An Introduction: Hristo Stoichkov, “The Dagger”
Our manager for this epic story of “Galactic” proportions is none other than Bulgarian footballing icon Hristo Stoichkov, known by many as “The Dagger”. In his playing days, he was often deployed as a striker or a winger, and he was known for his rugged, iron-willed personality, spiced off with some hot-headed antics, his physical prowess, incredible pace, stupendous dribbling skill that could leave the greatest of defenders in tangles, and most famously his fierce left foot, which he would use to perform incredible mastery in the name of power, with piercing shots that could burst a goal net, and his hell for leather free-kicks that would look like they were sped up when you saw them live. He was a truly remarkable player, and regarded by many as the greatest Bulgarian footballer of all time, which is a feat in itself, with the likes of Dimitar Berbatov and Gheorge Hagi in the mix. Stoichkov also made the FIFA 100 best living players of all time in 2004, and he was runner-up for the FIFA World Player of the Year in 1992 and 1994, and in 1994 he won the most coveted of all accolades, the FIFA Ballon D`Or. So, with that out of the way, lets delve deeply into his playing career, and then after conclude with why Hristo Stoichkov is the perfect managerial specimen for a job as big as being at the helm of the all mighty Real Madrid, and re-kindling the new set of “Galácticos”.
Hristo Stoichkov was born on the 8th of February 1966 in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. From a very young age, his talent was apparent for all eyes that gazed on him, and he joined Maritza Plovdiv, one of his local clubs, at the age of only 11. Stoichkov played with their youth teams for 4 years before moving to the southern heartland of Bulgaria, to 3rd division outfit Hebros Harmanli. During his 2 year stint with Hebros Harmanli, he made 32 league appearances, scoring 14 goals, all while still being a teenager. In 1984 Stoichkov got his big break, with Bulgarian behemoths CSKA Sofia signing him. He made a huge impact on the east coast of Bulgaria in the capital city of Sofia, making 119 league appearances over a 6 year period, scoring a titanic 81 goals, leaving Stoichkov with a goal every 132 minutes, with his goal tally being called unbelievable a massive understatement, especially considering his age. And in the 89/90 season, Stoichkov won the European Golden Boot, with a Lionel Messi-esque 38 goals in only 30 games. He also won league titles with CSKA Sofia in the 86/87 season, the 88/89 season, and the 89/90 season, and the Bulgarian Cup for 4 consecutive seasons, from the 84/85 to the 88/89 season. Stoichkov was regarded as a legend by CSKA Sofia fans and was attracting the attention of the world`s largest clubs, and he signed for La Liga mega-club Barcelona in 1990.
Stoichkov spent 5 years in Catalonia, making 151 league appearances, scoring 76 goals, an incredible tally in a league as competitive as La Liga. He was part of manager Johan Cruyff`s “Dream Team” during his time there, winning 4 La Liga titles in a row between 1991 and 1994, and helped La Masia to the European Cup in 1992 (now the UEFA Champions League). Stoichkov was regarded at Barcelona as a legend and was a true hero for the passionate Catalonian fans. It was also at Barcelona where he won his FIFA Ballon D`Or award in 1994. In 1995 Stoichkov left his beloved Barcelona for Serie A side Parma.
Stoichkov spent a solitary season in northern Italy, making only 23 league appearances, scoring a tame 5 goals, very low for a player of his calibre. Obviously Parma were not of the quality of Barcelona, but it was still a disappointing season overall for Stoichkov. The following season, he returned to Catalonia in north-eastern Spain, back to Barcelona once again.
Now aged 30, Stoichkov spent a further 2 years with Barcelona, between 1996 and 1998, and made only 24 league appearances, scoring 7 goals, but he still contributed to a treble in the 97/98 season, with the winning of the La Liga, Copa Del Rey and UEFA Super Cup. But, Stoichkov was clearly past his peak at this stage, and needed to move on to see out his magnificent career in a bit of style, and in 1998 he re-joined CSKA Sofia, the club that gave him his big break in the first place.
Stoichkov spent less than a season with CSKA Sofia in 1998, making only 4 league appearances, just scoring a single goal. It wasn’t the best of times of him on the field, but the CSKA Sofia fans saw their knight in shining armour return once again, and that alone made a huge impact on the club. He the in that same year of 1998 signed for middle eastern side Al-Nassr, based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Stoichkov spent only a couple of months Riyadh, making a measly 2 league appearances. At least he did manage to score a solitary goal during his extremely short tenure there. At the start of the 98/99 season, Stoichkov made a move even further east, joining Japanese side Kashiwa Reysol.
Stoichkov spent one year in the far east, making 27 appearances, and scoring a sterling 12 goals in the league. Stoichkov now being in his mid-30`s, he wanted to further his catalogue of adventures as his career came to a close, and in 2000, he joined MLS franchise Chicago Fire.
THE UNITED STATES
During Stoichkov`s 2 years with the Illinois based side, he was prolific with his amount of appearances at 51 in the league, as well as his goals, with 17 in the league. Stoichkov then moved to Washington D.C. based MLS franchise D.C. United in 2003, where he would make 21 appearances, scoring 5. He was seen as a huge success stateside, with Stoichkov still showing glimpses of his inconceivable talent that made him the starlet he was, and with him also helping grow the popularity of the MLS all across the United States, as well as the globe. He retired from professional football in 2003 while at D.C. United.
Hristo Stoichkov had an absolutely sensational international career with his native Bulgaria, with him still to this day being regarded as the best player to ever honour the Bulgarian flag on the international footballing stage, as well as being regarded as one of the best players the FIFA World Cup had ever seen, which is a gargantuan accolade, and with some even saying Stoichkov was one of the best players of all-time, which is hard to disagree with, as he was simply extravagant to the highest degree, with talent even world-class players of his time could only dream of, and when Stoichkov was on his A game, no defender or goalkeeper on planet Earth could stop his ruthless wrath, with his shining, godly aura being shone from him as he played, capturing the eyes of every beholder that were lucky enough to see his incomprehensible talent on display. Now, let`s look into Stoichkov`s international career in detail, to see why “The Dagger” became so famous on the world stage.
Hristo Stoichkov made his international debut for Bulgaria in a UEFA EURO 1998 qualifying match against Belgium on the 27rd of September 1987. He scored his first international goal for Bulgaria against Qatar in a friendly game in Doha.
During the qualification for the 1994 FIFA World Cup, Stoichkov scored an impressive 5 goals, and guided his native Bulgaria to their first major tournament in 8 years, since the 1986 World Cup, which was held in Mexico, where Bulgaria were knocked out by hosts in the Round of 16. In the 1994 World Cup in the United States though, Stoichkov and his Bulgarian side had loftier ambitions.
In the 1994 World Cup, held in the United States, Stoichkov was simply unplayable, and scored 6 goals, which gifted him the World Cup Golden Boot, alongside the Russian Oleg Salenko. He also helped guide Bulgaria to the World Cup Semi-Finals, getting past sure-fire favourites and defending champions Germany by 2 goals to 1 in the process, only to lose out to Italy 2-1 in the Semis. Bulgaria placed 4th overall after they lost the 3rd placed play-off to Sweden 4-0. The 1994 World Cup was where Stoichkov really made himself a household name, and he was subsequently awarded the FIFA Ballon D`Or after the tournament.
In the qualification process for the EURO 1996, Stoichkov was just immense, scoring a staggering 10 goals in their qualification group, which left Bulgaria 2nd behind Germany, and Bulgaria qualified for EURO 1996, which was hosted in England, as one of the best runners-up, mostly due to Stoichkov`s incredible goalscoring antics. During the tournament itself, Bulgaria faced a very tough group in Spain, France and Romania, and failed to make it beyond the group stage. Stoichkov however still made his mark, scoring 3 goals in 3 games.
The 1998 World Cup held in France was a by far the biggest disappointment in Stoichkov`s international career, with Bulgaria only picking up a solitary point and scoring just once. Stoichkov retired from international football shortly after the tournament in 1998, in the last game of Bulgaria`s qualifying group for EURO 2000. Bulgaria failed to even qualify for EURO 2000 which was held in Belgium and Holland.
Overall in Stoichkov`s international career with Bulgaria, he was capped 83 times, scoring a quite magnificent 37 goals. As of 2018, Stoichkov is 3rd in Bulgaria`s all time scorers list, with the legendary Dimitar Berbatov slotting into 1st place with his mammoth tally of 48 goals.
His first job was that of a forward`s coach in Catalonia at his former club Barcelona in the 03/04 season. He was quite the success as a forward`s coach at Barcelona, and this garnered the attention of the Bulgarian FA.
BULGARIAN NATIONAL TEAM
In 2004 Stoichkov was named as manager of the Bulgarian national team, after the Bulgarian FA saw a lot of promise in Stoichkov, and of course, who wouldn’t know more about international football than Stoichkov, considering his legendary status as Bulgaria`s greatest ever player on the international stage. He lasted 3 years at the helm from 2004-2007, but Bulgaria failed to qualify for the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, and in 2007 Stoichkov left to venture pastures new.
In that same year, Stoichkov was appointed manager of Spanish 2nd Division (at the time) outfit Celta Vigo, where he lasted less than a season, as a series of poor results slipped Celta Vigo down to the far reaches of the 2nd Division.
In 2009 he made a return to management as he was appointed the no.1 job at South African Premiership side Mamelodi Sundowns. Despite a quite successful 1st season there, accumulating an impressive win percentage of over 53%, he left the Mamelodi Sundowns of his own accord in March of 2010.
Stoichkov took a 2 year break from management after this stint and then returned in 2012, this time to his native Bulgaria, to Bulgarian 1st Division side Litex Lovech, where he spent just under 2 seasons, and in 2013 was voted the A PFG manager of the year, an award where professional footballers from the league voted for the best manager. Later in 2013, Stoichkov got his dream managerial move to Bulgarian Bulldozers CSKA Sofia. But he lasted only one month at the post, as he had lost faith with the club, due to the troubles it was facing off the pitch.
WHY IS HRISTO STOICHKOV THE RIGHT MAN TO LEAD THE “NEW ERA OF GALÁCTICOS” AT REAL MADRID?
Hristo Stoichkov in my opinion is the perfect man for the job of leading Real Madrid to further glory and setting up the new era of “Galácticos” (despite playing for Barcelona, which we will get to soon). I will briefly narrow down the reasons why I think he is the perfect man for the job into 5 main points.
1. Stoichkov has vast playing experience in the La Liga, having played there for 7 years, a huge chunk of his playing career. He spent all of this time at Barcelona, making 175 La Liga appearances, so to say Stoichkov knows the league inside and out is an injustice.
2. Stoichkov has ample experience playing all across the globe, playing in Bulgaria, Spain, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Japan and the United States. This playing experience, with him playing all across the globe, has made him fluent in Bulgarian(obviously), Spanish and English. A lot of players at Real Madrid have Spanish as their first language, and English as their second, so Stoichkov would be a perfect fit in the dressing room, as he would be able to communicate one-on-one with almost every single player in the Real Madrid camp, and of course the staff etc.
3. Stoichkov had that special, lionhearted desire to win as a player, and was often instrumental in many of his team`s successes, such as Barcelona`s 4 straight La Liga titles in the 90`s, their 1992 European Cup win, and Bulgaria`s 4th placed finish in the 1994 FIFA World Cup in the United States. Stoichkov knows what it takes to win, in spades, in the biggest games on the world stage, with both club and country. This mentality is a very valuable one to have, and it will no doubt rub off on the players at Real Madrid currently, and the ones who will come in, because all that will be on Stoichkov`s mind will be winning, as anything else is not good enough for him. That is what made him the player he was, besides his god given talents with a football. Talent only gets you so far.
4. Stoichkov has extensive experience as a manager also, with him managing 4 clubs across 3 nations, and the Bulgarian national team for 3 years, a lengthy tenure for an international manager. He has also had varying success as a manager, as Stoichkov has experienced both low and high points in his managerial career. Stoichkov has always picked himself up after these low points in his managerial career and gone on to have great success in his next job, as he is incredibly tenacious in his demeanour, meaning that if Stoichkov encounters any low points within his tenure at Real Madrid, he will always be focused on turning it around, and going only one way, up. This will be an essential personality to be running the Real Madrid dressing room, as heads will always drop when form does by default, no matter what players are in the dressing room, and Stoichkov`s influence should be hugely felt by even the biggest ego`s in the dressing room with his iron-willed personality, which has got him in trouble on occasion, but will most likely help fire up the Real Madrid camp when times do get tough.
5. Lastly, Stoichkov`s footballing knowledge is off the charts. With him being a pioneer in his playing career of both Bulgarian and world football, he is a footballing genius of the highest order. This knowledge that he has accumulated through his god given gifts and shear hard work will vastly help with his training and tactic philosophies. He was a very attack minded player back in his day, but he was also competent in all areas of the game, as he was part of Johan Cruyff`s “Dream Team” of the 1990`s, where every player needed to contribute to every area of the game, meaning Stoichkov will be a manager who will be able to help coach with every area of Real Madrid`s game, whether that`s tackling or finishing. Hopefully we can see Stoichkov able to turn this Real Madrid side into a footballing force never seen before, as he has the capability to, that`s for sure.
The only downfall to Stoichkov`s new reign as Real Madrid`s head honcho is the fact that he played for Barcelona. Everybody that knows an ounce of information about football knows how strong a rivalry the two clubs share. But with former Barcelona manager Luis Enrique having spent a long period of his career playing with Real Madrid, it shouldn’t be a problem, as long as Stoichkov shows to the Real Madrid fans he is the right man for the job, and shows respect towards Barcelona whenever he talks about them or faces them. But, we will have to wait and see if this is the case, especially if he gets stick from Barcelona fans early on, and Stoichkov does have a temper that can be his hinderance. Hopefully if it does come down to that, he can handle it.