Loan deals are the best way to get players on a temporary basis. These agreements may last from a few weeks to, most commonly, a full season, but now and then persisting for several campaigns at a time. However, in tremendously rare occurrences, a player could be purposely paid for 1 or 2 matches from significant importance for the club- one of those cases is the 2 games Hristo Stoichkov was given money to play for Al-Nassr FC.
If you are a fan of the beautiful game, there is no way you don’t associate Bulgaria with the name of Hristo Stoichkov. ‘The Dagger’, as nicknamed, back in the days was one of the best footballers worldwide, being part of the ‘dream team’ of FC Barcelona as well as playing for Parma Calcio 1913 during his prime years. Nevertheless, the 1994 Ballon D’or winner had times in his career path when he deliberately chose money over playing on the European stage and his 1-week stay in Saudi Arabia is the best example for that.
The year is 1998. In the early days of March, it has been disclosed that Hristo will no longer be part of the FC Barcelona squad due to a dispute with the Dutch head coach Louis van Gaal. As a free agent, the lethal striker had numerous options to choose from- the likes of PSV Eindhoven, São Paulo FC, Steaua București and FK Partizan were all in the race for the Bulgarian’s signature. In a surprising turn of events, Hristo decided to return to his beloved club, CSKA Sofia, which was trying to assemble a ‘dream team’ with Trifon Ivanov, Emil Kostadinov and Stoichkov himself. What’s even more interesting is the fact he had agreed to play for CSKA without a single penny in return. Stoichkov’s long-awaited ‘debut’ for the Bulgarian club was on 28 March 1998 on a full stadium waiting for the national hero. 2 matches for ‘The Reds’ and 11 days later, the short striker would find himself in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia wearing an Al-Nassr FC kit. The owner of the club, Abdul Rahman bin Saud Al Saud, offered him approximately $260 000 to play in a total of two games in the Asian Cup Winners' Cup- a semi-final versus Sau Kopet-Dag Ashkhabad and a final against Suwon Samsung Bluewings. Later on, directors in CSKA revealed that this was one of Hristo’s non-negotiables during contract discussions and everyone at the club was aware of the situation. As you would expect, the Bulgarian was a main figure in both games- 1 assist in the semi-final and a conclusive deadly finish in the decisive match was what the Saudis were anticipating from ‘The Dagger’ for these 2 appearances. In spite of being offered a permanent contract with hefty wages from Al Saud, a few hours after the cup triumph Stoichkov was already flying to Bulgaria to participate in the rest of the matches for CSKA and most importantly- prepare himself for the upcoming 1998 World Cup in France.
This situation is hardly ever discussed by any journalists, but it was, without any doubt, a clear sign of what to expect from wealthy Saudis who have an affinity for football and the business part of it. 22 years later, some of the most dominant football clubs on and off the pitch worldwide like Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain are owned by people from the kingdom with a possibility of more Arabian investors to come.