Hristo Stoichkov

Hristo Stoichkov: Perfect XI

The brilliant, brooding Bulgarian chooses his ideal line-up

Goalkeeper
Andoni Zubizarreta 
Behind every great team, there’s a great goalkeeper. Maybe Barcelona never realised Andoni was just that until he left after our Champions League final loss to Milan in ’94, and it took them many years to replace him. He was consistent and commanding; you don’t play for your country in four World Cups unless you’re a great player.

Right-back
Antonio Benarrivo
I didn’t know too much about Benarrivo until I went to Italy. He could play on either flank and sometimes played as a winger. Parma, despite their success, were never one of Italy’s big clubs, but Benarrivo was one of a number of Parma players to force their way into the national team at a time when Italy, even by their high standards, were spoilt for great defenders.

Centre-back
Ronald Koeman

Few defenders have possessed Ronald’s range of passing from defence – and that gave Barcelona a huge advantage over most of our opponents. We would quite simply not have been the same team without him.

Centre-back
Jose Ramon Alexanko

A great leader and no-nonsense central defender. He was the first of the big Basque contingent of the ’80s and ’90s to arrive at Barcelona and was hugely popular at the Nou Camp. As club captain, it was right that he was brought on as a sub by Johan Cruyff late in the 1992 European Cup Final victory over Sampdoria, as no one deserved to lift that trophy more than Alexanko.

Left-back
Trifon Ivanov

Played with a fierce will to win and never took any prisoners. Had a great shot and fancied himself at free-kicks. The Bulgarian side always felt more confident when he was in the team.

Right-midfield
Txiki Beguiristain

A prolific scorer, especially for someone in his position, and always a tireless worker. He was constantly looking for the ball and opposition full-backs hated playing against him.

Centre-midfield
Michael Laudrup

One of the best European players I’ve ever seen. Prior to arriving at Barcelona, he’d already played for big clubs such as Juventus and Roma, but had never quite shown what he could do. But in Cruyff, he had a coach who gave him free rein and he showed he was up there with the greats. An elegant, old-fashioned playmaker, he did things few other footballers could do, and it was a great disappointment that the club let him move on – to Real Madrid – in ’94.

Centre-midfield
Krassimir Balakov

One of the finest European footballers of his generation. He was an important part of the national team’s success at the ’94 World Cup and among the best creative midfielders in Europe game during the 1990s.

Left-midfield
Yordan Letchkov

Technically Yordan was one of the best players I ever played with. He scored that winner against Germany in the ’94 World Cup quarter-finals and with his talent, he should have played for one of Europe’s big clubs.

Forward
Romario

One of the all-time greats. He was often criticised for doing nothing during a game, but you couldn’t argue with his scoring record. He’d get you a goal out of nothing. His finishing was extraordinary and I often saw him leave outstanding defenders for dead. There’s no one like him today.

Forward
Emil Kostadinov

I enjoyed great success with Emil at CSKA Sofia in the late-’80s and we carried that success on with the national side. He was quick and had a knack of scoring spectacular goals for Bulgaria, Porto and Bayern Munich. I liked playing with him more than any other player for the national side.

MANAGER
Johan Cruyff

Under him, Barcelona were the best team in Europe and I think the game is still waiting for another team to achieve success playing the way we played. It’s no secret that he and I were often at loggerheads, but the fact is I owe him so much. He knows that I know what he did for my game. He was a great player himself and I can’t think of any other player who has been an influence on so many footballers down the years.

SUBSTITUTES
Borislav Mikhailov

Outstanding keeper. I can’t understand why he never played for a big club.
Julio Salinas
Big and strong, he wasn’t your typical Spanish forward. Deadly in the box.
Gianfranco Zola
Left Parma soon after I arrived but he cemented his reputation as one of Europe’s most gifted number 10s.
Nasko Sirakov
An outstanding goalscorer, he helped me settle into the national squad.
Luboslav Penev
A fiercely competitive forward. Missed USA 94 through serious illness, which was a big blow for Bulgaria.


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