Who is Hristo Stoichkov - The Bulgarian Legend
Updated: Dec 12, 2020
Who is Hristo Stoichkov
Hristo Stoichkov is a Bulgarian former professional footballer, who after his retirement from the pitch began commentating for Univision Deportes. As a forward, he was widely regarded as one of the best players of his generation – and even the greatest Bulgarian footballer of all time. In 1992 and 1994, he was awarded 2nd place for the FIFA World Player of the Year award. He was also awarded the Ballon d’Or in 1994.
Born in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, in 1966, Stoichkov began his football career early. By just age 12, he was already playing for his local team Maritza Plovdiv in the Bulgarian second division. His goalscoring prowess with the team quickly earned him a spot on the CSKA Sofia team. However, in 1985, Stoichkov – who would later become notorious for his short temper – was involved in a fight during the Bulgarian Cup Final that earned him and five others lifetime bans. Just 10 months later, the bans were lifted, when Bulgaria qualified for the 1986 World Cup. Stoichkov was not present on the World Cup team, but made his comeback for the team in April of 1986 with a 3-1 win over Silven in a game of the Cup of the Soviet Army. In May, he competed in the final of a tournament against Lokomotiv Sofia, with his team winning 2-0.
In 1987, Stoichkov made the first of 60 appearances as a Bulgarian international, becoming a regular on the left-side of CSKA’s attacking team. He secured his first A Group medal at the end of that season, with 6 league goals scored in total. His professional career took off in 1989, when he tallied 38 goals for Sofia in just 30 matches during the 1989/30 A Group season, winning the European Golden Boot.
In 1991, after 6 years with CSKA Sofia, Stoichkov signed with FC Barcelona. In his first season, Stoichkov was suspended for two months for stomping on a referee’s foot. However, he still went on to score 14 league goals and 6 more in the European Cup Winners’ Cup, helping them to win their first of four consecutive La Liga titles, followed by a UEFA Champions League the following year. Manager Johan Cruyff had been instrumental in bringing Stoichkov to Barcelona, where he quickly developed into one of the most prolific forwards in the world, but the two often seemed at odds on the pitch. Despite this, Stoichkov formed part of Cruyff’s “Dream Team” and helped the team to one of their most successful eras. It is no surprise, then, that two years later he was named European Player of the Year.
Nicknamed “The Raging Bull” for his fiery emotional intensity on the pitch, Stoichkov became a huge fan favourite as he formed a lethal strike partnership with Romário. Twice, Stoichkov was awarded 2nd place for the FIFA World Player of the Year award, and after leading his national team to the 1994 World Cup semi-finals, he won the Ballon d’Or for that year.
Stoichkov shocked fans when he shifted teams in the middle of the 1994/95 season, moving to Parma in the Italian first division. He scored a total of 7 goals with the team, before returning to FC Barcelona after just one season, where he would continue to play until 1998. In the spring of 1998, he had a second brief stint with CSKA Sofia, before signing a $200 two-match contract for Saudi Arabian club Al-Nassr and helping them to win the Asian Cup Winners’ Cup. In the semi-final against Kopetdag, he earned a penalty and assisted the winning goal. In the final against Suwon Bluewings, he scored the only goal of the game in the 12th minute. He later went on to play for Japan with Kashiwa Reysol, before finishing his career in the United States with Chicago Fire and D.C. United. He won the US Open Cup with Chicago Fire.
Appearances: 249 / Goals: 114 / Assists: 9
5x Spanish champion
Champions League runner-up
4x UEFA Super Cup winner
2x Spanish Cup winner
6x Spanish Super Cup winner
Chicago Fire FC
Appearances: 53 / Goals: 20 / Assists: 13
US Open Cup winner
Parma Calcio 1913
Appearances: 30 / Goals: 7 / Assists: -
Appearances: 28 / Goals: 13 / Assists: -
Japanese League Cup winner
Appearances: 23 / Goals: 5 / Assists: 4
Appearances: 17 / Goals: 10 / Assists: -
3x Bulgarian Champion
4x Bulgarian Cup winner
Bulgarian Super Cup winner
Golden Boot winner
4x Top scorer
5x Footballer of the year
Best foreign player
European Champion Clubs’ Cup winner
Stoichkov was at his peak during Bulgaria’s incredibly 1994 World Cup run. In five previous appearances, the team had failed to secure a World Cup victory, but after the fall of the Communist regime in 1989, the country’s best players were suddenly free to hone their talents against the world’s best teams in Western European leagues. Bulgaria came out on top form after this revelation, defeating the heavily favoured France, before Greece and Argentina. Just one loss to Italy kept Bulgaria out of the finals, with leading goal scorer Stoichkov spearheading the team’s success up until that point with 6 goals.
Speaking of Pep and Ronald’s roles as coaches, Stoichkov said: “without a doubt I did think Pep and Ronald could become coaches. As players they wanted to achieve the best results possible, it is only natural that they would apply this same mentally in their careers as coaches.”
About Pep in particular, he added: "I saw Pep grow day by day while in Barcelona, he enjoyed conversations with his team-mates. He liked having authority on the field, having control of the ball. He was very meticulous, he was always paying attention to a lot of details, I believe he has been able to apply the same model he had on the field as a coach."
Stoichkov formed a lethal strike partnership with Romário. The two seemed a great pair, as they indulged in late nights out while simultaneously keeping each other’s performances on track. Stoichkov was well-known for making sure Romário attended his training sessions on time after such nights.
Where Is He Now?
After retiring from professional football in 2003, Stoichkov decided to try his hand at coaching. In 2004, he was named head of the Bulgarian national team. However, his managing career got off to a poor start as Bulgaria failed to qualify for the 2006 World Cup. He also brought his short temper with him, from the pitch to the bench, and in 2005, he was sent off for insulting the referee. His temper caused several players to quit the team – including Stilivan Petrov, the captain of the team, who announced that he would not play for Bulgaria until Stoichkov resigned. Though Petrov did eventually return to the team, these frequent clashes led to Stoichkov’s resignation just 3 years later, in 2007.
The next 6 years saw Stoichkov moving around from team to team, as he struggled to find his feet in a managerial role. He held 4 managerial positions during this time, but none were particularly stable. First, he went on to manage Celta Vigo, but following the team’s slump which took them to the lower reaches of the Spanish Second Division, he was fired not long afterwards,. He then replaced Henri Michel as the manager for Mamelodi Sundowns in 2009, but once again did not last very long. He resigned in 2010, instead taking over as the head manager of the Vietnam national team in 2011.
In the 2011/12 season, he worked as an advisor at the Russian club Rostov. In 2012, Stoichkov was appointed the manager of Bulgarian side Litex Lovech and a year later, he was recognised as the A PFG manager of the season, following a vote by the professional footballers of the Bulgarian league. In 2013, he was named the manager of his former club, CSKA Sofia, but having lost faith in the club, he quit just one month later.
That same year, he made the decision to switch careers and instead, became a Spanish-language football commentator.