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Hristo Stoichkov has a laugh on the sidelines.

'Jose has a crop of diamonds'

Hristo Stoichkov, the former Ballon d’Or winner and recipient of the 1994 World Cup Golden Boot, recently made a first visit to the Aon Training Complex in his current capacity working for US TV channel Univision.

The Bulgarian played under Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho at Barcelona and featured prominently in two Champions League matches between the two clubs in 1994. The under-strength Reds were beaten 4-0 at the Nou Camp as the forward combined brilliantly with Romario, while a 2-2 draw at Old Trafford included a special flicked equaliser by Lee Sharpe.

Stoichkov, speaking exclusively to MUTV, was delighted to meet up again with Jose and explained why the boss is the right man to guide and polish a lot of the “diamonds” at his disposal. In terms of this season’s Champions League, he feels United could be capable of going all the way in the competition.

Hristo Stoichkov scores against United in 1994.
Stoichkov beats Gary Walsh to score at the Nou Camp in 1994.

“It’s something very special for me to be here and very personal because I am very good friends with Jose Mourinho,” Stoichkov said. “He was my coach at Barcelona in 1996/97 and, after that, in 1998. I’m really happy to be here for the first time at the United training ground, which is spectacular by the way, really excellent.

”I think that United has an advantage as a club as, in Jose Mourinho, they have a manager who is a trophy winner. He’s won the Champions League with Porto and Inter and, for sure, his big dream with this United team is to once again lift the Champions League trophy for the club.

”I think that he has a great squad littered with stars and these players now have to give a lot more of themselves to be able to win the Champions League. Without a doubt, Juventus and Manchester United are going to finish first and second in the group. They key is to qualify from the group. When you have got through, it is very different because then it is game by game. I think United do have a good enough side to believe that they can fight to get all the way to the Champions League final.”

Stoichkov is impressed with how Sir Alex Ferguson managed to introduce youngsters into his squad, even if it was down to necessity at the time of the 1994 meeting due to the UEFA foreigners rule that was in place, and thinks this is a sound policy for a club to have.

”We really had a spectacular side at Barcelona, with some great players,” he added. “The first Leg over here at Old Trafford was very difficult, we drew 2-2. The return leg in Barcelona was a little bit different, because we changed the dynamic of our game and set out to attack a lot more. But in addition to Barcelona winning by that 4-0 scoreline, I was lucky enough to get on the mark with what was my 100th goal in Barça colours so I was really happy at the time.

”Yes, all the foreign players who were here at the time were important, but I think when Ferguson was here, the team had a lot of homegrown talent. A lot of your youngsters were homegrown, from here. So it was a lot easier for the manager to have his own ideas about how his team would play and train. Today, there are many more foreign players in the game, lots of them and they are very important too, and also players move for much higher transfer fees. But just because they are expensive, doesn’t mean that they then do a job.

The Barcelona squad in 1994/95.
United Review shows the strength of Barcelona's squad in 1994/95.

”You need to know how to handle the group. Because I believe that today, even more than ever before, Manchester United has a real crop of diamonds, of really promising young players, and they have manager who is a winner; Jose Mourinho is an excellent coach, a guy who cares about everything.

”A manager who concentrates on every one of his players, on their movements and on the tactics they can play. I believe that Manchester United currently has a very young side, with a lot of diamonds that need to be polished and worked on.

”I think the club has a very competitive side, which alright, might not be having the best of times currently, okay, but I think that this United team within one or two years, is going to be very competitive indeed.

”I really don’t like comparing the past with nowadays,” he explained. Because if you make such a comparison, it’s like you are losing respect for both the past and the present. Nowadays, players have to have a big heart. They need to be competitive, they need to fight for this shirt, because this shirt is so important, irrespective of whether it’s a Barcelona or a Manchester United shirt, or Manchester City or Juventus or Milan.

”When you go out onto the field, you have to have a very clear mindset, respect to try and win the game. Respect, you need to have the ability and courage to show that you are in this team.

”I think that young players today need to learn, they need to watch videos of games from 10 or 15 years ago, and see how football was played back then, and how footballers went about their work. Nowadays, we are used to seeing young players being into their Game Boys, iPads, mobile phones, Instagram and Facebook. It’s like they have lost touch with the charisma of football. There’s a lot more publicity nowadays, and the commercial side is much bigger, and we are leaving them with little time for training.”

Hristo Stoichkov in action at the 1994 World Cup.
Hristo Stoichkov has a shot at the 1994 World Cup.

Stoichkov argues that Jose’s influence on the individuals within his squad will reap the benefits in the long term, if they take his methods on board.

“Today, it is typical that these young players have to work and have to understand the game and to know every movement in a match,” he said. “How they need to attack, how they need to defend, when they need to earn a free-kick, when they need to win a penalty.

“So the young players here at United currently, have a real treasure. A manager who loves them a great deal, a manager who takes responsibility for them a lot, and I think that these players also have to play for their manager. Because the coach is like their father.

”For that reason, I believe that the payers themselves have to show and demonstrate to Jose Mourinho: ‘I have the ability, I have the pride to play For Manchester United.’ I think that when everyone is together, it is a lot easier for Manchester United to win trophies and win games.”

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