This is an article in www.onefootball.com
which was a leading one few days before the first game in UEFA cup of Aek-Litex ... the game proved many points made in the article and even if Litex went on to lose on agg. still a look at what G. Ganchev, his men and his players have done the last 5 years is well deserved. We could have a lot of other arguements about the nature of their money and so on but in pure football terms Litex is simply a phenomenon ... not only for Bulgaria but for Europe and EE as a whole ...
Loyalty, love, luck and Litex
Wednesday 21st November 2001
It is a rare thing in Bulgaria for a team from outside the capital to win a trophy. CSKA Sofia and Levski Sofia have won the league 50 times between them, with their domination only being broken in four spells.
Plovdiv enjoyed a brief period of predominance in the 1960s, as Spartak Plovdiv and Botev Plovdiv won the title, and then Beroe clinched the championship in 1986 and Etar in 1991.
But recently another team from the provinces has begun making the headlines – Litex Lovech, a team whose rise has been sudden, and whose story is a remarkable tale of love, loyalty and luck.
Litex were founded in 1921, but for the first 75 years of their existence they puttered about, changing names with the weather – they have been known variously as Hisarya, Todor Kirkov, Torpedo, Kurpachev, Yunak, Osam and Lex – and winning nothing.
But everything changed dramatically in 1996 as the powerful businessman Grisha Ganchev took charge of the club. Ganchev and his close friend Angel Bonchev were both born in a small village near Lovech.
They had both been professional wrestlers in their youth, and both were educated in the communist sports school along with Ferario Spasev, who is now coach of the team. Ganchebv won several youth titles in Bulgaria, while Bonchev went even further, taking World and European trophies.
But few thought that Ganchev would fare any differently to the other businessmen who had tried their hand at running a football club after the end of Communism in 1989. Clubs such as Shumen and Botev Plovdiv had been invested in by men who had made their money rapidly in the new markets, only to see it all drift away again.
But Litex was different, and Granchev's association with the club became a fairy-tale. In 1996, when Ganchev took over, Litex were in the second division. The following season they returned to the top flight, and signalled their intent by beating Levski 2-0 in the national Cup – although a controversial late winner from goalkeeper Dimiter Ivankov robbed them of victory in the second leg.
In the summer of 1997, Ganchev declared his ambition to turn Litex into serious title contenders. They seemed just the empty words of another megalomaniac chairman drunk on early success, but Ganchev proved as good as his word.
The Serbian Dragolub Beklavac was appointed, and when he left following a run of draws, in came Dimiter Dimitrov, who would go on to coach both Levski and the national team.
It was Dimitrov who turned Ganchev's dream into a reality. After holding CSKA and Levski away, Litex found themselves top of the table at the midpoint of the season.
Radostin Kishishev was bought from Turkish side Bursaspor, and it looked as thought that could be the signing that sealed the title. But Levski, who were hot on Litex's heels, appealed to Uefa and the Bulgarian Football Union that Kishishev had not been correctly registered during his first three games, and Litex were stripped of the points they had won in those fixtures.
Lesser teams might have crumbled, but the decision only served to make Litex all the more determined, and, after a strong finish to the season, they clinched the first championship in their history – in their first season after winning promotion.
The first games in Europe the following season also went well, as Litex beat Halmstad and were unfortunate to lose to Grazer AK. But just hours before that game against the Austrians, Dimitrov decided to quit the club to take charge of the national side.
With Spasov in charge, though, Litex continued their remarkable league form, hammering CSKA 8-0 in one stunning encounter in Lovech, as they added a second successive league title.
Europe the following season, though, having begun well, turned into a horror show. Litex beat Glentoran in the first round of the Champions' League, and looked to be on course for a glamour tie against Gabriel Batistuta's Fiorentina after beating Widzew Lodz 4-1 in the home leg. But some suicidal defending in Poland cost them, and they eventually lost in extra-time.
The nightmare in Lodz took a heavy toll. Ganchev decided that he had done all he could, and left, as did Albania internationals Alban Bushi and Altin Haxi, and Stoicho Stoilov. "I am ashamed of the game in Poland, and I cannot cope with this any more," Ganchev said, and it seemed as though his Empire was at an end. Litex were renamed Lovech, and the team lost its momemtum.
But his exile did not last long. "I love this club, and I love this city," he said as he returned to the club a few months later. "Our main aim will be to entertain the fans; titles are not on the agenda. If we play well, the trophies will come, but we will play fair and only for pride."
That summer, former Steaua Bucharest coach Mihai Stoichita was recruited along with some big name signings, while Kishishev was sold to Charlton Athletic. The ambition was clearly there, but after a draw against CSKA and defeat at home to Levski, Stoichita was fired.
Lovech, though, were still in the Cup, and, with Spasov in charge once again, they clinched that in glorious fashion, beating CSKA and Levski on their way to the final, where they beat Velbazhd – who were coached by Dimitrov.
"After such run in the competition I think it is fair that the old name of Litex should be returned," Ganchev said amid jubilant scenes in the city. "The players deserve that."
And Ganchev had every right to celebrate. His side played the best attacking football in Bulgaria. Strikers Hristo Yovov and Zoran Jankovic were outstanding, while young defender Zhivko Zhelev emerged as a player of real potential.
Ganchev had shown the love to put the dream into practice; Spasov had provided the loyalty; but what was needed to make a mark in Europe, Ganchev decided, was luck. And so he turned to Dimiter Penev, the coach who had led Bulgaria to the semi-finals of the 1994 World Cup, and who had earned the nickname, "Lucky".
The move has worked, as Litex have eliminated three European opponents for the first time in their history. Has it been lucky? Well, in the sense that Longford Town, Inter Bratislava and Union Berlin have been beaten on merit, no.
But the point remains that it was Inter Bratislava, and not Internazionale; and it was Union Berlin not Hertha Berlin. On Thursday, Litex face AEK Athens, and with them, their first real test in this season's competition.
The combination of the experienced Penev and the relatively young Spasov on the bench has proved a potent one so far. Whether they can go any further may well depend on how much luck Penev can bring.
But there is an omen that will encourage the Bulgarians. In 1988-89, Penev led CSKA to the semi-finals of the Cup-Winners' Cup. En route, they beat Inter Bratislava and an Athens club in the shape of Panathinaikos, who had a Bulgarian in their line-up in the shape of Hristo Kolev.
This season, Inter have already been disposed of, while AEK, another Athens club, also have a Bulgarian in their line-up – Milen Petkov. Destiny, it appears, is with Litex.
Litex are a club who prove that loyalty and the belief in a dream still have a place in football; Penev may just be about to prove that luck does too.