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.”

Robert Stambolziev laments a near miss against Yarraville Glory on Saturday. Picture: Richard Serong

The left-sided attacker would spend weekends in the stands alongside Preston’s passionate support base, cheering on his beloved Lions in the Victorian Premier League.

His playing career has taken him around the globe, including stints at English club Bristol City, Greek giant Panathinaikos and most recently in Cyprus.

Stambolziev, who also made 17 A-League appearances for Sydney FC, said he had offers from several Cypriot clubs to return after impressing on a short-term deal with PAEEK.

Robert Stambolziev has scored hat-tricks in consecutive weeks for Preston. Picture: Richard Serong

Wherever his next move may be, Stambolziev will always call Preston home.

“I left Preston when I was 15, so I came back 11, 12 years later. Being in the change rooms, seeing old photos of yourself, this club has always been special to me,” he said.
Acevski has given Stambolziev freedom to roam in Preston’s attacking half and terrorise State League 1 North-West’s defenders.

“He’s a smart footballer,” he said.

“The message is ‘you have got a free role son. As long as you are penetrating and peppering the opposition, I am happy’.”

Stambolziev has made a dream return to BT Connor Reserve, scoring matchwinning hat-tricks in consecutive weeks against Western Suburbs and Yarraville Glory.

After a “frustrating” wait for his international transfer clearance delayed his senior debut, Stambolziev is intent on leaving Preston in a strong position.

“I knew straight away with the players we had brought in that we have got a good group now,” he said.

Tim Michell, Preston Leader – original article: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/leader/north-west/sport/robert-stambolziev-makes-immediate-impact-for-ffv-club-preston-lions-after-aleague-stint-with-sydney-fc/news-story/a8cde80fe6a77ea0435e1ea8b0ce0aa1
June 6, 2017 12:00pm