Vladimir Latunov’s 20th season as a Football Manager had seen him mount a serious title challenge with CSKA-Sofia. His second season in Bulgaria saw his side lead perennial champions Ludogorets by eight points with 12 games remaining – and having beaten their biggest rivals twice.
2040 began with two failed signings Cesar López and Yavor Kaymakanski being sold on after getting unhappy. Lucas Linares also got unhappy after several bids were rejected and moved to Turkey for £2 million.
Latunov strengthened the squad by signing left-winger Jaílson Picolotto, who was required as first choice Ivo Valchev picked up seven injuries that saw him miss six months of 2039, for £650,000. He also added backup right-back and midfielder Tomasz Piatek for £110,000, and backup centre-back Petr Kolar for £500,000. But they ended the window with £8 million remaining in the transfer kitty!
Bulgarian Preliminary Phase resumes
The league campaign resumed after a two-month winter break with a huge game in the Eternal Derby, which saw CSKA make the trip across Sofia to fourth-place Levski. The passion clearly overwhelmed the players with three penalties dished out in the first half, as Levski took the lead only for Vladimir Danko to turn things around with two spot kicks in three minutes. He then teed up his strike partner Jan Filipovic and completed his hat-trick late on to seal a crushing, probably undeserved 4-1 win.
Nothing happened in a 0-0 at Pirin before – in what was a slightly surprising first for this Eastern European adventure – their home game with Beroe was postponed due to heavy snow! It was rearranged for four days later and turned out to be nearly as uneventful as a first half Filipovic strike from a superb Vasil Velkov pass was enough for a 1-0 win.
Next up was a home game with Spartak Pleven who, remarkably, after 22 games had just one point and had conceded 84! A ridiculous penalty decision – there’s no VAR in Bulgaria – saw the hosts lead with their only shot on target but CSKA fired back with a brace from winger Cosmin Somesan and another Filipovic strike. A third consecutive home game against mid-table Belasitsa saw exciting young winger Mihail Nikolov, who’s wanted by Inter and Milan, score a brilliant curling long-range shot then create a vital second for Danko to seal a 2-1 win.
Nikolov was excellent again as he scored and created goals for young midfielder Anze Zizmond and Danko in an impressive 4-2 win at Botev Plovdiv. They then conceded after 40 seconds at strugglers Yantra, but came flying back to lead 5-1 at half-time… and won 5-1. That brought the Preliminary Phase to an end with CSKA top of the league, still eight points clear of Ludogorets – and with Pleven still on one point!
Chasing a 12th national title
CSKA headed into the Bulgarian First League Championship Phase knowing they needed just seven points from their five remaining matches. If they managed it, Vladimir Latunov would wrap up the 12th national title of the 13 available to him on his Soviet Surge. They would also deny Ludogorets an outrageous 15th consecutive title!
Match 1 – Ludogorets (home): There was a long wait though, with 17 days between the Yantra game and the start of the Championship Phase. But for the second season in a row, the Championship Phase began against Ludogorets, who’d won their last six games. The visitors had the better of an awful game and scored in the first minute of the second half to win 1-0 and close the gap to five points.
Match 2 – Belasitsa (away): CSKA were equally inept at sixth-place Belasitsa until Somesan seized on some slack defending and crossed for Filipovic to open the scoring. Latunov made a sentimental substitution with his old friend Sandro Luiz replacing Danko, and the wily old Brazilian sealed a dominant second half to double the lead late on. Ludogorets beat Septemvri 3-1 the next day to maintain the five-point gap.
Match 3 – Levski Sofia (home): A 15-day break offered plenty of recovery time ahead of another Eternal Derby clash. But Ludogorets lost 2-1 at home to Belasitsa the day before, which meant CSKA would be champions with a point against their fierce rivals. They got the perfect start as centre-back Samo Oblak headed home a Velkov free-kick inside seven minutes. Somesan then won a penalty 10 minutes into the second half, which Danko smashed home to get the party started.
CSKA-Sofia were Champions of Bulgaria for the first time since 2025!!
Bizarrely, the season ended under a transfer embargo became the focus of a takeover. Sandro Luiz, who just turned 35, capped his magnificent career in style with a goal in a 3-1 loss at Beroe before Nikolov and Filipovic sealed a final day 2-0 win over Septemvri. Sandro Luiz finished his career with 212 goals in 619 league games, of which he scored 85 in 108 under Latunov. What a hero.
CSKA won the league by 11 points from Ludogorets, finishing with just two draws and three defeats in 31 games. Pleven, however, managed to get three points all season, winning none, and conceded 115 goals in 32 games!
The key players behind CSKA’s success were the strikeforce of Danko, who top-scored with 19 goals and six assists, and Filipovic, who scored 16 and got 10 assists. Somesan chipped in with 10 goals and seven assists while Velkov topped the assists chart with 12. Oblak was also excellent with an average rating of 7.21, only bettered by Danko’s 7.26.
Danko won fans’ player of the season, Velkov got young player and centre-back Dilyan Tsanev was surprisingly signing of the season. Latunov left CSKA in rude financial health, with £22 million in the bank and a £12 million transfer kitty. They also had plenty of exciting youngsters coming through, with three more players in the latest youth intake taking the club to 14 4.5 or 5-star potential players. That includes exciting 16-year-old striker Hristiyan Vitanov, who scored 44 goals in 30 games for the under 19s.
Moving on once again
Wrapping up the Bulgarian title meant just one more task awaited Vladimir Latunov. It meant returning home to his motherland in a bid to win the 13th league available to him on his Soviet Surge.
So with a heavy heart on 1 June 2040, he resigned from CSKA and went on the search for a manager’s job in Russia. Interestingly, two of the top three teams fancied to win the Russian Premier League had underperformed and sacked their managers. Two weeks later, both title favourites Krylja Sovetov, who finished fifth, and third-favourites Ural Yekaterinburg, who finished eighth, offered interviews.
Another week later, Ural came forward with a transfer budget of £39 million and wage budget of £850,000. Latunov delayed because he knew Krylja were loaded, but they went and hired the former Zilina manager, who had terrible attributes! Ural eventually came back with an offer and Latunov wasted no time in accepting.
Join us next time as Vladimir Latunov goes back home to Russia for the first time in 20 years of management as he moves into Eastern European country number 13 out of 13 on his Soviet Surge.