February 8, 2019 / 12:23 PM / in 2 months

Soccer-CSKA turn to crowd favourite Penev to replace El Maestro

* Penev returns for third spell at Sofia-based club

* El Maestro becomes latest coaching casualty this season

SOFIA, Feb 8 (Reuters) - CSKA Sofia have hired former Bulgaria boss Lubo Penev as their new coach to replace Nestor El Maestro, who left the job by mutual consent, the Bulgarian club said on Friday.

The 52-year-old Penev, one of the Balkan country’s soccer icons, began his third spell at his former club CSKA after signing a one-and-a-half-year contract.

“CSKA always have only one goal - to be at the top, to be champions,” Penev told a news conference. “I took the decision very quickly but I’m not a guest here. CSKA are my favourite club and I feel at home.”

CSKA are Bulgaria’s most successful club, winning a record 31 domestic titles and reaching the European Cup semi-finals in 1967 and 1982.

Adored by CSKA fans, ex-striker Penev is remembered for his poacher’s instinct in the penalty box. He won two league titles and four Bulgarian Cups with CSKA as a player, scoring 88 goals in 123 matches.

Penev quit his coaching job at Valencia’s second team in 2017 to focus on being elected the Bulgarian Football Union’s president.

He withdrew just before the vote took place, however, in protest at alleged irregularities.

Belgrade-born Briton El Maestro, who led five-times Czechoslovak champions Spartak Trnava to their first Slovak league title last season, took charge at CSKA in June.

CSKA hoped he could help them end years of under-achievement and disappointment in European competition.

Under El Maestro, however, CSKA were far from impressive and after the first half of the season they are second in the table, six points behind champions Ludogorets.

El Maestro became the latest foreign coach in the Bulgarian league to leave his job this season.

Brazilian Paulo Autuori quit Ludogorets while Italian Delio Rossi and Slovenian Slavisa Stojanovic have departed third-placed Levski Sofia.

Reporting by Angel Krasimirov Editing by Toby Davis

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