Welcome back to the second part of this update, as we find out how the 2027/28 season concluded in Bulgaria’s First League, plus we’ll see how Frank’s CSKA Sofia side fared in the League Cup and the Europa Conference League competitions as well.
Later on, i’ll also reveal the results from my Youth Development experiment as I attempt to find out what works best when developing young talent.
I actually think we can go all the way here. We’ve a chance to really put this club on the map, and what a chance it is. I hope we grab it with both hands.An extract from the diary of Frank M. Athlete, 26th April 2028
In the last update we left CSKA Sofia midway through the 2027/28 season, where they sat at the summit of the Bulgarian First League, in the Semi Final of the League Cup and were about to venture into their third European competition of the season.
Frank’s side had been drawn against Dutch outfit Feyonoord in the Europa Conference League’s 1st Knockout Round, but before the first leg in that tie, we rescued a late draw from arch-rivals Ludogorets in our first league game back after the Winter break.
The first leg against Feyenoord was away, and despite being billed as heavy underdogs, we demonstrated a masterclass and ran out 2-0 winners, following this up with a 3-0 league win against Etar to make it two consecutive clean sheets.
The home tie against Feyenoord was somewhat harder, but we managed a draw and progressed to the second round where we’d meet Getafe next month.
Before that, three more league games saw us take a mere 4 points, succumbing to a 2-0 loss to Dunav in the process, but ending with a decent win against Botev Vratsa meaning we would play the first leg against Getafe on the back of a victory. It turned out that form was essential as we beat the Spaniards 1-0 at home and then drew 1-1 away with a nice league win sandwiched in the middle to end the preliminary stage of the season.
We topped the table by three points as we headed into the final stage of the league season. Meanwhile, our 2-1 aggregate win over Getafe set up a Europe Conference League Quarter-Final with none other than our divisional rivals, Ludogorets!
Before the two legs of the Quarter Finals, we had the small matter of playing them in the league first, where we really showed them our true colours and comfortably beat them 3-0.
Next up was the League Cup semi-final against Lokomotiv Sofia and a another 3-0 win gave us one foot in the final.
In the next game we fell to a 1-0 defeat to Ludogorets in the Europa Conference League, meaning we had our work cut out for us in the next round at home. It took until the second half but eventually we broke the deadlock and followed up with a second goal, enough to send us into the Europa Conference league Semi-Final against Croatian side, Dinamo.
Back in the league, and a win in the Eternal Derby against Levski was followed by a disappointing defeat to Dunav (again!), and we followed that with a draw to Ludogorets which saw us clinging to top spot, just.
The Europa league Semi Final was upon us with an away tie to Dinamo in the first leg, ending in a crushing 3-1 defeat. Frank’s lads had a mountain to climb in the second leg, but did so with style, taking a 3-0 lead after two first half goals and a third on 70 minutes. Disaster struck in the final 20 minutes of the game though, as Dinamo hit back with a goal which would take us to extra time, but before we got there, they dealt us a sickening blow in the 95th minute with a second goal of the game, and a result that would see them into the final in our place. So close but not close enough.
Frank dusted himself down and attempted to finish the league in style, which he managed with 4 wins and a draw in the final five games, and securing our second consecutive title to add to the Super Cup win at the start of the season.
This left the small matter of the League Cup Final that would take this season’s trophy haul to three if we could get past Lokomotiv Plovdiv. We made the critical mistake of underestimating our opposition, and we turned up for an average league game, not the cup final.
They demolished us 2-0 and were worthy winners. Frank was devastated, this was the silverware he’d been really keen to win this year after failing so miserably last season. Now we’d have to wait again.
All told, an incredible season really. From the dizzy heights of Champions League football, to a Europa Conference League Semi-Final and a League Cup Final, Frank could be pleased with the progress the club were making under his stewardship. Another league title in the bag, and a Super Cup win as well.
The side are still very young and are only improving as they get older and more experienced. Let’s hope next season we can better this year’s performance. Until then…
Youth Development (Part II)
In the last update I gave a short introduction into a Youth Development experiment I wanted to run. You’ll recall that I don’t have much experience in this aspect of Football Manager, and so i wanted to try a few different things to see if i could glean some “best practices” to apply for now and in the future.
This test began in January 2028 and the conclusion I’m showing you is actually from June 2029 so we can review a full 18 months of development. To give you an overview, here’s what we laid out in the last update:
- Kurt Moe, 18 yo GK – 6 month loan to First League side Lokomotiv Plovdiv, followed by a year as reserve GK in the first team
- Borislav Velev, 18yo ST – 6 month loan to First League side Slavia Sofia, followed by a year as reserve ST/impact sub in the first team
- Sladjan Pavkovic, 19yo MC – 18 months on loan to First League side Cherno more
- Zarko Stevanovic, 22yo MC -starting BBM for first team
- Grigor Rangelov, 17yo MC – 12 months with the U19s, 6 months training with the first team
I was fortunate enough to read FM Futbol Manager‘s latest post on Youth Development, prior to me publishing this one, and he talked in detail about the significance of facilities and staff as a key contributor to developing young talent. With that in mind, it’s worth noting that at CSKA Sofia, we have Great training facilities, Excellent youth facilities, Excellent academy coaching and Exceptional youth recrutiment.
And so, without further ado, here’s how they all got on…
As you’ll see form the screenshots below, Moe made huge gains across the board, and in particular with his Determination, First Touch and Passing. An improved personality as well as he switches to Fairly Determined.
Easily our hottest prospect, his development was incredible, with gains everywhere and especially across his physicals and mentals. Note his personality shift from Fairly Determined to Driven too.
Out of all of the players in the test, Pavkovic spent the most amount of time away from the club, with back to back loans at Cherno more. That said, he also played regular football at the club with 42 appearances over two seasons. In terms of development, it’s been a little underwhelming with almost no technical improvements, and just small changes in his mentals and physicals.
Zarko is our oldest test subject, and has already established himself as a regular starter, but for balance i wanted to include someone that still had a lot of potential to reach, but was a little older than the others. His development has continued nicely, in particular with his mentals and physicals, although nothing off the charts.
Finally, we have our youngest starlet, fresh for CSKA Sofia’s academy, Grigor Rangelov. Grigor’s development at the club has been pleasing, but probably not what i’d hoped for in that time. His physicals have come on and his mentals too to some degree, but he’s not really challenging for a starting place in the same way the likes of Velev and Moe are at he moment.
I’d say the first thing I’ve noticed here is that 18 months isn’t very long in a players development to judge his progress. That being said, the biggest take away for me is that splitting time evenly between training with the club and spending time out on loan at a good level is definitely the way to go.
Pavkovic’s stunted development tells me that too much time away from our superior facilities and coaching staff hasn’t done him any favours, while Rangelov’s lack of playing time has slowed his development too.
Moe’s loan to Lokomotiv Plovdiv was for a whole season, but in hindsight, I think two 6 month loans might have been better, with time spent at the club in between.
Velev was easily our best performer in terms of development and he’s the only player who got a bit of everything – time with the U19s, time on loan. and time with the first team. I think this balance is what’s required across the board to make it successful and repeatable.
That said, I’m sure other factors, like players hidden attributes, injuries and their personalities, will also play a part here, but I’ve seen enough to at least have a plan of where to start.
For many of you, I doubt anything here can be deemed as groundbreaking but I’ve found it useful to come up with a systematic approach to player development. Even if this approach turns out to be wrong, I find it’s always best to start somewhere, and then make small incremental changes to improve.
In this section I’ve highlighted some of the content I’ve been consuming of late. There are some excellent content creators out there, some old and some new, and the vast majority of which are all on Slack so I strongly advise you join that community and check them out here.
- Best Save Update Blog: this week I caught up on NestorFM‘s blog, as he shares his progress across South America having gained success in Spain early on in the save. Read all about it here.
- Best Advice Blog/Article: I mentioned earlier that FM Futbol Manager’s Youth Development Update is well worth a read, but FM Rensie also shared some of his experiences on youth development which you’ll find here.
And that’s it for another update from me. Thanks so much for reading down this far, I hope you enjoyed it. As ever your feedback is always welcome either here in the comments, on Twitter or on my Slack channel. If you’re not already on Slack then you’re missing out. It’s free to join, there’s no pressure to post anything, and you’ll find there are some excellent people who you can chat to if you want.
I’ll be back as soon as I can with another update from Frank as he continues to take us Down the Danube.