Bulgarian brothers to debut for Canterbury
Two Bulgarian brothers will bolster Canterbury United for the start of the national football league season today.
Attacking midfielder Dimitar Bayrev, 25, and his brother Vladimir, a 23-year-old central defender, are likely to make their ASB premiership debuts when the Canterbury Dragons travel to play four-time champions Auckland City.
Canterbury head coach Keith Braithwaite said the brothers were friends of Dragons assistant-coach Tsetso Ivanov and were holidaying in New Zealand.
"They've come here to see Tsetso, who is a close friend of their father and has known them since they were boys," Braithwaite said. "They decided to play football while they are here on holiday."
Dimitar Bayrev, who scored in Canterbury's recent 2-0 pre-season win over Otago United, said the brothers had spent two years with Bulgarian first division club FC Betov Plovdiv and were looking forward to experiencing New Zealand football.
Braithwaite said the pair would be handy additions to a Canterbury squad missing veteran midfielder Joe Murray, English import left back Daniel Glozier and top scorer George Slefendorfas who has defected to champions Waitakere United.
"They are both very talented. Vlad has got an educated left foot and is a good distributor of the ball and Dimi, up front, will play the No 10 role tucked behind striker Russell Kamo."
Dimi Bayrev's arrival means Canterbury should not be short of scoring options despite the loss of Golden Boot winner Slefendorfas.
The Bulgarian, who Braithwaite rates as "skilful on the ball and an excellent finisher", will join Kamo, Darren White, Andy Barton and All White Aaron Clapham at the fulcrum of the attack.
The Bayrev brothers may be rookies but Canterbury will have their longest-serving player back in the ranks. Regular captain Dan Terris missed most of last season through injury but his return will add experience and direction to one of the tightest defences in the league. Stopper Tom Schwarz and fullbacks Julyan Collett and Nick Wortelboer are back to protect two of the league's best goalkeepers, Adam Highfield and Tom Batty.
The Dragons squad has four more new faces.
Striker Ricky Hulbert came to Christchurch from English non-league club Frome Town, where he played alongside White. He said he and Darren "just gelled" when White moved back to England from Germany and he decided to explore playing in Christchurch.
Hulbert, 26, chose to come here to play in the Mainland premier league for Cashmere Technical. While not a prolific goalscorer, he has a reputation for being an unselfish front-runner who creates openings for others.
He said the style of football in New Zealand differed from England. "It's more physical and more direct over there, here you get a chance for a bit more time on the ball and to pass it around."
Hulbert is looking forward to playing alongside White again and linking with Russell Kamo, who he admired for his ability to "hold the ball up" and put team-mates into space.
Solomon Islands international Michael Fifii has returned to Canterbury after three seasons at Team Wellington, beaten grand finalists last season. The 25-year-old wide midfielder completed his schooling in Nelson and made his national league debut for Canterbury in the 2008-09 season.
Fifii then linked with Team Wellington and played in the strong central league for Wairarapa United and Miramar Rangers but has come back to Christchurch to work as a painter for the Earthquake Commission and to play for the Dragons.
Braithwaite has also signed two of the best Mainland premier league players, Ferrymead Bays captain Chris Murphy, 25, and Coastal Spirit striker Ash Welbourn, 26.
Murphy was inspired to step up to national league football after leading Ferrymead to the Mainland league, South Island championship, English Cup and Hurley Challenge Shield silverware. Braithwaite plans to shift him to his preferred central midfield role.
Braithwaite said Cantebury had a tough start to the campaign with away games against Auckland and Team Wellington, last year's beaten finalists.
He expects Hawke's Bay United, who have signed former All Whites Cole Peverley and Jarrod Smith and quicksilver forwards Dakota Lucas and Sean Lovemore, to mount a serious challenge to the established top four.