Popov: Kelantan can come good
Not on what is happening behind the scenes, but on the pitch where the team is consistently delivering good results.
“My job is to work on the training and the football pitch. I will think only about the football,” Popov told FourFourTwo.
It would be a refreshing change for fans. It is fair to say that most headlines coming out of Kelantan this season have not been regarding events on the pitch.
What is happening off it is in danger of pushing the club into the realms of soap opera.
Instead of goals scored, games won and heroes made, the stories have been about money and contracts.
The Red Warriors have been cash-strapped to the extent that past players and coaches are still waiting to be paid.
This situation is still ongoing despite the injection of cash from new sponsor Datuk Seri Dr Hasmiza and her beauty products company just before the start of the season.
It has been controversial too with Seri Vida, as she is known. From changing the team's nickname, painting the stadium pink, sitting on the bench during games to even, if reports are correct, scouting for players.
It all adds to a mess that would be easier for fans to deal with if the team was doing better in the league.
But as it stands, Kelantan are closer to the bottom than the top, not the position that the 2011 and 2012 Malaysia Super League (MSL) champions want to be in.
On May 11, coach K Devan stepped down after weeks of speculation about his future and was immediately replaced by Popov.
Unsurprisingly, the new man prefers not to talk about issues at the club that predate his arrival.
“Actually I don't know anything about this. This is not my job and not my business. So I can't comment,” he said.
“Since I came here, everything looks good and there is no reason to think that it will change. The same with the sponsor. I have heard about her but I didn't meet her yet.”
Despite being just 40, the Bulgarian has Asian experience. After some time coaching in his homeland, he arrived in the Maldives in 2012 to take charge of New Radiant, the country's leading club.
From there he went to Oman, before a stint with Thailand's Suphanburi in 2014.
In 2015, Popov became coach of the Maldives national team for the second round of qualification for the 2018 World Cup.
But he revealed he was close to becoming Kelantan’s coach years ago, after meeting Kelantan FA president Tan Sri Annuar Musa.
“We have had a good relationship and have been in contact since that time,” Popov shared.
“I almost became coach back then but something happened at the last moment. After that, I went to Perak to negotiate but again something happened and I went to Thailand instead.
“This time, (when Kelantan came calling again) I didn't have to think about it much as Kelantan are a very big team, a champion and it is a big honour for me. The club is ambitious and there is a good project for the future here.”
The Bulgarian admitted that Kelantan could be his toughest test as a coach yet, and that he will need to draw on all his years of experience to stop the rut.
But he believes he has seen enough from YouTube to suggest his side is capable of challenging for honours in the second half of the season.
“ The target that I was given this season is to be in the top four in the league and the Malaysia Cup, at least reach the semi-final but we will do our best to win the Malaysia Cup,” Popov said.
“We will then to try and build a strong team for next season, to be competitive and fight for the title. This is the plan.
“I already saw some matches on You Tube and after the first two training sessions, I am confident and optimistic because I saw good quality.
“ We have some of the best local players in Malaysia and foreign players with good CVs. It is hard to understand why so far the team is not in the top four.”
With both Annuar and Seri Vida criticising Devan for overly defensive football this season, Popov proclaimed his devotion to the offensive side of the game.
But do not expect Popov to make any drastic changes to his squad, even if the transfer window is opening soon.
“We have some of the best fans in the country. Our first target is to help them support the team because we need them,” Popov explained.
He added, “We have good foreign players so I must give them a chance. They have contracts. I don't think this season, anything will change. We must respect the contracts of the players.”