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Fulham linked with Ivanov

last updated Friday 08th June 2001, 11:33 AM
Georgi Ivanov
Georgi Ivanov
The battle to sign Levski Sofia forward Georgi Ivanov looks to have come down to a straight fight between Spanish club Real Mallorca and newly-promoted Premiership side Fulham.

Mallorca seemed to be the favourites for his signature when they have tabled an official bid of £6 million, something Ivanov's agent Lachezar Tanev confirmed this week.

It had been thought a deal would be signed on Friday, but Fulham now look poised to make a late bid that could see the striker, who is nicknamed Gonzo, heading for west London.

Fulham coach Jean Tigana, who recently failed in a bid to land Anderlecht striker Jan Koller, had scouts watching Ivanov in action for Bulgaria against Iceland in Rekjyavik on Wednesday.

Premiership sides Ipswich Town and Southampton, Scottish side Rangers Spanish giants Barcelona, have also been linked with Ivanov, who hit 20 goals as Levski won their second successive title this season.

Ivanov left home-town club Lokomotiv Plovdiv to join Sofia giants Levski in 1996 and made his international debut later the same year. What should have been a year of joy, though, turned sour as he started poorly for both Bulgaria and his new club.

Now, though, he is revelling at Levski, and, last December, he won the title of Bulgaria's player of the year.

Ivanov's father was also an international footballer, but died while Georgi was still young. Ivanov soon set about following in his father's footsteps.

Ivanov began his career with Lokomotiv, where he soon caught the eye. Many observers thought him the best player to grace the Lokomotiv Stadium since the legendary Hristo Bonev.

Bonev himself was coach of Lokomotiv Sofia and Bulgaria at the time, and he liked the look of the man playing in his image. He and club president Nikolai Gigov made the trip to Plovdiv to try to sign him, but Ivanov preferred instead to join Levski, despite the fact that they were offering less money.

"I don't regret my decision. Levski is one of the two best teams in Bulgaria and my future will be much brighter with them," Ivanov said after joining the club.

At Levski, two comparisons were soon made. Firstly, his large nose earned him the nickname Gonzo, after the hairy purple character from The Muppets, then he was likened to former Levski great Georgi Asparuhov.

On the field, though, things did not go well, as Ivanov struggled to settle in. Nevertheless, Bonev called him up for his international debut against Luxemburg in October 1996 after Hristo Stoichkov, Lubo Penev and Yordan Lechkov pulled out of the squad.

Much was expected of the forward, despite his inexperience, and, with scouts from Bundesliga sides Bochum and FC Cologne watching, Ivanov froze.

Bonev was heavily criticised for his decision to play the Levski man, and the international door promptly closed.

Gradually, Ivanov began to find his feet, and the goals began to flow - particularly, it seemed, against Levski's arch-rivals CSKA, which earned him the adulation of the fans.

His first three years at Levski, however, were some of the worst in the club's recent history, as they finished second in the table for four consecutive seasons and underachieved in Europe.

President Tomas Laftchis changed his coaches with abandon, and it was only when he left the club and Serbian coach Lupko Petrovic took over that the Blue Avalanche turned the corner.

An exhilarating Uefa Cup campaign was only ended by Juventus, and, even though Petrovic left during the winter break, Levski maintained their form, with Ivanov to the fore.

Levski met CSKA in the quarter-finals of the Cup, and emerged triumphant, largely thanks to Ivanov. Then he repeated the trick against CSKA in the league, despite taking a knock to his head early in the game.

Any doubt that it was Gonzo's season disappeared in the Cup final when he scored an astonishing opener as Levski beat Neftohimik 2-0.

Petrovic returned in the summer and, despite a disappointing defeat to Besiktas in a Champions' League qualifier, it has been business as usual in the league for Levski. Things have been looking up for Ivanov on the international front as well.

He impressed in a tournament in Chile, scoring the winner against Yugoslavia and two more goals followed in a World Cup qualifier against Malta in October.
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