Not many knew who Kiril Despodov was before the Rossoblu officially announced his arrival from CSKA Sofia a week ago. The reported fee of €3m plus bonuses make him the most expensive player to ever be sold by a Bulgarian club, beating the record of 1994 Ballon d'Or winner Hristo Stoichkov’s move to Barcelona in 1990.
Ironically, the Barcelona legend is the one who gave Despodov his professional debut, as Stoichkov was the Coach of Litex Lovech, when the new Cagliari man was playing for their Under-16 team. The youngster was quickly promoted to the first team and made his professional debut shortly after at the age of 15 years and 183 days against Pirin Blagoevgrad.
In 2016 Despodov completed a transfer to CSKA Sofia, where he scored 24 goals in 79 appearances. He quickly established himself as a fan favourite, as his crucial goals and tenacity made him an integral part of the team’s attack. Despodov’s record of 10 goals and 11 assists in 21 appearances for his club this term also made him the first CSKA player to win the Bulgarian Footballer of the Year Award since Stoichkovback in 1989.
A natural winger, but capable of playing anywhere in attack, Despodov could make a real difference at Cagliari, if given the chance. His best position is considered to be at the right wing, as his acceleration, which is arguably his strongest quality, and technique make him a tricky customer for any defender. Like any good winger, Despodov has impressive dribbling and crossing abilities, but he also has a dangerous shot from distance, so likes to stray centrally.
Very well suited to attacking spaces, Despodov likes to play next to a big centre-forward, which means that Pavoletti could prove to be the perfect partner for the Bulgarian in Cagliari’s attack. In CSKA, Despodov mainly featured next to a classic Number 9 and was often given the freedom to drop deeper to receive the ball, as he is also capable of providing the killer pass.
Considering all this, it is easy to see why the Bulgarian could become an important figure at Cagliari, as very few players in the team combine speed, versatility and flair. Very often Maran’s men look slow, predictable and short of ideas in attack, which is something that Despodov could change.
Putting Pavoletti aside, from all of Cagliari’s current forwards only Joao Pedro has found the back of the net this season. This means that it should be a no-brainer for Maran to give Despodov the opportunity to impress, despite Birsa and Cyril Thereau’s arrivals in the same transfer window.
Both Birsa and Thereau seem to be well past their prime and have been be short of match fitness this term, as the Slovenian lost his starting place at Chievo to Emanuele Giaccherini, while the Frenchman registered just 28 minutes for Fiorentina. That was fully evident in Cagliari’s last game against Atalanta, as both players suffered injuries and looked off the pace during their time on the field.
It’s been a while since a Bulgarian had a significant impact in Italy and while it’s too early to judge Despodov’s chances of doing that, the 22-year-old does have the talent to impress. Ivaylo Chochev has established himself as a regular figure at Palermo in recent years, while Aleksandar Tonev and Andrey Galabinov had some decent moments with Frosinone, Crotone and Genoa respectively, but hardly dazzled the world.
This means that Valeri Bojinov’s spells at Lecce, Fiorentina, Juventus and Parma make him the last Bulgarian to leave his mark on the Peninsula. However, the now 32-year-old never managed to live up to the early promise he showed at Lecce, as his contract with Botev Vratsa recently expired and he is currently negotiating a move to Levski Sofia.
Comparing Despodov to either Stoichkov or Bojinov would be hugely inappropriate at this point, as the career of those players had completely different paths. Bulgarians have often struggled to adapt when moving abroad in recent years, so discipline and eagerness to improve will be key for Despodov. However, if he works hard, his chance will come and with all the talent he has, a chance might prove to be the only thing that Kiril Despodov needs to become a real hit at Cagliari.