Grigor Pasha writes: My first season (2019-20) at Chernomorets Balchik lends itself to division into five acts.
Act I: Power struggle with the captain
Right from the get-go I experienced problems with the incumbent captain, Genadi Alberto-Lugo.
He played badly — and then refused to accept criticism. He trained badly — and then refused to accept criticism.
And then he through a wobbly, because I dared to sell Yunuz Yunuz. That’s right — Yunuz Yunuz, not Lionel Messi. Yunuz Yunuz has so little determination I’m amazed he manages to get himself out of bed in the morning. But apparently I should have retained him at all costs.
I thought, ‘This is hopeless: if I retain Alberto-Lugo as captain, it will be one thing after another.’ So, after just one league match, I decided to take a risk and strip him of the captaincy.
That didn’t go so well. Many of the squad sided with him.
I tried moving him to the U19s in the hope that would isolate him. That didn’t work either. And, of course, it just made him more sulky.
Act II: The wheels fall off
No doubt partly because of the fracas with Alberto-Lugo, and the consequent fracturing of the dressing room, we got off to an awful start. 2 points from 8 games.
And awful performances to boot. No confidence, no cohesion. A litany of errors: penalties conceded; needless red cards; penalties not converted.
Fortunately, our league position wasn’t dire, because there were four other dire teams alongside us.
I didn’t know what the solution could be, though I was confident it wasn’t tactical. The press speculated that ‘surely Pasha must change his tactics now’, but the formation we were using (an asymmetrical 3-2-2-2-1) seemed to be well adapted to the imbalanced squad at my disposal.
Act III: A turning point of sorts
In September we had our first cup game, away against non-league Kaliakra in the preliminary round of the Bulgarian Cup.
I decided to field a reserve team. we won 5-1 and, by the end of the game, were looking full of confidence.
As a reward to the players, I decided to retain that team. The benefit wasn’t immediately apparent: we lost the next two league games — but the performances were definitely better. More disciplined, for one thing.
And then, at the end of September, we scraped our first league victory, 2-1 at home to Lokomotiv Sofia.
After that, we were up and down — but we no longer looked shambolic. We picked up points here and there and, by the winter break, had got ourselves — just — out of the relegation zone.
Act IV: Repeat: another power struggle with the captain
Though Alberto-Lugo was no longer the captain, he retained a negative force-field around him. He put in a transfer request, which I accepted with alacrity. But he declined an offer to mutually terminate his contract.
And he was of the opinion that, in the winter window, we weren’t doing enough to get offers for him — even though we were offering him to clubs endlessly and even offering to pay a proportion of his wages.
Then, mercifully, UTA Arad, from Romania, came in with an offer. ‘Can I drive to you to their ground, Genadi, old chap?’
But his force field didn’t end with his departure. Now it was the turn of his replacement as captain, Vasil Kaloyanov, to kick up a fuss — about Genadi’s transfer.
He was unhappy and many of the squad sided with him. I didn’t really want to lose Vasil — he was doing well for us a Complete Forward. I stripped him of the captaincy and then he missed a day’s training.
That was that — you can’t have a captain behaving like that. Off he went to Montana on a free.
Act V: resolution
But his little episode didn’t prove strong enough to seriously disrupt the squad. We’d had a good mid-winter break, including promising performances in three cups that we hosted — the Black Sea Shield, the Black Sea Trophy, and the Black Sea Cup. (You’ll see we’re quite imaginative with names here.)
I switched the formation to a bespoke set up modelled on 1960s Inter Mila.
It was ugly — very — but it worked for us. We gradually clawed our way up the table, looking increasingly assured and solid.
The board’s expectation had been to stay clear of the relegation struggle. In the early months we hadn’t achieved that, so I’m grateful for their patience. We finished the season 10 points clear, so everyone was happy — specially me, as I won a new two-year contract.
I feel really that I made one, though only one, big mistake, which was to pick a fight with Alberto-Lugo that I failed to win.
Even then, though, you never really know: it may be that my apprehension that retaining him would have seen an endless flow of gripes and unhappiness. At least we got him off our payroll (he was the highest earner) and, after Kaloyanov’s departure too, got a more professional leadership team in place.
The improvement in squad dynamics represents social capital on which we can build.