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      Svetoslav Todorov: From Irons player to Eagles coach, via Bulgaria


      Crystal Palace host West Ham United at Selhurst Park on Sunday, 21st April (KO: 15:00 BST). Ahead of the fixture former Hammers striker-turned Palace Academy coach Svetoslav Todorov told us all about his time in claret and blue – and revealed how his story is now entwined with that of south London's.

      Todorov joined Harry Redknapp’s West Ham side in January 2001 at the age of 22, becoming the first-ever player to move directly from Bulgaria to the Premier League.

      A striker by trade, he faced stiff competition upon arrival in east London from huge names such as Paolo Di Canio, Frédéric Kanouté and Jermain Defoe. He held his own, however, scoring in his home debut at Upton Park against Tottenham Hotspur.

      He went on to score once more for the Hammers against Middlesbrough, before moving to the south coast to reunite with Redknapp at Portsmouth in March 2002. He finished as Pompey’s top scorer in 2002/03, helping secure promotion to the Premier League.

      After Portsmouth, he spent some time in south London, albeit in Charlton colours, before a return to Bulgaria and a short stint in Ukraine. He then began his coaching career where he started his club career, at Dobrudzha Dobrich, progressing to the Bulgarian Under-19s side, CSKA Sofia II and Botev Galabovo.

      In 2018, he returned to south London as an Academy coach with Palace and has since worked with the likes of Paddy McCarthy, Dave Cooper and Rob Quinn, helping current stars through the ranks including David Ozoh, Kaden Rodney and Jadan Raymond.

      Reflecting on his time at Upton Park, Todorov said: “I was a young boy at the time. It was unbelievable just to be part of that team and to have a chance to play at Upton Park for West Ham.

      “My debut was against Liverpool away at Anfield, which was amazing. My first goal was against Tottenham in the FA Cup, which was actually my debut at Upton Park.

      “I spent a year-and-a-half there, and there were some good moments. I played a few games there and I really enjoyed it. It was my first club in England when I came, a young 22-year-old boy at the time. It was a great experience.”

      Coming to the Premier League and a completely different country at such a young age might have been quite a hurdle for some players to overcome, but Todorov took it in his stride: “It wasn't tough [to come to London and the Premier League].

      “If I'm honest, I'm quite adaptable. The main thing, the main focus for me, was to play at the highest level. There was nothing more to it than that.

      “West Ham, at the time in the Premier League, had some good players and an unbelievable manager in Harry Redknapp, who I was lucky to play under for five years.

      “It was tough at one point, because when I arrived, there were only 16 players in a [matchday] squad. It was [tough to get into] the squad when there’s only four [outfield] players on the bench. One of them is a 'keeper, and then everyone else is fighting for a place.

      “But as soon as you get in, you come on from the bench, and you need to earn your first starts. It was quite challenging at the time. We had five, six strikers at West Ham: Davor Šuker was still there, Titi Camara, Dave Kitson, Frédéric Kanouté, Paolo Di Canio... then there was me and another young boy who was there, Richard Garcia.

      “I got my first goal against Tottenham, and then scored my second goal straight away in the next game against Middlesbrough away... and that's it! The season finished after that!

      "The Premier League at the time was just [incredible]... remember, The Invincibles, Arsenal, at the time were still there, my second game was against them."

      Following on from his spell at West Ham was a move to the south coast as Todorov was reunited with manager Redknapp.

      “When I went there initially, he [Redknapp] became the manager two games later! Graeme Rix was the manager when I went, and after two games Harry stepped in [to manage the side, from his role as Director of Football].

      “After Portsmouth, I went to Charlton. I spent two years there and played under Alan Pardew. That's where I played with Paddy [McCarthy].

      "The funny thing is... I don't have too many goals for Charlton, but one of the goals was against Palace at Selhurst Park in a 1-0 win. I try not to really talk about that!”

      From Charlton, Todorov went back to Bulgaria to play for Litex Lovech once again - the club he played for before signing for West Ham. He helped them to two more league titles, meaning he was there for all four of their Bulgarian First League victories. He still holds the record as Litix’s all-time top scorer.

      The forward then went to Hoverla Uzhhorod in Ukraine where he played one season and then retired, embarking on a coaching career which took him from Dobrudzha Dobrich, the Bulgarian national team U19s CSKA Sofia II and Botev Galabovo, to becoming an Academy coach at Palace in 2018.

      “I came here six years ago. I worked with Paddy a little bit with the U18s for about six or seven months, and then I went to Southend, when they were in League One, for six months as a first-team coach with Kevin Bond.

      “After Southend, I came back here and then came back and worked with Quinny [Rob Quinn], Noose [Mark Newson], Dave [Cooper], Powelly [Darren Powell] a little bit.

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      It's a great club, great people, great support from everywhere. Everyone has been so helpful and nice. It's been unbelievable... I'm just enjoying it every single day.

      Svetoslav Todorov

      “It's a great club, great people, great support from everywhere. Everyone has been so helpful and nice and I cannot say anything bad. It's been unbelievable, I'm just enjoying it every single day.

      “Even in the beginning, when this facility wasn't here, everyone was good, everyone worked hard, everyone was helping, everyone was supportive.

      “We had some good players as well, but now, with the new facility, it blows your mind and it's just unbelievable, the investment and everything.

      “The aim of everyone here is to help with our knowledge and to support everyone here at the Academy. We have all the disciplines here, we can help and support players to go across the road, and [hopefully one day] play in Selhurst Park.

      "It's not easy. You need to have luck, you need to have talent, and the main thing is your mind. Football is about how strong you are mentally – it's not just quality, it's whether you can resist all the setbacks, because there are so many setbacks in football.

      "If you cannot deal with them, it's tough to make it, because you know when you're young, you get picked up, but can you fight for a place, to take one from someone who plays in the starting XI?

      "When the chance comes, are you ready for the chance? Can you keep the same level of performance every week? Can you be consistent every week?

      "And when you're consistent every week, now you need to go to the next level. There’s never enough – it never stops progressing!"

      Palace's Academy prospects certainly have quite the model professional to realise their potential with.