* “Red Champions” group agrees to buy financially-troubled club
* Crowd favourite Stoichkov to be replaced as coach by Mladenov
* Several key players have already left amid the turmoil (Updates with deal to buy club, adds byline)
By Angel Krasimirov
SOFIA, July 8 (Reuters) – Troubled CSKA Sofia are close to being taken over by a business group called “Red Champions” who said they will appoint the club’s former coach Stoycho Mladenov to replace Hristo Stoichkov who quit earlier on Monday.
Former European Footballer of the Year Stoichkov resigned after only a month in charge, saying he had lost faith in the club’s owners, Titan Sport, and their “endless lies”.
“I’m fed up, I’m leaving,” the former Barcelona striker said in a letter addressed to local media.
“I agreed to start coaching without a contract and I had a great desire to help.
“I had the support of the players and my staff. We endured until it became clear there’s no chance of promises being fulfilled,” added Stoichkov, who didn’t attend CSKA’s training sessions in the last 10 days.
CSKA are the most successful Bulgarian club with 31 league titles but have hit difficult times of late with inept performances on the pitch combined with controversy in the boardroom and crippling levels of debt.
Titan Sport, a subsidiary of Titan International Holdings, have overseen the club’s affairs during a tricky period since acquiring 100 percent of CSKA’s shares in 2009.
Alexander Tomov, CSKA president during their 2008 league title-winning campaign, said on Monday “Red Champions”, which he represents, had agreed to buy the club from Titan.
“Yes, we are at the finish line,” Tomov told reporters. “Negotiations with Titan are just about to end, there are only a few details, which will be cleared tomorrow.”
Titan, trying to get to grips with the escalating situation ahead of the new season starting on July 20, last month turned to crowd favourite Stoichkov as their fourth coach of the year.
Stoichkov, who won three league titles and four national cups as a CSKA player in the 1980s, received a rapturous welcome as thousands of fans cheered him and let off flares during the club’s first pre-season training session.
But the problems quickly followed.
Only two weeks later, the owners said in a surprise statement on the club’s website that they had transferred all their 6.5 million shares to the 47-year-old Stoichkov, although the deal has yet to be concluded.
Stoichkov had also said several businessmen were ready to start financing the Reds but the owners had prevented a change of ownership.
“It is not my understanding of fair, transparent and professional work,” said Stoichkov. “This is no way to achieve high goals if there’s no respect between players, coaches and officials on the one hand, and the club owners on the other.
“Lies cannot be endless and we cannot go forward. Or at least I cannot do so.”
Former politician Tomov said the new owners would turn to coach Mladenov, who led CSKA to their 31st league title five years ago when they finished 16 points ahead of second-placed bitter city rivals Levski Sofia.
“I’ve already met Stoycho Mladenov and told him that he’s our choice,” Tomov said. “If everything is fine tomorrow (Tuesday), which I have no doubt, Stoycho will be officially appointed as head coach.
“You know that we won our last title in 2008 with him. Now, the goals will be the same. Let our fans be quiet.”
If unveiled as coach on Tuesday, former CSKA striker Mladenov will start his fourth stint at the helm of the club.
In his first spell, he won the league title in 2003. His third spell in the job began in March 2012, but he was unable to make any improvement and was sacked 10 months later.
Mladenov, 56, is known as “The executioner of Liverpool” in the Balkan country for his double in a 2-0 win over the English side in the 1982 European Cup which secured a semi-final place.
CSKA, who reached three European semis between 1967 and 1989, finished third in the league last season, nine points behind champions Ludogorets.
The off-field problems have led to insecurity in the dressing room, with more than half a dozen key players, including captain Ivan Bandalovski and Brazilian striker Michel Platini, leaving the club in the last two weeks.
Only a small number of CSKA players continue training amid mounting uncertainty ahead of the new campaign. (Reporting by Angel Krasimirov, Editing by Patrick Johnston and Ken Ferris)