Meet the Man City and Juve target who is 'a gift from God' – could he be the new Stoichkov?
The 60-second story
- Date of birth: June 23, 1997
- Place of birth: Vratsa (Bulgaria)
- Height: 6ft
- Position: Attacking midfielder/winger
- Current club: Levski Sofia
- National team: Bulgaria U19
Long before his debut for Levski Sofia in Bulgaria’s first division last summer, 17-year-old Bozhidar Kraev had already hit the headlines. In 2008, the prodigious attacking midfielder won a football competition in Bulgaria organised by Gillette, whose guest of honour was the one and only Hristo Stoichkov. Stoichkov, a true Barcelona legend in the 90s, is still the only Bulgarian to have won the Ballon d’Or award (in 1994). The prize Kraev got for his first place was an invitation to train at one of Stoichkov’s academies in Spain. Not only did the youngster flourish there by scoring 70 goals in 60 games for his new team, but he also drew the attention of scouts from Barcelona’s famous La Masia academy. Unfortunately for Kraev, his dream move to Barça, where he could have followed in the footsteps of one of his idols Lionel Messi, collapsed due to a sudden change in the scouting staff at Camp Nou. Kraev decided to return to Bulgaria, but the best was still to come.
Why you need to know him
Just recently Kraev has completed trials at both Manchester City and Juventus. City offered the Bulgarian talent a week-long stint at their new training facility, while Juve gave him the opportunity to show his qualities for a three-day stay in Turin.
Since his return from Spain, Kraev’s progress has been impressive. After a short spell at Stoichkov's Bulgarian academy in Etropole, where he captained the team of players born in 1997, the promising midfielder signed for one of the biggest clubs in his native country, Levski Sofia. His official senior debut last July was followed by 10 more games and a spectacular hat-trick in a cup clash with Spartak Varna, which Levski won 7-1.
Last month he became the first Bulgarian player to pen a contract with Stellar Group agency, which also represents the world’s most expensive player, Gareth Bale.
“Usually I prefer to play in the midfield, but in Spain the coach used to put me on the right wing. My stronger leg is the right one,” Kraev said during one of his rare interviews. Despite the fact that he fancies shooting with his right foot, he scored two of his first three goals for Levski with his left.
As a graduate from a Spanish football school, his passing skills are naturally impressive. Kraev has already played almost everywhere in Levski's midfield. Thus, he is showing his versatility.
Starting regularly for arguably the biggest club in his country is without any doubt a great achievement for any 17-year-old. However, sometimes professional football could be too demanding for a youngster and in Kraev’s case he must definitely continue improving his physical condition. His lack of fitness was one of the reasons he missed the preparation camp of Levski’s senior side last winter. Defensive duties are something every modern midfielder should take care of, and this is another area in which the young Bulgarian could improve.
“Bozhidar is really good at high-speed dribbling. The quality I like most in him is that he is not selfish – he prefers to pass the ball to a better-placed team-mate instead of trying to score a goal,” Stoichkov said.
The former Ballon d’Or winner also gave Kraev his nickname 'Chicharito'. Unlike his namesake on loan at Real Madrid, the Bulgarian is a little bit taller, prefers to play behind the striker and his favourite jersey colour is the blue one (as that of Levski or, ahem... City).
Did you know?
In his childhood years, Kraev also won a couple of middle-distance running competitions (800 metres). The attacking midfielder has inherited his speed from his mother Ina, who used to win such races as a professional athlete. Furthermore, Kraev’s father Boyko is a former football player. “I wasn’t lucky enough during my football career. That’s why I gave my son the name Bozhidar (which literally translates in Bulgarian as “a gift from God”), so that he becomes more successful than me,” Kraev Sr. explained.
What happens next?
- Shooting 7
- Heading 5
- Passing 7
- Tackling 5
- Pace 7
- Dribbling 8
- Creativity 8
- Work-rate 5
Kraev may have enjoyed trials with two of Europe's biggest clubs recently, but the starlet only signed a three-year contract with Levski in December, as his old one expired this summer.
It's good news for Levski in more ways than one; had Kraev left before penning a new deal, the Bulgarians could have been compensated with just €300,000, according to FIFA rules. A similar situation looked like unfolding with another promising Levski youngster, Antonio Vutov. Instead of signing the 17-year-old for the aforementioned sum earlier this year, though, Italian side Udinese generously chose to pay Levski an amount roughly three times that size.
Levski have already optimistically put a €1 million price tag on Kraev. It remains to be seen whether Stoichkov’s favourite student has impressed City or Juventus suitably, but one thing’s for sure – a permanent deal with a big European club will make Kraev’s mentor extremely proud.