Grigor Pasha writes: June 2021. In a couple of previous posts I outlined my managerial strategy.
In one I argued that there are two types of football manager — the hunter-gatherer and the cultivator. I explained that, contrary to my personality, I’d decided that the optimum strategy here at Neftochimic 1962 was the latter. I set my stall out to develop home-grown talent.
In another, I explained how this entailed making a medium-term wager on the quality of the youth intakes and our ability to develop them.
Now that the season (my second at the club) is complete, it’s time to make an interim assessment.
A three-pronged assessment
The pertinent questions are:
- how did the team perform?
- how did the youngsters develop and contribute?
- how has the club developed more generally?
The board’s target for our performance in the Bulgarian Second league was to finish top half. The bad news is that in the event we missed that target. The good news is that the margin was small: we missed the target by one place (3 points).
The board were unbothered and extended my contract by two years, which constitutes a major step towards my aim to become the league’s longest-serving manager.
From the point of view of personal pride, it disappointed me that we missed the target. But in the wider scheme of things, I don’t suppose it affects anything. When the new (2021-22) season begins, the missed target will surely have become irrelevant.
So, overall, from a team perspective, I guess you could say that strategy has got off to a decent start.
Young players’ development and contribution
As previously announced, one player — the goalie, Radev — moved to a bigger club. This pleased the board, who took it as evidence of compliance with their target of signing young players to resell at profit. If it pleased them, it pleases me.
Two youngsters — Hristov (DM) and Paskalev (RW) — proved way off the pace. I think this shows nothing at all about the strategy, other than the inevitability that I’ll occasionally make dud decisions. They’re each on £525 p.a., so Rome won’t fall as a result.
There defensive youngsters — Nikola Dimitrov (whom I’ve introduced before), Ivan Dimitrov, and Zhelyazkov — developed somewhat. Between them they made 11 starts and a further 15 appearances from the bench. By the end of the season I was beginning to feel I could trust them as subs.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that, though they’ve developed, they haven’t done so very much. I will retain them in the squad for the coming season, as back-ups, but when their contracts expire next summer my expectation is that we won’t renew.
The poacher, Valchev — whom I’ve also introduced before — made 22 starts plus one appearance from the bench. A return of 4 goals and one assist was disappointing. He still displays some promise, and has started pre-season training well, but I’d say his future is in the balance.
The one unqualified success has been the midfielder, Zhekov (introduced here). He began as an impact sub (mainly for his free-kick prowess) but by the end of the season had become a fairly regular started. 18 starts; 11 substitute appearance; 2 goals; 6 assists — that’s very good for a kid. And it looks as though he will continue to develop.
So it looks as though, by the time their contracts expire, only one (Zhekov) will qualify as a success — though perhaps Valchev will make it two.
That five of the senior squad have come from the 2020 youth intake has certainly helped with finances. None is on more than £3k p.a. and obviously there have been no transfer or agent fees involved.
Even better, we’ve been able to do this without employing any U19 staff. We play U19 fixtures, but we don’t maintain an U19 squad: the kids all went straight into the senior squad. Our only youth-oriented staff member is the Head of Youth Development. I recently raised his wage to £5.25k p.a.
When I arrived, in 2019, it looked as though the club would be forever dependent on cash injections. In 2020-21, however, we turned a profit.
The good news is that we recruited a further half dozen players from the most recent (2021) intake.
Of these, one has already been resold, though for more money than Radev last year: for the right-back, Deyan Georgiev, we received £20k, plus add-ons, plus 50% of resale value — and, as part of the agreement, Botev Plovdiv have loaned him back to us at zero cost.
The consequence is that getting on for half of the senior squad (11 out of 26) arrived as part of the two most recent intakes. The quality of the most recent intake is highly promising.
No, scrub that: I mean exciting.
The arrival of high-quality youngsters, the management of the wage bill, and the turning of a profit — all these things make me hopeful that we’ve begun a positive cycle where one kind of a success can lead to another.
I plan to put that to the test when I ask the board for an additional coach.