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Hristov Reflects on Six Years with the Rowdies

All good things must come to an end.

It’s a tough pill to swallow for everyone in the Tampa Bay Rowdies family, but Georgi Hristov will not be returning to the club for a seventh season.

Given the reputation of the Rowdies in the original NASL as a bold and boisterous bunch — with cocksure players like Rodney Marsh as the face of the club — Hristov is not exactly the type of player that would spring to mind as a candidate to be the face of the modern era Rowdies. The most brazen thing about the soft-spoken Bulgarian over the years has been his numerous hairstyles.

Hristov sums up his approach to the game with one succinct line.

“For me, my thing was just go there and do the job. Just make it happen. Make it work.”

60 goals — many of which were in pivotal moments — to set a new Rowdies scoring recording record, a moder-era leading 33 assists, as well as a modern era record of 173 appearances. Yeah, Georgi Hristov certainly made it work. He set the standard for the reincarnated Rowdies, and every player that will come after will have to live up to it.

After taking some time to digest the club’s decision to not offer him a new contract, Hristov was kind enough to give an interview to The Unused Substitutes about his departure and what may be in store for him next. Below are some highlights from that chat. You can listen to the full 30-minute interview on this week’s podcast.

On the club’s decision not to bring him back for another season:

“Obviously it’s not easy. You spend so much time in this locker room, with a lot of people that have become my friends forever. Teammates, people from the office, it’s like any other job. It wasn’t my decision. My wish was to stay, but they want to go in a different direction. I had a talk with Neill Collins and saw that they’re not gonna renew my contract. I accepted it obviously. It would have been much better if I knew earlier. Even if I knew earlier, I still was gonna perform to the best of my ability for the team and try to make the playoffs. I don’t owe anything to the club, and the club doesn’t owe me anything. But it’s better if you know early so you can have some home games left maybe. I got injured in one of the last home games but it would have been nice to say goodbye to the fans — and still leave. It’s ok for any coach, if you want to go for different players or just a different way in general with the whole club. It is what it is. I still appreciate a lot what everyone has done for me at this club. Starting with the people that work on the grass all the way to the owners.”

On leaving the Rowdies as an established club legend, regardless of the era:

I did put everything in for that club. I had a lot of moments where I wasn’t ready to play. Maybe it would’ve been better if I just played it safe and say ‘I can’t do it. It can get worse.’ I never did it, not even once. I have no words to express or explain how much I appreciate (the fans’) support and putting me up with those big names with the classic Rowdies back in the day. It’s humbling and it’s very warming. I don’t know what to say. I know there’s so many players that have done their best and they also deserve acknowledgement, but talking about me the way they do, I’m very grateful. That didn’t come easy.

On what might come next as he faces the offseason:

Right now I told myself I’m not going to think about it at all unless there’s someone calling me or texting me and there’s interest, which there is right now but I can’t really say. I want to take a full rest in November mentally. Physically I’m training. This is going to be my first offseason since we came to the states that we’re going to stay here. We usually go back in the offseason to Bulgaria but this time we’re staying here. So this time I’m going to train a little bit more than usual. When you go back to Bulgaria it’s cold and it’s not easy to maintain. I’m gonna train, stay fit, but I’m not gonna think and make any decisions until I clear my mind a little bit more. I feel fit. I can play probably four or five more years, I don’t know. I can play two more years at a very high level, but it doesn’t mean I have to play. There’s certain things I wanted to do but I couldn’t because soccer was my life. So I don’t know. We’ll see how things go. Sometimes you gotta wait a little bit to see how the universe is gonna run things.

I’m not nervous or anything. We’ll see how things go. Change is never painful, only resistance to change is painful. I’ve always moved in my career, so it’ll be fine if I have to move. Still it’s gotta be worth it. I like the area. I like so many people that I met here.

On the memories he’s created while with the Rowdies:

I hope I made the supporters happy, but I was happy too. I’m not gonna lie, the Rowdies have done so much for me and I appreciate it. I really, really appreciate what the club has done for me. Lee Cohen, who’s the president, there’s certain things you can’t tell the media, but everyone has their rough times like I did, and he was there for me on a personal level. There’s things that are more than what people see, more than the numbers. I felt it in the club. It’s been a big experience for me.

On what his six years in Tampa Bay have meant in his career and in his life:

I have no words to express my appreciation to all of the supporters. This has been a fantastic six seasons for me with the Rowdies. Before I came, I wouldn’t say I had gone down in my career, but I had lost a little bit of the spark. In Bulgaria I had won everything, as an individual player and with a team. I couldn’t make the big move usually players would make when you’re 25 or 26 after you win all the championships and go west to compete for champiosnhips in Germany or wherever. Somehow I couldn’t do it and that was a little bit of a disappointment in myself. When I came here I found the spark again and I was the player that I was. I’m very thankful for that, and for everyone that worked at the club.

Photo by Patrick Patterson/Unused Substitutes

Jake Nutting
Writer at Large for The Unused Substitutes and NASL Beat Writer for Empire of Soccer. Fullbacks are people too.