here's a cool article by Gavin Dunne, which I saw at goal.com
In the third of our series celebrating the colourful careers of some of football’s most charismatic and controversial stars – the flawed but fabulous temperamental geniuses who make pulses race and heads shake – Goal.com’s Gavin Dunne profiles an all-time great whose temper was as scary as his talent: Hristo Stoichkov…
“Make sure you add a pair of golden balls to it," said Hristo Stoichkov upon hearing the news there would be a statue built by the Bulgarian government in his honour. Never a man lost for words, he may not have had a pair of golden balls, but he certainly had a golden left foot. Goals galore wherever he has been, the now coach of the Bulgarian national team was a true master of the game, his genius something to behold.
‘The Dagger’ won’t just be remembered for his wonderful skills. On the pitch he was arguably the most temperamental player to play the game over the last 20 years. Stoichkov could be seen remonstrating with his teammates, his manager, the referee, the fans and even with himself. If Hristo wasn’t passed the ball when he wanted it, an earful of abuse would be thrown. It’s a shame PlayerCam wasn’t around in his heyday; it would have been like watching a Greek tragedy every week!
When he first stepped into the CSKA dressing room, the authoritative club and country skipper Georgi Dimitrov asked him: "Who are you?” Then anonymous 18-year old Hristo replied: "I am Hristo Stoichkov, and who are you?"
Early on in his playing career Stoichkov entered the "black book" of soccer by taking part in a mass brawl between the players in a Bulgarian league game for CSKA Sofia, which had powerful repercussions on the local football scene. The Communist party punished the clubs by ordering their names to be changed, and banning several players for life, including Stoichkov. Fortunately for him political change and his marvellous talent made sure the ban only lasted a year.
It was when ‘Raging Bull’ went to Barcelona that the world began to know the enigma of Hristo Stoichkov. It was here that he would link up with Johan Cruyff. “Cruyff was the man that believed in me, more than anyone else, the coach that made even the impossible come true to take me from CSKA Sofia. Together we won the Spanish Championship four times in a row, the European Champions' Cup. Cruyff was the best coach in the world but he was also the man with the most difficult character of all I have worked with.”
At Barcelona Stoichkov scored plenty of goals and quickly became a fans' favourite. Even though he was banned for eight matches early into his first season for stepping on a referee's foot, he still scored a cool 14 goals in the Primera división and six more in the Cup Winners' Cup. Remarkably he struck up a friendship with Romario, the two of them becoming the most feared attack in the world. “It's interesting that both of us have completely different characters, yet that does not deter us from hanging out together. We became friends from the first time we met. In life, most people want to take advantage of you. It's not like that between the two of us. We'll always be friends, regardless of where we are or who we play for... I feel lucky that we had him at Barcelona. He's a goal scorer with the heart of a champ."
Sandwiched in between two stints at Barcelona Stoichkov went to Parma in Italy after a clash with Cruyff. It was relatively unsuccessful with only a return of 5 goals. However back at Barcelona the next year his talents would be appreciated again by Bobby Robson. “He is like a mayor of Barcelona. Football seems an easy game with him. Hristo is like an explosive in the field. A man that doesn't give up, even when everything seems to be hopeless, he can decide the outcome of every single game on his own.” The fans loved who he was because he would demonstrate his passion every time he went on the field. He refused to let Ronaldo take a penalty against Logrones in 1997, insisting on taking it himself. After a long struggle, he shot and scored. The score line at the time was 6-0 for Barcelona.
However he didn’t receive the same appreciation for Louis Van Gaal whom he referred to as ‘some cabinet specialist’, and was soon back to Bulgaria for a short stint with CSKA. He then had a two game lucrative stint with Al Nasr in Saudi Arabia where he got paid $200,000 to play two games, a semi final and a cup final. Of course he scored the winner in the final.
Although it wasn’t all delight in the Middle East. Anyone who scored in the semi would receive a new luxury car. ‘I earned a penalty for my team by the fifth minute of play. One guy was getting ready to execute the penalty so I took the ball from his hands and told him "Go rest in the shade." ‘I struck the post and had to leave without the Mercedes’.
Two seasons in Japan were followed up by four in the US’s MLS league. Stoichkov's fiery temperament didn’t disappear in his last few years as a player. At DC United in the 10th minute of a pre-season friendly between United and American University Stoichkov dove into Freddy Llerena, breaking two bones in the midfielder's lower right leg. The game was abandoned and The Dagger received a small fine and ban. It was a pretty shocking incident with some calling for Stoichkov to be banned altogether from the league.
On the international stage Hristo really produced the goods, most memorably in the World Cup in ’94 where he led his team to the Semi-Final. ‘The Mad Bulgarian’ was the top scorer in the tournament with memorable goals including one special free kick against the Germans. Stoichkov remonstrated his way through the tournament; having a free kick disallowed for taking it directly, and at various treatments he received at the hands of the Mexicans to name but one side. Eric Cantona remarked, "Stoichkov is among the biggest actors in world football. I would call him vulcanical. Compared to him I look apathetic. There is no way for his famous career to be forgotten”.
Stoichkov was certainly proud to play for his national team and proud to be Bulgarian. ‘I might have been too fiery at times or been upset at people... But I have discovered one fact: wherever a Bulgarian goes, he will always be Bulgarian. It will be difficult to change him. And why change him in the first place? You saw how much respect I received at my farewell match’. With 38 goals for his national team from an attacking midfield position he certainly did deserve the great send off he received. Plaudits rained in from everywhere, Platini observing ‘Hristo is a player with a character, but he is also a natural-born talent, who is able to show astonishing moves in the most difficult situations. He is constantly participating in the game. He is not the common met type of a player, because he has many specific qualities. Quickness, bravery, exact strike and a non-mistaking flair for the goal.'
Currently the coach of his national team, unfortunately we won’t get to see him gesturing from the touchline in the World Cup, with Bulgaria ruled out already. However he is still causing controversy. He accused UEFA President Lennart Johansson of being ‘aware in advance of how the game would end’ at a recent qualifier with Sweden. “Johansson could not wait until the end of the game and walked out at 2-0, when it was all clear. He showed to the whole world once again that he does not love soccer. He is just interested in how to make more money."
This landed him in hot water with UEFA and the Bulgarian FA. He wasn’t sacked, probably because people expect him to say such things!
It is safe to say Hristo Stoichkov will be in the news again, his love of the game is too great. It is just a shame fans and viewers wont be able to see him play at the highest level again. One thing is for sure “whether I have black hair or white hair, the "mad boy" will live inside me forever”.