“If you can’t eat steak in a fish restaurant, you must find another restaurant. It’s that simple.”
This was Johan Cruyff at his loquacious best. Describing a key ingredient for playing high pressing, aggressive, attacking football, the great Dutchman cited a player’s inherent nature as tantamount.
“What you see on the pitch often mirrors what happens around it,” he said. “In Barcelona we play attacking and aggressive football. That’s because everyone around the team has an aggressive and offensive attitude.
“If there are star players who are not aggressive, how can you have an aggressive team? Impossible.”
Bulgarian forward Hristo Stoichkov fitted the bill more than most.
Prior to being signed by Cruyff, his rap sheet already included receiving an initial life ban from football for his part in a mass brawl in a Bulgarian Cup final, which was later reduced to a month. He was just 19 at the time.
The man the Spanish press eventually dubbed ‘El Pistelero’ shot from the hip as well as his savage left foot. Few avoided his crosshairs.
It’s a testament to Cruyff’s alchemy and his belief in the conflict model for team building that the moment he was closest to producing what became the ‘Dream Team’ at Barcelona was the very moment he decided to throw a potential grenade into the mix by signing Stoichkov.
He had had two years in charge at the Nou Camp, and the vultures were circling.
A UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup and a Copa Del Rey were keeping them just about at bay, but with Barcelona having won only three La Liga titles in close to 30 years, it was now or never for Cruyff the Barca manager.
Signed in the summer of 1990, Stoichkov certainly didn’t take long to make his mark on Spanish football: in his first Clasico in the Spanish Super Cup, he was sent off and received a lengthy ban for stamping on a lineman’s foot.
The 1990-91 season had started badly for the club and the gamble on Stoichkov was already looking ill-conceived. Continue reading