This is part two of our exclusive interview with former Hearts youngster Branimir Kostadinov. Click HERE to read part one

“It was my dream. I can’t lie, it was my dream to play for Hearts. To be a fan of this club, from 16, 17, 18 going to watch the games, you see the fans, the atmosphere. You dream about these things. It was my dream to play for them, not just a thought in my head but it didn’t happen…”

Branimir Kostadinov got further than most who dream of pulling on the maroon. A lot further. His first-team involvement would be restricted to three pre-season outings and a goal. He may not have got the chance to run out at Tynecastle Park but he came ever so close to featuring for Heart of Midlothian at Murrayfield in the glamour friendly with Barcelona in July 2007.

READ MORE: Branimir Kostadinov: Why 'Hearts are still in my heart'

“I remember when we came back [from the pre-season trip] we went back to train with the under-19s,” he told Hearts Standard. "When you come back from first-team experience to under-19s you feel like you are flying, physically, mentally, everything. You could do anything. You feel faster, stronger. They told us we had a friendly against a team from the lower divisions. If we played good, we will be in the squad for the friendly game against Barca so it was a massive, massive, massive surprise for us.

“When the game came with Barcelona three players from Lithuania came so the players who came out of the squad were me, Dumitru and I think Matthew Park because these players were in our positions. So it was really disappointing because in my head I was thinking ‘my god, I'm going to be on the pitch with Barcelona!’. Even though I didn’t play I was in the stands then we went to the dressing room and saw Iniesta, Eto’o, Ronaldino. Even to see them it was a massive feeling.”

Hearts Standard:

Audrius Ksanavicius, Ricardas Beniusis and Kestutis Ivaskevicius were the three Lithuanians drafted in ahead of the 2007/08 campaign. For Kostadinov, it was back to the youth team. There was an opportunity to go on loan to Cowdenbeath and another with Livingston which didn’t materialise. By the time Csaba Laszlo was leading Hearts to third place the following season, the forward had already decided his future lay away from Gorgie. A return to Bulgaria was “not a fixed idea” but an exciting project at Chernomorets Burgas, managed by Bulgarian footballing legend Krasimir Balakov, was presented to him.

“I wasn’t homesick, at this time my thoughts were English,” Kostadinov said. "It was difficult for me to explain something in Bulgarian because all the words were coming in English. In the position I was at the time, I didn’t want to stay because a lot of changes happened. I didn’t feel happy. At the time Csaba Laszlo was coach and I was training with the first-team in the last month. Me and a couple of other young players. We were training really good, I felt really good, I didn’t have any pressure because I knew I was going to go. When you don’t have pressure, you play and enjoy yourself. I remember he put me in the 20-player squad. When I went to the kitman ‘Goggsy’...”

READ MORE: Inside Hearts academy: Best signing and recruitment change

At this point Kostadinov stopped with his story. He wanted to ask if Gordon Paterson, better known as ‘Goggsy’, was still at the club. “I remember his name and hope he is okay. This guy was awesome. He was so kind with everyone.”

He then continued with his story.

“I went to the boot room and he asked me ‘do you know you are in the squad?’ What squad? He told me to go and look at the list. I saw my name, I was surprised. Everybody knew I was going to leave. I didn’t make it to the 18 players in the squad but I thought maybe they want me to stay and give me a chance. After this game nothing happened. We didn’t discuss anything about me staying.”

Kostadinov is considered, honest and reflective of his time at Hearts, perhaps even regretful, albeit reluctant to delve into some of the external factors which may have impacted and impeded his progression.

“From my point of view I could have done better 90 per cent of the things,” he said. “At this time I was trying my best. Maybe I didn’t give everything. I don’t blame this on the fans, on the press or on anybody else because it’s me, it’s my head, my abilities. When something is not going the way you are expecting it to go, most of the time the first thought is yourself. Some players will try to give excuses. ‘I didn’t play because of this, this and that’. You have to be in control of your abilities, of your head. When you don’t have this control, don’t have control of your feelings, maybe it goes terribly wrong for you and you don't show your best in training or in the games.

READ MORE: Life on the road: Why Lewis Neilson left Hearts on loan to further his development

“I can say there were a lot of things beside me and football which were against me which I would prefer not to discuss. But most of the things were my fault.”

Kostadinov has been back in Bulgaria ever since aside from a loan spell in Slovakia and a trial at St Johnstone in 2012. It was in 2019, however, when he found his purpose having been without a club for six months. Ludogorets, champions of Bulgaria for the last 12 years, required experience for the club’s second team, players who would help their young talent succeed on and off the pitch, act as a leader and strong presence in the dressing room.

It was an opportunity which arrived after turning down a lucrative move to Kazakhstan, the player opting to put family ahead of both football and family.

Hearts Standard:

“I needed only 10 minutes,” he said. “I sat down with my wife, my second child had just arrived. I played Europa League in Kazakhstan so I know how far away this place is. If I stayed there you would need to travel six, seven hours on the plane. My wife is really scared of flying. She didn’t say no, she didn’t know what to say. [I said] ‘Don’t worry, I’m going to decide’. The most important thing for me is family. Imagine you go for one or two years and your baby is growing up, nobody can give you this time back. Even if you become a millionaire you cannot buy this time with your kids.

“I was ready to come here for one or two years, I didn’t expect I would be here for five years. If you look up on the internet you would see the environment of Ludogorets, it’s the best in Bulgaria and maybe one of the best in Europe. It is top-level facilities, you have everything you can imagine. If you are a young player this is the best place to be. When I came I saw these talented players, they were hungry to learn, to copy something you can show them. It was something new for me. I can say these last four years I learned a lot of things from them. When I finish football I want to be connected with football, as a coach or technical staff, it has to be with football. For me it’s important to know how the young players are thinking now because they are thinking really differently from the time I was this age. How they are mentally because they really care about social media and how they are performing there which is absurd for me! I learn a lot of things, I think I have helped a lot of players to develop and get new views of their football careers.”

READ MORE: Why Alex Lowry is such an important figure at Hearts: The creative difference maker

At Hearts Kostadinov was a quick forward who could play through the middle or out wide. Now?

“I can play any position! When I was at Hearts I was a striker but even at this time coaches were looking for stronger physical qualities. 1.90-2m, 90kg. I was a fast player but I cannot play this role. Even in Scotland I was playing on the wing. This is the main position I was playing in my career. In the last three or four years I play also as a right or left-back. Not because I cannot play winger but because when I joined our right-back was injured and nobody could play right-back so the coach came and asked ‘hey, as experienced player can you play right-back’. I’m here to help you, you can put me anywhere!"

Over the course of the 45 minute conversation, one which finished with Kostadinov expressing his hope Hearts would be “champions of Scotland”, and disappointment at the redevelopment of the Tynecastle Park Main Stand - “One of the things I liked in Scotland is you can see stadiums with old stands. It gives you this history. You can feel the history from 100 years ago. Football has changed, everything now is business also” - it is clear he has found real fulfilment in his career and life. Happy with his wife and children, happy with the role in his team and happy to have had the experience at Hearts.

“I cannot regret anything in my life besides these things I told you when I was young,” he said. “When you are a young player and everyone has big expectations about you it is difficult to control them, to know where the line is. Sometimes you think you are more than everybody else. It is bad for you and bad for young players to think they are special. When you don’t develop as you think you would or don’t show the things everybody expects you to show it is bad. From here you go down and everybody is going after you. ‘Come on, you’re a talent, what’s wrong with you, why don’t you do this, why don’t you do that, why don’t you score goals, everyone expected you to score 20 goals, you score five’. When you are a young player you are thinking ‘what the hell is happening’. I regret these things but I can’t do anything about them.

“If I go back and think the way I am thinking now it would be easier. I am thinking like this now because of my life experiences. You cannot pass the time and be a 20-year-old player but think like a 40-year-old player. Everything comes with experience. With games, with life. My family is giving me all the love I had. Life is not only football, it is a big part of my life but family is the most important thing in my life.”