With the anticipation building ahead of Friday's UEFA European Under-17 Championship final between France and Germany in Burgas, city mayor Dimitar Nikolov held a press conference alongside former Bulgarian internationals Stiliyan Petrov and Radostin Kishishev.
"I'm expecting this final to be a very positive occasion," said ex-Charlton Athletic FC defender Kishishev, coach of home-town club PFC Burgas in Bulgaria's second tier. "This tournament is amazing, it's such a big deal for Bulgaria – the last time we hosted something like this was a long time ago. Germany and France have played the best football here and I expect a lot of people to come and watch the final. I believe that some of the players we'll see tomorrow will be big stars over the next ten to 15 years."
Sharing his enthusiasm was mayor Nikolov. "It's a great honour to have been part of this tournament, and tomorrow we will be very proud to welcome [UEFA President] Michel Platini. This competition has been a great opportunity to emphasise Burgas' status as a European City of Sport . There have been lots of children involved in, and coming to watch, the games so far, which we hope will be great for the future of football in Burgas."
In the view of tournament ambassador Petrov, however, the wave of interest the finals has generated must be turned into constructive action. "A country like Bulgaria, which has always produced talented footballers, should be able to produce players that play in the world's top five leagues – that hasn't been the case recently. Having this European championship has made a lot of people open their eyes. When I watched Bulgaria play I could see we were miles away from top-level football.
"This shouldn't be taken as a criticism, though," continued the erstwhile PFC CSKA Sofia, Celtic FC and Aston Villa FC midfielder. "It should be seen as something to aim for and the necessary steps need to be taken for us to get better. Measures to improve the quality of training facilities, pitches and the amount of attention paid to youth development are all very important. That way, next time we play in a tournament like this we can show everybody that we're working well and moving forward."
Petrov – who combines work with the Stiliyan Petrov Foundation, which aims to revolutionise the way leukaemia and cancer are treated, with a part-time role under Villa manager Tim Sherwood – added: "I've seen some real top players here. Croatia were very impressive, for example, while when it comes to France and Germany, of the 22 starters maybe 15 could already make the step up to the pro game. It's no surprise to see these two countries reach the final. They're examples to follow in terms of youth development and I hope that one day we will be too."
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