Levski Sofia knew what they were doing when they paid Neftochimik a record Bulgarian domestic transfer fee of œ800,000 for up-and-coming forward Georgi Chilikov in summer 2001. Playing alongside star Levski striker Georgi Ivanov last term, Chilikov contributed 10 goals as his new team won the League for the third successive year. This season, with Ivanov now at Rennes, the 24-year-old has already outstripped that total, hitting 11 goals in his first 10 League games.

‘Georgi has the taste for goals at the moment, and it’s wonderful to see him so sharp,’ says Levski managing director Nasko Sirakov. ‘With his speed, determination and technique, he is a striker who can go a long way in the game. However, he is a good team man, too, and many overlook the chances he makes for others.

‘While we were all sad to see Georgi Ivanov go to France, we know we have someone in Chilikov who will continue to keep the goals coming. It’s a pity Ivanov and Chilikov only played together for a season. That was not long enough.’

Now, the only chance of seeing the pair in tandem up front is in the colours of Bulgaria. Chilikov won his first cap, as a substitute, in the 2-0 Euro 2004 win in Belgium. His next two national team appearances would provide him with markedly different emotions. After coming off the bench in the 2-0 home winover Croatia, Chilikov was guilty of wasting two excellent chances. But he celebrated his first start, against Andorra, by opening the scoring in the 2-1 win. ‘Chilikov is shaping up very well,’ says Bulgaria coach Plamen Markov. ‘I thought he showed a lot of promise at Neftochimik, and he’s been maturing nicely. The trick is for him not to assume he’s a big star already. He is nowhere near his peak, but in two or three years he could be really special.’

Chilikov should have no trouble keeping a sense of perspective. After all, he has had some disappointments to contend with this season. A missed penalty in Levski’s Champions League preliminary round loss to Kyiv Dynamo was a moment to forget, as was his club’s recent 3-0 thumping by rivals CSKA Sofia in the League.

With CSKA sitting pretty at the top ofthe table, Levski will need Chilikov’s classy finishing to stay in touch.

Club Levski Sofia
Country Bulgaria
Born August 23, 1978, in Bourgas
Previous club Neftochimik
International debut September 2002, v Belgium
International caps 3 (1 goal)
Honours Bulgarian League 2002; Bulgarian Cup 2002