Cult Heroes: Hristo Stoichkov

Cult Heroes: Hristo Stoichkov

‘There are only two Christs,’ said Hristo Stoichkov before collecting his 1994 Ballon d'Or, ‘one plays for Barcelona, the other is in heaven.’

The great Bulgarian, who turns 56 today, was never short of confidence/blatant arrogance (delete as appropriate) – but, in fairness, he wasn’t ever short of god-like genius, either.  

Built like a bouncer but with the poise of an ice dancer, Hristo – whose name, by the way, literally translates as Christ – was unplayable, unrelenting and, as Johann Cruyff discovered, often unmanageable.



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El Pistolero was one of the jewels in Cruyff’s Barca dream team, which won four consecutive La Liga titles and the 1992 European Cup.

This was the pre-social media age. There were no YouTube clips of how sensationally good Barca and Stoichkov were back then. Instead, those of us living outside of Spain had to make do with the occasional feature on the Blaugrana, or, even better, the chance to see them in action on a Champions League night.

For those of us living in the UK, a rare opportunity to do just that came in November 1994, when Manchester United travelled to the Nou Camp in the tournament’s group stage.



“We have been well and truly slaughtered. In the end, it was a humbling experience for us.”

 Alex Ferguson after a 4-0 battering



The Catalans were imperious that night. They ran riot. England’s best team were reduced to rubble. Stoichkov scored twice and tormented the visitors. Romario – his friend and fellow superstar – also found the net.

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“Of all the great things that happened during my career, the thing that sticks out the most is that night because we got our backsides kicked big-style. Stoichkov and Romário are still etched in my memory.”

 Steve Bruce



Having been humbled by AC Milan in the previous season’s Champions League final, this was a clear statement of intent from Barcelona. But what should have been the start of an era of dominance – led by Stoichkov and Romario – quickly evaporated. Two months later, Romario was gone. Six months after that, so was Stoichkov. Cruyff followed soon after.



The Bulgarian and the Brazilian had enjoyed little more than a season as teammates before it all went sour. But despite the brevity of their time together, it is still a period remembered as fondly as any other in Catalonia. And rightly so.

So, Happy birthday, Hristo, you crazy bastard – Brucey and Sir Alex send their best.


Words by Josh Warwick



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1 comment

That’s how it was!


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