Getting a player who can represent the club’s philosophy even though he has a bad image from the public at large is a big blessing for the supporters. Luckily for FC Barcelona, they once had Hristo Stoichkov.
On 10 October 2017, the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that Stoichkov had been relieved of his duties as Bulgaria’s honorary consultant in Barcelona. This policy was taken after Stoichkov publicly criticized the vice president of the Spanish Government, Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, on the Univision Sports television show.
“His grandfather was a Francoist, his father was a Francoist, and he was also pro-Franco,” said Stoichkov, following the police attack on voters in the Catalan Independence Referendum which was not legally recognized by the Spanish government on October 1. “You can’t send police to beat innocent people. Spanish rule is a disgrace.”
Stoichkov later apologized for labeling Soraya’s family as Franciost (adherents of General Francisco Franco’s fascist ideology). However, he didn’t care that the comments cost him his position. He remains firm in his stance in defending Catalan independence.
For most people, Stoichkov’s attitude is certainly considered too much, but this is not the case for Barcelona fans and Catalans. Stoichkov, with all his courage (read: recklessness), is a hero of FC Barcelona on the pitch, and Catalans off the pitch.
Stoichkov joined FC Barcelona in 1990. He was brought in from CSKA Sofia carrying the European Golden Boot trophy in his hands and a red sports car as his dowry.
The player who was born on February 8 1966 did not take long to prove his capacity. He immediately led Barcelona to win the Spanish League title in his first season, as well as the following three seasons in a row.
Stoichkov’s greatness with Barcelona was not only limited to the national level. He was an important part of coach Johann Cruyff’s ‘Dream Team’ which won the Champions League in 1992.
“He can run like Carl Lewis (American track athlete who won 9 Olympic gold medals), pass the ball like Ronald Koeman, and can be said to have better finishing than Gary Lineker,” said former Barca winger, Lobo Carrasco. “And best of all, it has mala leche.”
Mala leche can be defined as someone with a bad temper, aggressiveness, and a hint of madness – characteristics that are very evident in Stoichkov.
While still defending CSKA Sofia, Stoichkov was involved in a big commotion in the 1985 Bulgarian Cup Final against Levski Sofia. He received a lifetime ban, but this was later reduced (massively) to one year thanks to huge protests not only from CSKA Sofia fans, but from the majority of Bulgarians who felt their star had been taken away from them.
Stoichkov’s madness continued after moving to Barca. In his first El Clasico match, he received a red card for stepping on the referee’s foot. Cruyff could not do much to control Stoichkov’s behavior and behavior. He even admitted that he needed a character like Stoichkov because he “had too many good men” in the squad.
In addition, Stoichkov has openly said that he hates Madrid. “Every match against Madrid is like a life and death match for me. The injustices (that Catalans felt) in the past are also part of me.”
In Barca’s victory in the 1992 Champions League final at Wembley Stadium, Stoichkov did not hesitate to voice his support for Catalan independence.
Stoichkov brought this Barcelonsimo fanaticism when he was with the Bulgarian national team. He once flew the Catalan flag from the balcony of his hotel room ahead of the 1998 World Cup group stage match against Spain. When he was coach of Bulgaria, he was even known to have expelled a seven year old child for coming to practice wearing a Los Blancos uniform.
It’s not just Madrid that is Stoichkov’s ‘enemy’. If things happen within the club that are not in line with his income, he does not hesitate to express his opinion. One example is the dismissal of Sir Bobby Robson and the election of Louis van Gaal as Barca coach.
“Robson’s departure is unfair. I don’t want to waste time talking about Van Gaal because my tie is too expensive!” said Stoichkov with a laugh.
Despite his madness, Stoichkov is also known as someone who is not afraid to protect his friends. Especially for this case, his friendship with Romario is the (only) most ideal example.
At first Stoichkov said that recruiting Romario was a stupid move by the club because the regulations in the Spanish League at that time were only loose
Even though each club played three foreign players (Barca already had Stoichkov, Koeman and Michel Laudrup), but in the end they became close friends – although this relationship has since strained until now.
When Romario punched Diego Simeone, Stoichkov even praised Romario’s punch. “As great as (boxer) Mike Tyson’s punch,” said Stoichkov. Stoichkov also once hit a paparazzi for interfering in the personal life of Romario, who was expecting the birth of his first child, Romarinho.
When Romario’s father becomes a victim of kidnapping, it is Stoichkov who provides him with endless moral support.
Finding a player with character and attitude like Stoichkov in the current era is practically impossible. A player certainly cannot say bad things about the club or teammates openly in front of the media (as Stoichkov did when Barca just recruited Romario). They are obliged to maintain the good name of the club and their colleagues, no matter how damaged the atmosphere in the dressing room is.
The players are also asked to ‘serve’ each media session sincerely and wholeheartedly. In this way, it is hoped that the media will not respond with bad reporting.
The newest form of control is in personal social media use. Players cannot upload content freely because it is monitored by clubs, agents, or even a special team. Interestingly, quite a few players actually volunteer to do this for the sake of personal branding.
It cannot be denied, social media has become an effective marketing tool today. For example, based on Hopper’s report, all of Madrid striker Cristiano Ronaldo’s social media was worth a total of 937 million United States Dollars in the period June 2016 to June 2017. In November 2017, the price per upload on CR7’s Instagram account reportedly reached figure 308,000 Pounds..
Ronaldo cannot get all these things without achievement and maintaining his attitude. He is a player who is relatively free from controversy. If you look at Ronaldo’s Instagram account, which has 120 million followers, there is not a single post about sensitive matters outside the gridiron. Everything Ronaldo uploads only includes clubs, product advertisements, social campaigns and occasionally his personal life – which, of course, is sweet and straight.
Stoichkov certainly does not meet the requirements needed to become a social media star like Ronaldo. However, it is his personality off the pitch that makes Stoichkov a special figure, especially for Blaugrana supporters. He is so loved because he has become one with the club.