Former Barcelona forward Hristo Stoichkov believes a world-class footballer’s career can not be deemed ‘complete’ if he has not played in a list of stadiums that includes Wembley.
The striker’s former side, for whom he made 175 league appearances and scored 83 goals, face Manchester United in Saturday’s 2011 Champions League Final, hoping to secure their fourth European crown at the same venue where they celebrated their first.
Stoichkov was part of Johan Cruyff’s famous ‘Dream Team’ – which also included current Barca coach Pep Guardiola – that defeated Sampdoria 19 years ago.
And the Bulgarian, who was the joint top scorer at the 1994 World Cup, believes England’s national stadium is an arena that every footballer should want to showcase their talents in.
“My point of view has always been that even if you are a top footballer and have been for years, if you have failed to play in a handful of grounds like the Camp Nou, the Maracana, the Bombonera or one or two other of the world’s most emblematic stadiums then you can’t feel your career is complete,” he says in the official programme for the 2011 Champions League Final.
“Wembley is on that list. A legendary name it was for us even before we won there. For Barcelona it was a huge success just to get there, because those were the days of the European Cup and there was more emphasis on the concept of the knockout tie than today’s group stage. And our road to Wembley had been tough, ending in a hotly disputed victory over Benfica in a must-win game.”
A Ronaldo Koeman free-kick in extra-time eventually settled the 1992 final to hand the Catalans their first European Cup.
However, Stoichkov reveals that it should have been him taking aim instead of the Dutch defender, but he had a feeling that he should step aside and allow his team-mate to let fly instead.
“I remember practising the day before and rehearsing taking free-kicks,” he says. “Normally it would have been me to take the free-kick in the area from which Koeman hit the winner. But the day before I remember telling him that I thought he was going to score the winning goal.
“This triumph was the start of the greatest years of my career. I was voted European Player of the Year in 1994, the same year that I was a World Cup semi-finalist with Bulgaria. But the European Cup victory in 1992 at Wembley felt fantastic, we were making history, celebrating Barcelonismo. That’s why I still have a replica of the European Cup in my house and I wake up to it every day. I’ll never forget Wembley.”comments