Stanislav Angelov is what you would call a late developer in international terms. The versatile player was already 28 by the time he made his Bulgaria debut in 2006, but he has made up for lost time by becoming a fixture in the side ever since.
Angelov began his professional career in Sofia, spending three seasons with CSKA before crossing the city to Levski, where he won the league three times and the cup on four occasions. Fresh from his club's latest domestic double, he packed his bags and moved to German Bundesliga outfit Energie Cottbus.
Interviewed exclusively by FIFA.com, Angelov spoke about 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifying, another potential switch of club, and the role occupied by football in his home country.
FIFA.com: Stanislav, let's start out with your club, Energie Cottbus. You face a crunch final game this coming weekend. Can Energie avoid relegation?
Stanislav Angelov: Of course we can. I reckon we'll still be in the Bundesliga next season.
What could happen if you do end up back in the second division?
If we’re relegated, I might leave the club, but for now I’m 100 per cent focused on Cottbus and the next game.
Who might you want to play for in the future?
If I had the choice, I'd stay in the Bundesliga. I'm the kind of guy who responds positively to a challenge. I take everything one step at a time. The logical next step for me would be a stronger Bundesliga club.
You sometimes play in defence, sometimes in midfield. Which position do you prefer?
At the moment I’m in midfield, as I was last season. That might well be the best position for me, although what matters is that I’m playing and helping the team, so the position is of no importance. The coach decides where I'm most valuable for the team.
In South Africa 2010 qualifying, Bulgaria have seven points from five games and lie third in their group behind Italy (14 points from six games) and Republic of Ireland (12 points from six). Realistically, what are your chances of reaching next year's FIFA World Cup?
We have a good team and I believe in them. We've not taken enough points yet, but we've mainly played away from home. A win against Ireland would boost our chances.
Being in South Africa would be fantastic and unbelievable. But we have to stop dreaming and start working hard.
Bulgaria recently installed a new coach. What are your early impressions of Stanimir Stoilov?
We spent a period together back home in Bulgaria, we reached the UEFA Champions League and we did well in the UEFA Cup. He's a good coach, he's young and eager to learn. He's the best solution for Bulgaria at the present time.
What has Stoilov changed?
We're more attacking now. Looking at the table, we have nothing to lose. We have to win every game to stay in with a chance. We have to take risks and above all think positive.
How would you assess your own situation with regard to the national team?
My situation remains as it always was. If I work hard and play well for my club, I'll stay as part of the national set-up. You have to fight for your place.
What would going to South Africa mean to you personally?
Being in South Africa would be fantastic and unbelievable. But we have to stop dreaming and start working hard. We have to win our games.
Bulgaria's most successful FIFA World Cup was USA 1994. Hristo Stoichkov, Krassimir Balakov, Yordan Letchkov and Co took fourth place. Do you remember that great team?
Of course I recall the tournament. That was the best team in Bulgarian footballing history. Emulating that fourth-placed finish is a big ask. We had top class players in every position back then, but that's not the case today unfortunately.
What does representing your country mean to you?
It's the simple fact of playing for and representing the nation. It has nothing to do with money. We play for our country, and it's your duty to give everything for that.
What's the role of football in Bulgaria?
Football is the world's biggest sport and it's no different in Bulgaria. Everyone in the country knows what's going on with the national team, and everyone watches the international matches.