BRIAN SCIARETTA - Monday, October 1, 2012
Last year, Villyan Bijev signed a long-term professional contract with Liverpool, but the youngster is now on loan to IK Start in Norway where he hopes to help the team's promotional aspirations.
When Bijev, 19, signed his contract with Liverpool it was an unusual situation because he was unable to stay at the club due to his ineligibility for a British work permit. He holds dual citizenship with Bulgaria but that country is in a transitional status within the European Union and their workers do not qualify automatically for work permits in the United Kingdom.
As a result, he was initially loaned last season to Fortuna Dusseldorf in Germany and he hoped to return to Liverpool for 2012/13. Unfortunately, Bulgaria's full integration was delayed until 2014 and Bijev was forced to go on loan again.
In August, he was sent to IK Start for the remainder of the Norwegian season. IK Start are currently the leaders of the 1.Division and are nine points clear of the promotion line into the top flight. With only six games remaining in the season, they should return to the Eliteserien next year.
So far, Bijev is enjoying his time at IK Start and he made his debut with the team on September 23 when he came off the bench in a 2-1 win over Hodd.
"Things have started off great," Bijev told YA on Sunday. "Kristiansand is a beautiful city filled with great people. Everyone has been very welcoming and made the transition very easy. The facilities are new and the team is very fun to train with."
With the season ending in Norway next month at Start in safe position, Bijev's goals are simple. He wants to continue to improve as a player and ensure that Start avoid any pitfalls in the remaining weeks ahead.
"My goals for the rest of the season are to improve my game and to help the team in any way I can," Bijev said. "They are currently at the top of the table and are looking strong for promotion. As long as I improve as a player and the team gets promoted I'll view these three months as a success."
Should Bijev continue to progress at IK Start in the weeks ahead, it is a likely possibility that he could return to the club for another loan next year.
Barring a collapse, IK Start will play in the top flight of Norwegian soccer in 2013 and Bijev believes that would be a good place to continue to develop his game before his expected return to Liverpool in 2014.
"It would be nice to stay at Start on loan for another season," Bijev said. "I fit in well with the team and the players are very welcoming. Start would be a good club for me to develop and improve at."
One of the reasons why Bijev is excited at the possibility of staying at IK Start is that their style is very possession and attack oriented. It matches the way that he has been playing in recent years at both his summer trainings at Liverpool and with the U.S youth national teams.
Bijev's game is very technical and he thrives on teams who play with the ball on the ground and emphasize quick passing. Norwegian teams tend to use a different formation, but their style is similar to how Liverpool wants to play.
"The style of play at IK Start is similar to the style at Liverpool and with the U.S," Bijev explained. "I think over the past few years teams have been trying to mimic the style of Barcelona. Every team I've been on wants to keep possession of the ball. They try to play with quick passes and keep the ball on the ground. The main difference is in Norway teams play out of a 4-4-2 whereas in Liverpool and Germany they play out of a 4-3-3."
While in Norway, Bijev is in contact with Liverpool staff on a weekly basis to discuss his progress at Start. He admits that it is difficult not to be able to play full time for the club who signed him but is trying to make the best of the situation.
During the summer, Bijev had the opportunity to train at Liverpool for an extended period of time and he enjoyed being back with his club. It was difficult for him to leave yet again in August but everything he is doing now is focused on preparing himself to help Liverpool in the future.
"Being back in Liverpool felt right," Bijev stated emphatically. "It was nice to train with the players and get to spend more time with them. It's tough to constantly be going out on loan. I'd like to be in one place for a longer period of time."
"My main focus is to keep improving," he added. "My goal is, once I can play at Liverpool without any regulations, to be ready to help the team. I would love to be back in Liverpool and playing there."
On the international front, Bijev has his eyes set on the United States U-20 national team where he has been called up several times this year by head coach Tab Ramos.
The last few years have been difficult for US youth national teams who have failed to qualify for the 2011 U-20 World Cup and the 2013 Olympics. There is a lot of pressure now on the current U-20 team to qualify for next year's World Cup in Turkey.
Bijev realizes the importance for the U-20 team to succeed and is confident ahead of the World Cup qualifying tournament which will take place in February in Mexico.
"The U-20 team is a great group of players with a great staff," Bijev concluded. "Many of the players have known each other from an early age and that will help the team going forward. Coach Tab has a plan for team and has been preparing us for the qualifiers. After missing out on the Olympics I think it will be important for us to qualify for the U-20 World Cup. We are more than capable of doing so with the players and staff we have. It will simply be a matter of going out and executing."
Villyan Bijev and IK Start host Mjøndalen on Sunday October 7 at Sør Arena in Kristiansand, Norway.