Lausanne, Switzerland, June 8, 2020 – Tsvetan Sokolov is arguably the biggest star on the Bulgarian national team. The great potential of the young talent from the village of Resilovo was noticed early and Tsetso received his first call to the men’s squad when he was only 15. Fifteen years later, the 2.06m-tall opposite is the true leader of the Lions.
Sokolov was part of the squad that claimed EuroVolley 2009 bronze and also helped Bulgaria reach the semifinals of the London 2012 Olympic Games. He and his teammates failed to book a spot at Tokyo 2020 despite reaching match point in the third set of their deciding game with Brazil at the intercontinental qualifications and showing a great performance at the continental qualifications.
At club level, Sokolov launched his career at Bulgaria’s Marek Union Ivkoni Dupnitsa, from where he moved straight to one of the world’s top teams at the time, Italy’s Trentino Volley Trento, and almost immediately won gold at the 2009 FIVB Volleyball Men's Club World Championship.
Now the 30-year-old striker has become a real legend in the history of this competition. He has participated in eight editions, triumphed with the world title three times (all with Trentino) towards a total of seven podiums with three different clubs, and was named on the Dream Team three times. His resume also boasts seven medals from the CEV Champions League, including the most recent continental title with Italy’s Cucine Lube Civitanova.
In 2019-2020, with Russia’s Zenit Kazan, Sokolov won the Russia Cup, silver in the Russian Superliga and bronze at the Club World Championship, before transferring to Dinamo Moscow for the next season.
Sokolov answered some questions from fivb.com:
What was your childhood like before you started playing volleyball?
Tsvetan Sokolov: I was a wild boy. I was outside all day and I associate my childhood with a lot of laughs, freedom and, of course, a fair share of mischief. I liked playing football and in my early years I didn't think I would start practising volleyball.
How did you and volleyball meet? What made you fall in love with the sport and turn it into your profession?
Tsvetan Sokolov: We met by accident. The coach of Marek came to me and asked me if I wanted to try playing volleyball. I decided to give it a go, mainly because that way I wouldn't have to stay at home and work in the garden. What made me fall in love with it are the dynamics and the strategic thinking you need to have to be able to solve certain situations in seconds, as well as the strong emotions I have always felt since first trying to play.
Your talent turned you into a national star in your early teenage years, and soon after that you became a big international star. How did fame and glory change your personal life?
Tsvetan Sokolov: I wouldn't say they changed anything in my personal life, but they made me grow up much earlier than I wanted to (laughs).
You started a family and became a father of twins at the age of 24. How did this affect your career as a volleyball player?
Tsvetan Sokolov: In a positive way. This is the best thing that has ever happened to me because my family has made me who I am at the moment. All my achievements are our joint achievements.
Which team and individual achievements on the volleyball court are you most proud of?
Tsvetan Sokolov: I would say that each medal is important and is an achievement that I will remember not only as an award, but also as a recognition of the efforts and the work I’ve put in over the years. There are no individual achievements in team sports, in my opinion. Every victory and each individual award mirrors the teamwork, so I think all my individual recognitions are thanks to the team and the guys I trained and worked with on a daily basis.
What about off the court?
Tsvetan Sokolov: Outside of volleyball, I am proud of my family and friends, who have always been with me over the years.
You have seven medals and three individual awards from the Club World Championships with three different teams. This seems to be your tournament. Will you be able to achieve it with yet a fourth team, for example with your new club Dinamo Moscow?
Tsvetan Sokolov: I certainly don’t perceive it as "my tournament." I have a similar number of awards from the Champions League. I hope to have the honour to play at more Club World Championships and win more medals. For me, every time I play a final it is a pleasure and an honour. So, God willing, I hope to have many more opportunities to feel this thrill, regardless of the tournament.
With the national team, however, the medal so far is only one - bronze at EuroVolley 2009. Especially with the departure of captain Viktor Yosifov and the experienced Teodor Salparov, you are emerging as the main leader of the team. In the rejuvenating line-up of the Lions, do you see potential for more medals from major competitions?
Tsvetan Sokolov: Unfortunately, with the national team we were often very close to the medals, but not close enough. I sincerely hope this will change over time, because I believe in the new generation and I see the great potential they have. I hope we manage to break this curse, because I think Bulgaria deserves it.
Bulgaria played great in both qualifying tournaments for Tokyo 2020, but stopped just short of claiming an Olympic ticket. A few months down the road, which prevails - the pleasant memory of the good performance or the bitterness of the missed chance?
Tsvetan Sokolov: The bitter taste of not being able to qualify for the Olympics prevails, because for every athlete this is the most important competition he or she aspires to.
What is your memory of your only participation in the Olympics so far - in 2012, when Bulgaria were among the semifinalists?
Tsvetan Sokolov: It was an amazing experience that I sincerely hope to live through again.
The club season in Russia ended prematurely because of the pandemic. Where and how have you spent your time since then? What made you and your wife so actively participate in charitable initiatives to help those in need?
Tsvetan Sokolov: We spent the time mostly in isolation, because the measures required it. My wife and I constantly support charitable initiatives and causes. I suspect that the question is prompted by the fact that we made it public for the first time. We believe that charity should not be bragged about, but this time was different because the campaign needed publicity to be successful, because the people were its main engine. We supported the campaign and made it public so that more people could get involved. I believe we should help each other not only in difficult moments, but also in our hectic daily lives, because a kind word or a smile can often make a big difference to someone's day.