CSKA legend, for a solitary, yet tremendously important goal, but this happened in the fall of 1973. Apart from this goal, he impressed nobody and after three years of occasional playing returned to his previous obscurity – nobody heard of Mikhailov before he joined CSKA and nobody heard of him again after he left. The rest was the familiar team of the previous years, same names and same results, and perhaps a little over the peak, for they were just a year older players and nothing new in terms of playing came out of them. It was simply very well tuned team, carried on the wings of great familiarity of every player with the rest. Some weaknesses became visible as well – it was clear by 1973 that both wingers, Atanasov and Marashliev, reached their limits and were not going to be any better. Same with Denev, whose egoistic inclinations were no longer repairable, eventually becoming more of a liability than advantage. It was dominant squad in Bulgaria, easily winning everything, and this supremacy perhaps blinded CSKA’s coaches – they continued just to refine the old machine, rather than start rebuilding. But who changes a winning side anyway? Nobody, and that is how self-deception begins. Petar Zhekov scored 29 goals in 34 championship matches. Not bad? In fact, great – he collected one more European ‘Shoe’, a Bronze this year, after having already Gold and Silver. Great! What matters that the man is getting dangerously fat and slow? As long as he scores, no problem… but he was ‘given’ goals in this season: for instance, he was one goal behind Hristo Bonev before the last championship match against lowly Chernomoretz (Burgas, one of the two clubs expelled from the league for corruption soon after the season ended). Zhekov scored twice, the second goal from non-existent penalty. The first was no better – Chernomoretz’s defense was clearly making room for the guy, not even pretending playing. Corruption is one thing, self-deception another – Zhekov was over the hill, yet, with his 29 goals, CSKA thought him still irreplaceable. This Mikhailov guy was not taken to replace Zhekov, but just to substitute him now and then.

17th title for CSKA with a little help from their friends.
Top, left to right: Manol Manolov – coach, Kiril Stankov, Borislav Sredkov, Stoil Trunkov, Stoyan Yordanov, Asparoukh Nikodimov, Drazho Stoyanov, Ivan Zafirov, Boris Gaganelov, Todor Simov, Nikola Kovachev – assistant coach.Bottom: Tzvetan Atanassov, Plamen Yankov, Georgy Denev, Petar Zhekov, Dimitar Penev – captain, Bozhil Kolev, Stefan Mikhailov, Dimitar Marashliev.

Strong in Bulgaria, but on the verge of decline – the team depended largely on their aging first XI. The young reserves were not good enough: from the bunch of Trunkov, Stoyanov, Sredkov, Simov, Yankov, and Mikhailov only Sredkov managed to establish himself and to reach the national team. Yet, he never became real star. The rest are justly forgotten. The ‘silver’ CSKA never achieved the success of the ‘golden’ selection from the 1950s, but they were not to be discarded easily – this squad still had something to say.