Top football clubs in Bulgaria hardly ever rely on the production of their youth academies therefore seeing a graduate being an important figure for his boyhood team could be seen as somewhat of a miracle. However, one exception of the stereotype, and the main character of this article, is arguably one of the most consistent Bulgarian defenders- Valentin Antov. The teenager has come a long way from being one of the many children dreaming about being a professional footballer to becoming a crucial part of his beloved team when just 19 years of age.
Valentin Ivaylov Antov was born on 9 November 2000 in Sofia, Bulgaria. He started playing football at the age of 7 in the CSKA Sofia’s youth academy. Since then, he has been patiently climbing up the footballing ladder until 2015. In that year, CSKA bankrupted, meaning that players were free to leave whenever they wanted to. What’s more, the club had to play in the third division since the owners couldn’t pay all the taxes, fees and debts. This situation forced CSKA to field players from the youth setups as well as experienced veterans who are passionate about this club and ready to play for basically no money in return. Valentin Antov, aged 14, was fast-tracked into the team and played 11 games in that season whilst becoming the club’s youngest ever captain in the process. He was part of the team that won the domestic cup in that very same campaign. However, a serious injury ruled the teenager out for more than 8 months, which could have been the turning point of his intriguing career. This didn’t turn out to be the case thankfully- he returned to the U19 academy team as a captain while also gaining international caps for the national teenage teams. Antov’s leadership led to an immediate impact as the youth setup won the Elite U19 League title, which convinced the staff that he has a place in the first-team squad. He made his debut in the top division of Bulgaria when being 17 years of age. Game by game, Valentin was establishing himself as an irreplaceable part of the team. An individual award was just a matter of time- Antov became ‘Young Bulgarian Player of the Year’ for 2018. The season which just finished saw the youngster playing on 17 occasions being one of the most consistent performers in a CSKA shirt. Speculations about his future are inevitable, but as of right now, the teenager is more than happy to stay at Balgarska Armiya.
Valentin Antov started his career as a central defender, which is his natural position, but since 2017 has also been used as a defensive midfielder and is fairly competent there as well. He is tall enough for a defender (1.89cm) while also having a high jumping reach as well as good heading abilities making him untouchable in the air. The Bulgarian has a mentality of a champion- he is determined to succeed, never stops chasing his opponents, has that sports aggression during games and rarely cracks under pressure despite being 19 years old. Nevertheless, he is widely known for his defensive qualities. The youngster knows how to time his tackles as well as runs, which helps him preserve stamina. What’s more, he is well-suited to linking up with his partners as he has changed multiple teammates in the central defensive line for the last 3 years as a CSKA player. During the last campaign, the tactical approach of Miloš Kruščić required long balls from the back, which improved Antov’s distribution and passing attributes. Valentin has superb work rates as he never stops fulfilling his duties even when exhausted. However, the 19-year-old needs to work on his agility problems- as a defensive midfielder, he needs to change his direction of movement quickly, otherwise he could be outplayed by much faster and lively players than him. What’s more, Antov could do a better job when on the ball- he feels comfortable when winning possession but is very quick to pass the ball to a teammate. Instead of searching for an immediate pass, he should gain confidence and preserve possession for a couple of seconds before assessing his options. Last but not least, the Bulgarian is a very humble and calm person on and off the pitch, which is becoming more and more essential these days.
Antov’s third season as part of the main squad of CSKA is vital- if he continues to improve by leaps and bounds, a move in a top European side would be unavoidable.