ENGLISH Premier League champion Chelsea, Chinese heavyweight Guangzhou Evergrande and mid-table State League 1 North-West outfit Western Suburbs are worlds apart.
Striker Robert Stambolziev has competed against each of these clubs in the past two years, scoring in the Asian Champions League for Sydney FC and tackling some of world soccer’s best players when the Blues visited the harbour city in 2015.
The 26-year-old returned to his boyhood club Preston Lions last month, where he will play until late July before he resumes his career overseas.
Stambolziev answered a call from Preston boss Lou Acevski to help the ailing club turn its fortunes around after a below-par start to 2017.
Despite offers from National Premier League clubs, Stambolziev had no hesitation committing to rejoin the Lions.
“To me it is still that nostalgic feel,” Stambolziev said.
“It has been my childhood club — it has always had a special place in my heart.
“I am fortunate. I am happy to be back helping everyone, helping the boys as much as I can and trying to win games.”
Acevski could not be more grateful for Stambolziev’s commitment to the club.
“He didn’t have to come, but he had a think about it for 24 hours and said, ‘yeah, I’m in. I want to be a part of the ride’,” Acevski said.
“I can only give him credit (for that).”
Stambolziev’s passion for football was born on his family’s farm in Whittlesea before he started playing juniors for Preston Lions.
“I didn’t have a lot to do besides play football,” he said.
“My parents used to drive me (to Preston), I was fortunate. My brother used to play at the club. I was (at Preston) as a young boy, as a fan. It’s good to finally come back and play in front of these people.”