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Kiril Despodov: Who is Bulgaria's 2018 Player of the Year?

Cagliari’s new signing is one of Hristo Stoichkov’s favourite football students

Whatever happens from now on in Kiril Despodov’s footballing career, 2019 will remain as a truly memorable year. On January 6, 2019 the 22-year-old winger was voted Bulgaria’s 2018 Player of the Year, dethroning Bulgaria captain Ivelin Popov, who had claimed the prize for three consecutive years before that. Thus, Despodov became the first player plying his trade in the Bulgarian league to finish top since Ludogorets goalkeeper Vladislav Stoyanov who beat everyone to the first place in 2014.

Then on January 30, 2019 CSKA-Sofia and Cagliari reached an agreement over Despodov’s transfer who became the 7th Bulgarian player to ever sign for a top-flight Italian club. The transfer fee reported by some Bulgarian media outlets was record €4.2m (in Italy the reported fee was €3m), turning Despodov into the most expensive player to be transferred by a Bulgarian club. This way Despodov bettered his idol Hristo Stoichkov’s Barcelona deal in 1990. Ironically, 7 years ago Stoichkov was the one who played a key role in Despodov’s stellar rise. In May 2012 Stoichkov was coaching Bulgarian top-flight club Litex, while Despodov was a talented youngster who was making his first steps in the club’s academy. The legend goes one day Stoichkov, a 1994 Ballon d’Or winner, told Despodov: ‘Boy, as of tomorrow you start training with the first team. Tomorrow you’ll become a man!’ A few weeks later Stoichkov gave Despodov his first-team debut – at the age of just 15 years and 6 months!

In 2016 Despodov followed into his hero’s footsteps, joining CSKA-Sofia, the team he used to support as a boy along with his elder brother Dimitar. Ahead of one city derby against Levski Sofia, it was exactly Dimitar’s idea to get Kiril a ‘Why always me?’ shirt – like the one Mario Balotelli showed under his kit after finding the back of the net in the Manchester derby in 2011. Similarly, Despodov scored in the Sofia one and celebrated by revealing what was written (in Bulgarian) under his jersey. Quick, technically gifted and an expert when it comes to executing free kicks, Despodov likes to compare his own style to Cristiano Ronaldo’s. And now, even being 1000km away from Bulgaria, Despodov doesn’t stop thinking about his former club CSKA-Sofia. He’s recently admitted that the reason he chose to play with No 32 on his back at Cagliari is directly referring to CSKA chasing their 32nd Bulgarian league title. Seven years after those prophetic words of Stoichkov, Kiril Despodov is now ready to take the Italian football world by storm.


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