Du Malone writes: At the time of writing, our manager, Grigor Pasha, has just won promotion to the Bulgiarian first league, with Chernomorets Balchik. He has arrived at a fork in the road: does he stay with Balchik; start all over again, this time in the Bulgarian First, with Cherno More? Or try his luck in Romania, further up the Black Sea coast, with Farul Constanta.
No matter which, it seems that Grigor has taken leave of the Bulgarian Second Tier. I thought this might constitute a suitable moment to reflect on the experience of managing in that league, on the basis of Grigor’s experience with:
- Chernomorets Balchik (FM20)
- Neftochimic 1962 (FM20)
- Pomorie (FM 20 & FM19)
- Nesebar (FM19)
Overall, the Bulgarian 2nd tier has proved to very enjoyable to manage in.
My favourite league, in successive editions of FM, had been the Greek B league. I liked both the standard and the sunshine. But now I think Bulgaria has overtaken it in my affections.
For anyone considering whether to venture into the Bulgarian 2nd, I think the salient points, on the basis of Grigor’s experience, are as follows:
- The league consists of 17 clubs, which play each other twice. This makes the season pleasantly short: everything comes around gain quite quickly.
- The league is fairly flat — the gap between minnows and bigger teams is not hopelessly vast. Grigor found that it was possible to succeed with smallish clubs.
- There are no particularly unusual or irksome regulations. The main point is that registration requirements require clubs to have plenty of Bulgarian-trained players. As a consequence, the league is much less cosmopolitan than, say, the Greek league. This makes scouting easier and cheaper, though it perhaps limits variety.
- There’s only one cup, the Bulgarian Cup. It’s a straight knock-out. Second tier teams enter it in September, at the Preliminary Round — just before the First Round proper. The fact there’s only one cup means that seasons are somewhat lacking in variety — though again it helps to keep seasons short. For me that makes it, on balance, a positive.
- There’s a lengthy winter break. As Pasha has explained, this offers some advantages — especially if you like to be able to introduce a new tactic properly, half-way through the season.
- In terms of formations, there’s a great deal of variety. I recently read on Twitter about someone’s experience of managing in Australia: apparently virtually every team played a Christmas tree formation. In Bulgaria, in contrast, there’s plenty of variety. No one style predominates. That is one of the major attractions. Tactical coaching is good enough to support a variety of options.
- Staff skills are unspectacular, but not hopeless. At the start of a save Pasha typically found that an attribute level of 8 for a coaching skills (e.g., defensive coaching) was pretty good. For physiotherapy and the scouting judgement it may be necessary to go slightly lower, perhaps to 6.
- Player wages are modest. Grigor managed smallish clubs., where he tended to operate an informal wage cap of £5 p.a. Occasionally he paid more than that, though never more than £10k p.a.
- In terms of player attributes, the level strikes me as unspectacular but decent. I set the colour thresholds for the display as attributes as follows: Average — 9; good — 11; excellent — 13. These settings worked quite well: on one hand, players with plenty of 9 and 10s but no (or very few) 11+s were usually goodish Third Level players; on the other, finding key attributes of 13+ proved taxing. Grigor would have been very happy to find players with set piece attributes of 13, for example. Ditto leadership.
- A lot of players are very one-footed.
- If you’re hoping to find players fully formed to play exotic roles (i.e., those with Italian or Spanish labels, or hipster options such as wide- or roaming playmakers), you’ll probably be disappointed (with the possible exception of segundo volantes). That’s not to say you wouldn’t be able to find players with the requisite attributes — just that they’re unlikely to have role familiarity.
- Overall, there’s a good balance of challenge and opportunity. Unless you’re someone who only likes Big Football, with big names and big money, my advice is ‘Come on in, the (Black Sea) water’s lovely’. Some of the wine’s pretty good too.