Wednesday, September 2, 2015

 Slavia did not end empty-handed. They reached the Cup final. Beroe (Stara Zagora) was the other finalist – Beroe was playing their 4th Cup final and their second in a row. No other provincial club was so successful, but so far Beroe lost every final they played. No different this year – they lost 1-3. Here, of course, another dark speculation rises: provincial clubs were routinely 'robbed' of trophies. Slavia was robbed from the title and given the Cup as a remedy. Easy thinking, lacking evidence. Slavia won quite easily the final and Beroe made a record: they lost a Cup final for a forth time! Yet, it was good year for Beroe – they finished 4th in the championship and reached the Cup final.  
 Happy and not so happy Cup winners – Slavia won their 6th Cup, but not their 6th title this year. Their first trophy since 1975 – thanks to the same generation of players, which established them as one of the greatest squads of the club ever.  
 Sitting from left: Pavlin Dimitrov, Botyo Malinov, Vanyo Kostov, Tchavdar Tzvetkov, Georgy Minchev, Milcho Evtimov, Ilyaz Aliev.
Middle: Trendafil Terziisky – conditioning coach, Vasko Shalamanov, Ivan Khaydarliev, Svetoslav Georgiev, Christo Mladenov – coach, Atanas Aleksandrov, Georgy Dermendzhiev, Ivan Chakarov, Simeon Simeonov – assistant coach.
Top row: Stoycho Stefanov, Ivan Iliev, Iliya Velichkov, Andrey Zhelyazkov – captain, Petar Miladinov, Georgy Gugalov.
Very strong squad, lead by one of the best Bulgarian coaches in the 1970s – Christo Mladenov mastered the excellent Beroe team of the late-60s – early-70s and  lead Bulgaria to the 1974 World Cup finals. Plenty of experience and talent. He had 7 current national team players at his disposal, established as top players for years. Slavia had lethal strikers: Alerksandrov-Zhelyazkov-Tzvetkov were arguably the best attacking line during the 1970s in the country. What Slavia lacked was well rounded first  eleven: there was always a missing piece for one or another reason. This year the missing piece was found: Botyo Malinov was never a great player, he played little and left no memories at his original club, Levski-Spartak, but fitted perfectly to Slavia's midfield – where the weak point was. With Malinov, Slavia finally achieved balanced starting eleven (the real gap was in the middle of defense – the arrival of Malinov solved the problem by moving the defensive midfielder Kostov back as a center-defender). Everything clicked right and Slavia had fantastic season – to the point it had to be prevented from winning the title by 'other means'. Robbed or not, Slavia did not compare well with CSKA – it was a thin team: hardly any strong player behind the regulars. Older stars than CSKA's too – the starters played together more or less since 1973, few were already beyond their peak (Aleksandrov, Minchev, Gugalov, Chakarov, Evtimov), others proved to have smaller talent than hoped for (Velichkov, Stefanov), and the only really promising younger additions were Khaydarliev and Aliev. Nobody was nearing retirement yet, but key players were getting older nevertheless – Zhelyazkov, Kostov, Tzvetkov. The clock was ticking against this team – and it was now or never for them. Unfortunately, it was 'never'. May be they were robbed, but it was short squad getting old and fragile – a single injury was able to destroy it, for the reserves were not even remotely close to the regulars (this eventually happened a year later when Malinov  got hepatitis). The golden generation of Slavia unfortunately achieved only 2 cups.