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World Cup Cult Heroes: Yordan Letchkov

In the run-up to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, The National’s Gary Meenaghan looks back at the figures of World Cups past who, while not necessarily the greatest the game has ever seen, were among football’s most interesting characters.
Illustration by Mathew Kurian / The National
Illustration by Mathew Kurian / The National

In the run-up to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, The National’s Gary Meenaghan looks back at the figures of World Cups past who, while not necessarily the greatest the game has ever seen, were among football’s most interesting characters.

YORDAN LETCHKOV

A temperamental Eastern European, Yordan Letchkov’s career is littered with controversy. A stand-out player of Bulgaria’s strong 1994 World Cup squad, he missed the following tournament because of a dispute. He was later jailed for corruption.

Bald Eagle

At the 1994 World Cup, Letchkov scored in a group-stage win over Greece and netted the winning penalty in the second-round shoot-out with Mexico. Bulgaria then met reigning champions Germany in the quarter-finals, and few gave them a hope. But at 1-1, after Hristo Stoichkov had levelled with a free kick, and with 12 minutes remaining, a cross came into the box from the right. The “Bald Eagle” swooped in front of Thomas Haessler to plant a magnificent diving header into the net past Bodo Illgner.

A Different Type of Strike

Letchkov started as a winger with local side Sliven before moving to CSKA Sofia in 1991. During a spell in the Bundesliga with Hamburg he was idolised by the fans for his quick feet and attacking instincts. He later joined Marseille, but it was at Besiktas where trouble brewed. Letchkov endured several disagreements with coach John Toshack before refusing to play. Under contract, he was forced to spend three years in the wilderness and missed the 1998 World Cup.

Jail Bird

In November 2003, Letchkov ran for office and was elected mayor of Sliven. In 2010, he was charged with mismanagement and abuse of power and stripped of his position. Last January, a regional court found him guilty of signing an unprofitable water and sewerage deal. He was sentenced to two years in jail.

That’s What He Said

“I don’t think I have changed much in the last 15 years,” he told FourFourTwo in December. “I am still the same person, and I always say it as it is. I am a straight talker.”

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Updated: June 2, 2014 04:00 AM

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