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Bulgarian clubs elect new football union president

Bulgarian clubs elected outgoing technical chief Georgy Ivanov as president of the Bulgarian Football Union (BFU) on Friday, quashing fans’ hopes for change at the helm of the ailing organisation.

The former Levski Sofia and Rennes forward Ivanov, 47, won backing from 235 delegates at the BFU congress Friday against 181 votes for the fan favourite — former national football team captain and Manchester United forward Dimitar Berbatov.

A total of 469 professional and amateur clubs had the right to elect a new chief after BFU president for 18 years Borislav Mihaylov stepped down last November.

Mihaylov threw in the towel after violent clashes erupted at a protest on the sidelines of a Euro qualifier against Hungary, played behind closed doors, that followed months of fan protests demanding his resignation.

The 61-year-old former national team goalkeeper’s time at the helm of the BFU was marred by a major racism abuse scandal and recurrent match-fixing and bribing of referees allegations. 

Mihaylov did not run at the current congress, where seven other candidates vied for the top job, including two of his right-hand men in the current BFU — technical director Georgy Ivanov and vice-president Mihail Kasabov.

Fans had largely backed Berbatov, 43, who is Bulgaria’s most successful football player over the past 25 years and who had narrowly missed to win against Mihaylov at the last congress back in 2021.

But the delegates picked Ivanov.

“Now the hard part starts, I will work for everyone. I will try to make sure that we change the whole environment in football… I promise honesty and work. Let’s work with the kids, let’s make sure we have strong players and hopefully qualify for the 2026 World Cup in the USA,” Ivanov said after his election.

The national team had changed 15 coaches and failed to qualify for any major tournament during Mihaylov’s 18 years as BFU president.

Analysts have highlighted problems in the youth football, crumbling infrastructure and a national league dominated by foreign players as major problems in the BFU.

Match fixing and illegal betting, as well as racism and discrimination have also popped up as recurrent issues over the past decade.

The news for the election of Ivanov, who is considered very close to the former president Mihaylov, was met with indignation from fans, who called a major protest for September 8 Bulgaria vs Northern Ireland UEFA Nations League game.

“We want change, not replacement! Out the status quo from our football! Let the whole football world understands that this cannot go on and that 90 percent of the fans do not want this status quo to govern our football anymore,” they wrote on their Facebook page on Friday evening.

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