CSKA Sofia is one of the most dominant clubs in Bulgarian football’s history and this is due to their outstanding youth academy as well as the ability to spot Bulgarian prospects in other academies at an early age- the likes of Vladimir Manchev, Martin Petrov, Lyuboslav Penev, Trifon Ivanov, Stiliyan Petrov, Dimitar Berbatov, Emil Kostadinov and the Ballon D’or winner, Hristo Stoichkov, are some examples that perfectly represent the philosophy of the club. However, during the last 2 decades, the game has considerably changed so has CSKA- the sole reliance on home-grown talent has been substituted with a mixture of foreigners with experience in top leagues and young Bulgarians. Looking deeper into the new, main transfer principles of the club, we can acknowledge that a transfer fee for the newcomers is rarely involved. Nevertheless, CSKA have been quite successful with getting the most out of the players despite some of them underperforming before joining ‘Armeytsite’. In this article, we will focus our attention on the non-Bulgarian footballers, who played for CSKA and brought a lot of smiles on the fans’ faces as well as plenty of cash into the club’s bank account.
Ianis Zicu (Solid for €2.3M)
Starting off with a player who had its ups and downs in his career. Product of the Farul Constanța and Dinamo București academies, Zicu was quickly spotted by the Italian powerhouse, Inter Milan, when just 20 years of age. However, he failed to cement a place in any setups of the club which led to him being loaned out to several lower-tier teams before joining CSKA Sofia on a €500K winter transfer. In spite of getting a lot of stick from Bulgarian journalists for being overweight, Ianis was more than capable of finding the back of the net 13 times in just 15 games for the club. These outstanding 6 months caught the eye of Asian suitors, with Pohang Steelers paying €2.3M for the attacking midfielder’s signature.
Janio Bikel (Sold for €2M)
The Guinea-Bissauan with Portuguese citizenship was one of the most hard-working midfielders during his spell at Balgarska Armiya. Before boosting the squad of CSKA as a free agent, he featured in the Dutch sides SC Heerenveen as well as NEC Nijmegen. Under the guidance of the European Champion Clubs' Cup winner, Ljupko Petrović, Bikel got used to playing in a new position for him- as a left back. He was an equally consistent performer both in the centre of the pitch as a holding midfielder as well as on the left flank. His transfer sort of came out of the blue for most supporters of the team but a few of them were dissatisfied with the initial fee paid to CSKA- €2M from the American team Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
Sergiu Buș (Sold for €800K)
Most of the fans will tell you they would never want to see Buș in a CSKA shirt ever again despite him being a fruitful striker for ‘The Reds’. Raised in the CFR Cluj academy, the Romanian never managed to find a place in their first team. He went on to join the Bulgarian club on a free transfer where he truly flourished- in his 19 league matches in the 2014/15 campaign, Buș found his name on the scoresheet in a total of 10 occasions. This attracted a desired interest from strong European clubs with the Championship side Sheffield Wednesday winning the race for Sergiu’s services for a reported fee of €800K. However, he would become one of the most controversial figures in Bulgarian football 3 years later by joining the fierce rivals of CSKA- Levski Sofia. Some fans of ‘Armeytsite’ would find relief in the fact Buș never managed to be as prolific for Levski as during the 2014/15 season.
Júnior Moraes (Sold for €2M)
Moraes is still thankful to CSKA for making him the player he is today. The striker graduated the Santos FC academy but didn’t establish himself as anything more significant than an impact substitute. The Brazilian decided to get out of his comfort zone by playing on the European stage. Júnior spent half a season in Romania, playing for Gloria Bistrita, where he caught the eye of Metallurg Donetsk, which paid more than a million euros for him. Nonetheless, Moraes failed to register a single minute for the Ukrainian side which inevitably led to a free transfer to CSKA. It would probably be an understatement to say the striker hit the ground running whilst playing at Balgarska Armiya- he found the back of the net 16 times in just 24 league games. These 6 months in Bulgaria made Metallurg Donetsk realise what player they let to go for free which resulted in a €2M transfer back to the Ukrainian club. Just like Sergiu Buș, Moraes caused a lot of controversy in Ukraine by playing for Dynamo Kyiv and their biggest rivals, Shakhtar Donetsk, later on. Nevertheless, the Brazilian with a Ukrainian passport kept on improving and being lethal in front of goal scoring at every 1.5 matches in the top division of Ukrainian football.
Fernando Karanga (Sold for €3.4M)
It is fair to say Karanga became one of the most beloved foreigners to ever wear a CSKA shirt. Born in Camaragibe, Brazil, Fernando never managed to be successful anywhere before coming to Bulgaria. During his first 6 months as a CSKA Sofia player, the striker struggled to be at the top of his game and it looked like he could be gone and forgotten pretty quickly. However, everything changed for him during the 2017/18 campaign- Karanga was an absolute nightmare for the defenders and caused serious headaches due to his finishing. The numbers don’t lie- the Brazilian put the ball into the net on 24 occasions in just 27 appearances. Fans fell in love with him, and he was relishing the peak of his career in the Bulgarian team. Sadly enough for the CSKA supporters though, the Chinese side Henan Jianye was quick to react by offering Fernando hefty wages which couldn’t have been turned down. CSKA received plenty of cash from his departure too- €3.4M went straight into the club’s bank account making Karanga the second most valuable outgoing transfer in the team's history.
Maurides (Sold for €2.9M)
Last on the list is probably a long-forgotten CSKA player from whom the club managed to make a significant profit. After Karanga’s departure, the Bulgarian team was in search of a worthy replacement in that striker position. Their choice was the Sport Club Internacional academy product, Maurides. CSKA paid for his services a solid for the league’s standards fee of €300K. During his first months in Bulgaria, most fans genuinely thought their scouts have found the perfect (or even better) replacement for Karanga- during his first 9 matches, Maurides scored 7 times. What followed after that was a steep decline in his form- just 3 goals in 16 appearances meant a move away from Balgarska Armiya was unavoidable. Thankfully for both the club and the player himself, Changchun Yatai was more than willing to pay a staggering €2.9M for the striker.
Other notable departures of foreigners who played for CSKA include the likes of Nikola Vujadinovic (€900K), Nei (€1M), Abderrahman Kabous (€900K) and Elliot Grandin (€1.5M).