THE accumulation of four yellow cards and one red card over the course of a season would not normally be cause for either concern or celebration among most professional footballers. For Dimitre Kalkanov, however, this modest collection of offences represents a satisfying personal triumph. It is not difficult to see why. In three years of playing in Hong Kong, first for Rangers and now with Instant-Dict, the languid Bulgarian sweeper contrived to eke out a reputation for volatility and foul play that would make even Vinnie Jones cringe. Kalkanov's disciplinary record was, to put it bluntly, appalling. Prior to this season, he had received his marching orders four times per season on average and received countless bookings during three turbulent seasons in Hong Kong. Gary Lineker he was not. 'I was like a volcano, just erupting all the time . . . I don't know why,' reflects the softly spoken man from the Balkans. Rock-bottom for Kalkanov came in last year's FA Cup final, when he was once again sent off, this time for elbowing an opponent. 'Stupid. Just plain stupid,' was the verdict of Instant's then-manager Billy Kirkwood. 'The boy has let himself and the whole club down. He has got to change.' Kirkwood's words did not go unheeded. Change Kalkanov most certainly has. A rough diamond for so long, Kalkanov has this season sparkled for Instant like a gem of the most smoothly polished variety, playing a key part in his team's Ericsson League success. 'At the start of the season I said to myself, 'No more getting into trouble, no more fighting'. I've made a big effort this season and getting only four yellow cards and one sending off for me is something I am very satisfied with . . . it is my own personal achievement.' Take into account that Kalkanov's solitary sending off was later overturned and the referee responsible suspended for two months, and the Bulgarian's record is all the more respectable. 'I don't think I've always been guilty in the past. Sometimes I don't think I deserved to get sent off . . . when you get a reputation, it's like you attract trouble. But there were a lot of times when I did deserve to go. 'I don't know what it was, but I have always been like that, it's just the way I am. When I see an injustice on the field I want to do something to correct it, which is not always the wisest thing to do. 'Before this year, if the referee made a bad decision, I would always tell him or shout at him. This year, I've tried to walk away and not get involved. It's the best way.' At 32, Kalkanov is playing some of the best football of a career that, for a player of his talent, could and perhaps should have taken a different and altogether more glamorous path. As a junior footballer in Bulgaria, Kalkanov represented his country 42 times at every level apart from full international. His teammates in many of those sides were players that formed the spine of the Bulgarian side who reached the semi-finals of the 1994 World Cup. Stoichkov, Yordanov, Kostadinov, Letchkov - all were of the same generation. 'I look at those guys and I think about what might have been. I played with most of them in representative football for Bulgaria and I wonder if things had been different whether I would be playing with them now, but you can't spend too much time thinking about it.' Kalkanov's career stalled in the wake of the 1985 Bulgarian Cup final, which was declared void after a mass brawl between the two teams taking part, CSKA Sofia and Levski Sofia. Both of the army clubs were later disbanded. Crucially, the army's generals decided that footballers would no longer be indulged with an outlet for their talents. National service would be hard, physical and no-nonsense, and for Kalkanov - who was called up to the army from his club Lokomotiv Plovdiv the season after the controversy - it was to prove disastrous. 'After the big fight the army decided they would not let footballers play. When I went into the army I had to do a year of hard national service with no football at all and my game suffered. 'When I came out I had lost a bit of an edge and I found it hard to get back into football. I struggled,' he said. 'Also maybe I think my temper was a problem as well. Managers would not pick me because they didn't know if they could rely on me, I think a lot of them were worried I would get sent off or something. 'I think it is these two things more than anything else that have affected my career. I'm sure there are other little reasons but I think the army ban and my temper are the two biggest things that stopped me from going far.' After leaving Bulgaria, Kalkanov played two seasons in Kuala Lumpur with Selangor before arriving in Hong Kong with Rangers in January 1995. Leaving Rangers for Instant-Dict has proved a shrewd move, and his transformation this year has aroused the interest of at least one other First Division club, believed to be Happy Valley, who are thought to have tabled a lucrative three-year contract for Kalkanov. So will Kalkanov be on the move this summer? 'I don't know. I've had an offer and it is a good offer. I don't want to name the club because it would not be fair on the expatriate players there. I've told Instant what I've been offered and I'm waiting for the management to come back to me. 'I'm 32 now and I have a wife and children to think about. I want to stay in Hong Kong because I feel comfortable here now. If I moved somewhere else I would have to prove myself all over again and I don't want to have to do that. 'I've really enjoyed this season and playing for Hong Kong in the Carlsberg Cup and in the Dynasty Cup were great, great, experiences for me. Playing in Hong Kong for another few years would not bother me at all,' he said. 'But I don't want to compromise my future. I've done that before and I won't do it again.'