Stjepan Bobek (3 December 1923, Zagreb – 22 August 2010, Belgrade) was an ethnic Croat Yugoslav football striker and later football manager. Usually a forward or attacking midfielder, Bobek was renowned for his technique, vision and goalscoring ability and is commonly regarded as one of Yugoslavia’s greatest players.
Ferenc Puskás once said: “Bobek’s technique with the ball is unrivaled. I’m not a shame to admit, that I tried to copy him. How God-like that guy dribbled and his back-heel pass was impeccable. He still is one of the most noble artists in football.”
Bobek started playing at a very young age and had spells with several clubs in Zagreb but is mainly remembered for his time at the Serbian side Partizan Belgrade, where he moved to following the end of World War II.
He played for Partizan between 1945 and 1959 helping them win two Yugoslav First League titles and four Yugoslav Cups, and was named the club’s greatest player in history in 1995.
Internationally, he is the all-time top scorer for the Yugoslavia national team, scoring 38 goals in 63 appearances between 1946 and 1956, and was member of Yugoslav squads which won two Olympic silver medals (in 1948 and 1952) and played in two FIFA World Cups (in 1950 and 1954).
After retiring from active football in 1959, he was a successful manager, winning Yugoslav and Greek national titles with Partizan and Panathinaikos, and also had managing spells in Poland and Tunisia.[
Bobek was born in Zagreb and started playing at the age of 13 for Viktorija, a lower league club, using his brother’s registration papers. When he was 20 he became the center-forward of Građanski Zagreb.
He was the top scorer of the Yugoslav First League twice, in 1945 (eight goals) and 1954 (21 goals).
He came to FK Partizan in 1945 and played for them until 1958. During his time in Partizan, he played 468 games and scored 403 goals, still holding the club record.
Bobek won two Yugoslav League titles and the Yugoslav Cup four times. On 8 June 1946 in a league match played in Niš between 14. Oktobar and FK Partizan (1–10), Bobek scored nine goals – an absolute record that has never been broken until the end of Yugoslav First League or its successor leagues.
Bobek played in two World Cups, in Brazil 1950 (where he scored one goal in the 4–1 win over Mexico) and in Switzerland 1954.
He also played in two Olympic Games, in London 1948 (where he scored 4 goals and Yugoslavia won the silver medal) and in Helsinki 1952 (he scored three goals in the tournament and Yugoslavia won the Silver Medal). On 8 June 1947, he scored a record nine goals in a game against 14. Oktobar in Niš.
After retiring from the play, he became a football manager. In 1959 he became the coach of CWKS Warszawa in Poland, moving back to Yugoslavia the next season to manage FK Partizan. The team won three successive Yugoslav League championships under him, after which he was replaced by Kiril Simonovski in 1963.
In 1964 he had another spell in Warsaw, and then he moved to Greece where he led Panathinaikos in the 1960s. In the 1967–68 and 1968–69 seasons, he again returned to manage FK Partizan. In 1970, he moved to Olympiacos.
In 1972, he was the manager of Dinamo Zagreb and during 1974–75 season of Panathinaikos for a second time, but without former success. He also coached Vardar Skopje and led them to 1978–79 Yugoslav Second League’s East Division title and subsequent promotion to the First League.
In 1995, he was named the all-time greatest player of Partizan Belgrade. In 2009, Bobek’s biography written by sports journalist Fredi Kramer was published. Bobek died shortly after midnight on 22 August 2010 in Belgrade. He was buried in Belgrade’s Alley of Distinguished Citizens at Novo Groblje.