The incredible adventures of Romario and Stoichkov in Barcelona

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So long

It’s not the first time I’ve had an argument with Cruyff and it won’t be the last: I say what I think and no one will ever change me

- Romario

The last straw came after the World Cup, dominated by the Barcelona forwards. Romario failed to return to the Catalan capital. In the Camp Nou dressing room, the rest of the squad took it out on Stoichkov, sniping: “Some friend you’ve got!”

By then, though, the friendship had almost died; saddened, desperate, the Bulgarian had tried ringing the Brazilian to plead with him to return to Catalonia. But the calls went unanswered, the messages ignored. This time it was Romario who felt aggrieved. Stoichkov and his family were supposed to be travelling to Brazil after the tournament for Romarinho’s baptism, before heading off on holiday together. Hotels and flights were booked. But the Bulgaria squad was called to a reception with the president Jelei Jelev and Stoichkov didn’t make it to Brazil.

When eventually, two weeks late, Romario appeared in Barcelona, everything had changed. “He trained alone and we hardly spoke,” says Stoichkov. “Then we had another argument because I didn’t like his friends at all. I tried to split him from them but I failed. It was never the same again.”

Hristo Stoichkov

Stoichkov holds aloft his European Footballer of the Year gong

The United match apart, the Bulgarian was right: that following season Romario scored just four before departing. Stoichkov got only nine. Barcelona finished fourth. “Romario never came back after the World Cup. His body was there but his mind was still in Rio,” Stoichkov says. “Some joked that the man in Barcelona was a lookalike, his performances were so bad.”

It had been good – very, very good – while it lasted, but it was all over. There was just time for one last dance for old times’ sake; a moment’s glory that, beneath the perfect veneer, was a sad lament for what could have been. A virtuoso display, just like the good old days. A display so good that even Alex Ferguson couldn’t complain.      

This feature originally appeared in the February 2010 issue of FourFourTwo. Subscribe!

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