One thing I knew already from the beginning: CSKA Sofia was in financial difficulties. However, I didn’t let it bother me too much and I took the risk. Everything went perfectly. At last I had “made” it; I played for a European top club and was even a starting 11 player. The first 6 games of the season I was in the starting 11 of which we won 5 and drew 1, so everything started perfectly and was just as I had imagined. After the 6th game day, however, our captain Valio Iliev was fit again, as I he was a central defender. Our coach, Stoicho Mladenov, took me to his office and told me, “Denis, you play top, in all games you showed how good you are, but Valio is fit again and he is our captain. He is a living legend at CSKA Sofia and has to play. It’s his last season as a professional Football player and I want you to become the next big central defender for CSKA just like he was. You’ve already proved it to everyone. We have received a few offers from other clubs for you, but we want to keep you for the future. So I offer you a new improved 3-year contract and we all hope you will sign it.” Of course, I already knew that it won’t be easy for me to stay in the team when the club captain is back but I was very happy about the new contract offer. I said to him: „It is nice to hear that other clubs are interested in me, but I am very happy at CSKA. It seems that the club trusts me a lot and to hear that you consider me to be the next big defender makes me happy. I will sign the new contract and try to become a legend here.” I called my parents and told them proudly of my contract extension and of course they shared my joy. My career was going uphill! I found a new and better apartment and signed a 3 year lease with the owner of the apartment, bought a new car and was looking forward to a future in Sofia as a player of CSKA. As a child, I always dreamed of it and now I was living the dream. People recognised me on the streets and my dream of playing international football was within reach. I was sure soon I would play in the Champions League.
“Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.”
I enjoyed the time in Sofia. The 1st half of the season was over and we were top of the league, 8 points clear to Ludogoretz Razgrad. The owner of Ludogoretz is the one of the richest men in Bulgaria and has bought a top team together. The budget of this team is far above that of the other teams of the A group and is about 5 times higher than of CSKA Sofia. Ludogoretz had won the last 5 championships and even played in the group stage of the Champions League against Liverpool, Real Madrid and Basel. It was almost a miracle that we were 8 points ahead of them.
“Impossible odds set the stage for amazing miracles.”
The winter break was great; I visited my parents in Berlin and spend a few days in Scotland with my sister. I earned good money so I tried to enjoy my life, but also kept my feet on the ground. At the beginning of January, our preparations with CSKA began in Side (Turkey). The accommodation was great and also the surroundings were perfect, in order to be perfectly prepared for the 2nd half of the season. We trained 3 times per day and were exactly 42 days in Side (Turkey). At the end of the training camp we all were top fit, played and won a lot of friendly games against top teams.
“Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.”
But in Side we realized that CSKA Sofia had big financial problems. After about 10 days in Side we came back to the hotel after training but all of our “room card keys” didn’t work. Of course, we were all a bit annoyed; we were tired from training and had to return to the reception to change our key cards. We arrived at the reception but they told us that they won’t change our cards because we all have to move out within 2 hours. It turned out that CSKA Sofia had not paid the bill for the hotel yet. As long as the cost of the amount of about 70 000€ would not be paid, we could not enter our rooms. We all were tired and still wet from training, but we had to sit and wait in the hotel lobby for more than 3 hours until our owner would transfer the money. Finally, a deposit was made and our CSKA boss promised that the entire amount would be settled at the end of the 42 days.
Finally, we were allowed to return to our rooms and could take a shower. My roommate, Jakub Divis, was sure that it was probably just a mistake in the system or the CSKA boss accidently forgot to pay the bill. But I was sure that the situation was much worse than he thought. My thoughts were confirmed as we started to get picked up by the worst minibuses to take us to the training fields. Previously, we were picked up by 5-star buses and now they were buses that looked like they were from the pre-war period. In addition we were not allowed to train on the two main fields and had to settle for the small youth fields. When on the 39th day we were even refused to enter the Hotel restaurant, I knew that this was the beginning of the end.
There is good times and there is bad times, but there is still time.
The 1st game of after the winter break we lost against Lokomotiv Sofia 2-0, which was really a big disgrace for the CSKA. However, Ludogoretz Razgrad also lost their 1st game, so our game was quickly forgotten and we were preparing for the next game. Surprisingly, we also lost the 2nd and 3rd game. In the first half of the season we were so strong and actually nearly won every game and now we lost 3 games in a row?! CSKA Sofia loses 3 games in a row?! I think this never happened before in the history of CSKA Sofia. So it was not a surprise that rumours of game manipulation appeared.
After this 3rd defeat our own fans stormed into our dressing room and were about fight us all. But luckily, the leader of the fan group, which calls itself „Animals“, could calm his group members and each of the players had to ask the “Animals” for forgiveness for the last 3 lost games. I had never seen anything like this before. To “only” apologise would have understandable, but we all had to take off our CSKA jerseys and hand them over to the leader of the “Animals”. To be honest I was bit “shocked” and just repeated what the others were saying: „We are really sorry about how bad we were playing and we promise that it will never happen again.” At the end of this “meeting” the “Animals” left our dressing rooms screaming: „SAMO CSKA, SAMO CSKA, SAMO CSKA“.
Sometimes it is better to react with no reaction.
On the following day this big crisis of the CSKA was all over the newspapers and news. The reaction of this situation is comparable to if Bayern Munich would lose 10 times in a row. Everywhere on the CSKA base was a bad atmosphere and all of Bulgaria spoke only of the bad CSKA. So I learned through the newspaper that we also got a new owner. I never heard of him before but after his 1st press conference I was very positively surprised by him. He promised us to pay the outstanding salaries and the bonuses, which were already 2 months late, (nothing new for me) before the next game. Of course, all the players were angry about the delay of the salaries. The team planed not to train or play games anymore until the salaries would be paid. Only one remained calm: Denis Prychynenko. My teammates wondered and asked me why I am so calm, so I told them about my experiences in Sevastopol.
Sometimes being silent is the best answer.
My experiences from the past influenced my behaviour in the present. My experience helped me in this situation. Many CSKA players were not used to such a situation and complain that they had to be paid soon otherwise they would start to get financial problems. However, I was already in situations where I was owed more than 5 months‘ salary. So I behaved differently, I decreased my expenses and saved my money to be prepared for everything. In hindsight, you can always get something positive out of every situation. From each mistake you should take a lesson and make it different the next time and adapt to everything. My mistake in Sevastopol was a poor division of my finances; I did not repeat this mistake this time. From my time in Sevastopol I learned to deal with my money.
A mistake repeated more than once is a decision.
It was Friday, just before the 4th game after the winter break and I was in the starting 11. Every player was sitting in the hotel lobby checking their bank accounts whether the new CSKA owner has kept his word and transferred the money. Of course he didn’t. It was only Friday, so the owner still had another day to transfer the money; I heard my team members tell to each other. But I knew that there were no transactions on a Saturday. I remember being so angry at him that I couldn’t even concentrate on our game the next day. A man should always keep his words.
If you promise something, keep it… If you talk much, always back it up… Be a man of your words.
It was game day and as usual we had the team talk 3 hours before the game. Our head coach Stoicho Mladenov was standing in front of the group and I could see right away that something was wrong. He said: “As you can see, the people above me keep lying to us and being disrespectful towards us. I am leaving CSKA Sofia and will not be your Head Coach anymore. Thank you for everything and everybody who was always loyal towards me and the club. Good bye.” I was shocked by these words, as I really liked him as a coach and person and felt sorry for him. Well the 1st game without Mladenov we drew 0-0 and I made a good game. The following day a new head coach was introduced who basically just sorted out all of your foreign players (and we were about 60% foreigners in the team) so of course we lost another 3 games in a row and he was fired.
Open your arms to change, but do not let go of your values.
It was April 2015 and we still hadn’t received our salaries for January 2015. It was clear that CSKA was in big troubles and the media even talked about bankruptcy. Through the newspapers, I also realized that CSKA Sofia didn’t receive the License of International football for the coming season. We dropped from 1st place with 8 points ahead of Ludogorez to 4th place and we knew that it would be difficult to reach on international spot but now it was sure that this didn’t matter anymore. For what are we playing now? Whether we win or lose it didn’t matter as we had no international license anyway. We kept losing and now the media even spoke of not receiving the Pro- License for the next season. This would mean that the big CSKA Sofia had to go down to amateur level in the 4th league. But no one believed this rumours as CSKA is one of the biggest clubs in east Europa and was never bankrupt before. Furthermore everybody knew that our fans would go mental if that would happen. And nobody would want the “Animals” to go mental. So I was sure that CSKA Sofia would never go bankrupt.
It was the last game of the season 2014/15 and I wasn’t able to play as I was suspended. (5 yellow cards) Just before the game our owner came into the dressing room and said: “Guys, don’t worry, we will receive the Pro-License. Furthermore I promise that your salaries were paid today and should be on your account on Monday. So good luck today and win the game.” Actually I believed everything he said because we had a lot of Icons of Jesus and Maria in our dressing room and I knew that the Bulgarians are very faithful. So I was sure that he wouldn’t lie in this room.
With these words the owner left the dressing room and we won that game with 3:0. It was like a small happy end to this season. We won the last game of the season and on Monday I would have more than 3 salaries on my account, which was a big amount for me. So I has in a good mood. I had a flight ticket to Berlin on Monday but I changed it to Tuesday as I wanted to check my account and take some money of it for my summer holiday.
It was Monday and I didn’t leave my apartment all day. I was too nervous and constantly checking my phone for the SMS confirmation that the money arrived on my account. I waited and waited but didn’t receive the SMS. Suddenly a teammate called and said: „Denis I just had the owner on the phone and he told me that there were some technical problems with the transfer and that the money will be on our accounts 100% tomorrow. This was a pity. Again I changed my flight to Wednesday which cost me another 50€. But also on Tuesday I didn’t received the SMS. I was watching TV and at around 3pm there was a special report on the news: „CSKA SOFIA BANKRUPT, NO PROFESSIONAL LICENSE RECEIVED.” I was so angry, I can’t even describe it.
Immediately I drove to IKEA, bought 4 big suitcases, drove back to my apartment and packed all of my clothes into the big cases. Then I called my team mate Jakub Divis who told me that he would leave Sofia tonight by car to his Hometown Praag and asked him: “Jakub, do you still have space for me and 4 suitcases?” He just laughed and said: “Of course, it’s a 14 hours’ drive so you can keep me awake.” Then I called the owner of my apartment and told him that I am leaving this place tonight for good and put the rent money for 2 more months on the table.” He was about to say something but I hanged up the phone already. Then I called a taxi and drove to Jakubs house. I arrived and all I said was: “Common man, let’s get out of this place.” This negative attitude towards my time in Bulgaria disappeared within a couple of days. I said to myself:
Whether the situation is good or bad – it will change.
When I arrived in Berlin 2 days later I already missed Sofia a bit. When I think back to my time in Bulgaria I only get positive feelings. The negative moments I had I just converted to funny stories. I will never forget this beautiful country, the beautiful city Sofia, this fascinating Bulgarian culture, the new friends that I made the amazing CSKA Sofia fans and this legendary club CSKA Sofia. Many of my family and friends wonder why I always speak so good about my time in Sofia, because many unpleasant things happened there to me and the club still owns me a big amount of money. But I regret nothing. If I had the power to turn back the time, when I decided to sign for CSKA Sofia, I would do the exact same again. It was an amazing time and I am sure I will visit Bulgaria many more times. Furthermore I learned one big thing in Bulgaria; I have learned to forgive people who ever done any harm to me.
I have striven not to laugh at human actions, not to weep at them, nor to hate them, but to understand them.
So that was the end of my time at CSKA Sofia. Exactly 1 year ago I made my debut for one of the biggest clubs in east Europe, signed a new 3 year deal, was creating a big and promising career for myself and everything was just perfect. I had a life without worries and had daydreams about my future: Becoming a legend at CSKA Sofia, playing on international Level with them and receiving offers from other big clubs. And this future actually started to become realistic. Everything was going uphill but now I was at the bottom again. My 3 year contract meant nothing anymore. I was “unemployed” again. That’s how fast things can change; that’s how life can go. But I have learned a lot from it. In Sofia I met many people, good and bad, so the moral of this time in Sofia which I made for myself is:
Treat everyone good and with respect, even those who are rude to you. Not because they are decent people, but because you are a decent man.
A small storie:
One day a young man was walking down the street and saw an old man sitting on the edge of the street selling posters with quotes on it. The young man went to him and said: – “Old man, you seem very old and wise and have seen and experienced so many things in your life; tell me: I am a young and strong man but nowhere I can find a job, I have a son who is a drug addict, I have a daughter who is a prostitute and my wife is an alcoholic and does nothing in and around our house. What should I do? How can I change things to be better? Give me an advice please”.
The old man handed him a poster with a quote on it and replied: –“Here young man, I give you this poster with the quote “Nothing EVER stays the same”. Hang this poster on your door.”
“And that’s it?”, asked the young man. “Yes”, said the old man.
The young man followed this advice. After some time his son quit drugs and became a priest; his daughter fell in love and married a nice man; his wife rehabilitated from her alcohol problem and became a good wife; he found a good paid job and was driving around in an expensive car.
One day, the young man passed the same street where he met the old man. The old man was still sitting there selling his posters. The young drove up to the old man and slightly opened his window, without leaving the car and said: – “Well, old man, you still sitting here? As you can see, I reached everything that I wanted. My son stopped using drugs and became a Priest. My daughter married a nice man and stared her own family. My wife quit drinking and became a good housewife. And I got a job and now I am the big boss of the company. But you are still sitting here selling your posters you worthless old man. And what do you advise me now?” The old man looked at him and said: – “Nothing EVER stays the same.”