Nathan Bliss looks at the various ups and downs in the career of Bojan Krkic, the former Barcelona, AC Milan, and Ajax star.
Barcelona’s La Masia has been a tremendous source of hugely talented youngsters, throughout the years it has produced players of immense quality through focused technical training and a unique footballing philosophy. Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique and Lionel Messi are just a selection of first team players that have graduated through the system and have flourished for both club and country..
So who would you think holds the record for the youngest ever Barcelona player to appear in La Liga? Iniesta? Messi? Xavi? No, you’re wrong. It’s Bojan Krkic, simply known as Bojan, who appeared for Barcelona against Osasuna in September 2007, aged just 17 years and 19 days, breaking the previous record set by the little known Argentine Lionel Messi. After breaking that record, big expectation and pressure was placed on his young shoulders, he was even dubbed the ‘Spanish Messi’ by some. However, via Barcelona, Milan and Roma, the now 24 year old Spaniard finds himself in the West Midlands at Stoke City. After not quite fulfilling expectations in his career so far, can Bojan to finally realise his potential at the Britannia?
Bojan was born to a Spanish mother and a Serbian father on the 28th August 1990. His father, Bojan Krkic Senior, was a professional footballer in his homeland who later became a scout for Barcelona when his son joined La Masia at just 8 years old. Immediately, Barca knew they had a unique player in their ranks. An immensely clever forward player, appearing mostly as a striker due to his finishing prowess, but equally as comfortable as a winger or just behind the striker such is his vision, passing range and dribbling ability. It was the superior technical ability coupled with his finishing and imagination that made him such a phenomenon. Could this Catalan kid really be better than Messi?
The Spanish forward was outstanding at youth level, breaking all kinds of club records after reportedly scoring an astonishing 900 goals in just 7 years with various youth teams at La Masia. He only served to enhance his glowing reputation after finishing as joint top scorer at the 2006 UEFA European Under-17 Championship with Spain at just 15 years old. In the following year Spain won the tournament and Bojan was named the ‘Golden Player’ after inspiring Spain to victory, including scoring the winning goal against England in the final. His Spain under-17 manager, Juan Santisteban, could see his quality even at 15, “I’ve never seen such quality and imagination in a player”.
He continued his rapid progression in the 2006-07 season, joining Barcelona B and signing his first professional contract. He scored 10 goals in 22 appearances for Barcelona B, earning a call up to the senior team for their tour of Scotland just before the 2007 UEFA European Under-17 Championship. His performance against Egyptian side Al Ahly, where he scored his first senior goal for Barcelona aged just 16 and his performances in the pre season tour of Scotland caught the eye of manager Frank Rijkaard. The Dutchman was thoroughly impressed with Bojan and decided to include him in the first team squad for the following season, “Without a doubt, Krkic has all the attributes to be a world star. I am glad for him. He is a great talent who has more to come, but has already left his business card.” Bojan also made his debut for the Spanish Under-21 side that summer aged just 16.
Bojan made his debut for Barcelona against Osasuna in September 2007, aged just 17 years and 19 days, making him the youngest player ever to appear for the senior side. His phenomenal, record breaking season continued as he made his UEFA Champions League debut just 3 days later against Olympique Lyonnais, making him, at that time, the youngest player ever to appear for Barcelona in the competition. He started his first game for Barcelona in October 2007, scoring after 25 minutes against Villarreal, which made him the youngest ever goalscorer in a league match for the Catalan club. His season ended as it began, earning a call up to the Spanish national team and scoring the winning goal in the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final (away leg) against Schalke in April 2008, becoming the first player ever born in the 1990s to score in the competition. He finished the season with an incredible 10 goals, breaking Raul’s record for goals scored in a debut season. Things, on the surface at least, looked promising for Bojan. He was on the path to becoming a superstar.
However, there were signs that things weren’t going as well as they seemed. When called up to the Spain squad at the start of the year, he had to pull out after reportedly suffering a panic attack and also declined a call up for Euro 2008, claiming he was suffering mentally and physically with the demands of professional football. It was too much too soon. Over the space of a year, Bojan had become a teenage sensation and was failing to cope with the demands and expectation placed on his young shoulders.
Enter Pep Guardiola. He replaced Frank Rijkaard in the summer of 2008 and almost immediately, the new number 11 found himself right down the pecking order. Some theorised that it was due to how Bojan left Barcelona B to join the senior squad the previous year and Guardiola was reportedly unhappy with how it was handled. Whatever the case, the wonder kid struggled for game time in the 2008/09 season although he did score 5 goals in the Copa Del Rey, including a goal in the final against Bilbao. He was also an unused substitute in the 2009 Champions League Final as Barcelona completed a historic treble in Guardiola’s debut season.
Guardiola admitted he may have been harsh on Bojan in the previous campaign, “Maybe I have a debt to him, When he plays he scores. It is as simple as that and I am happier than anyone when he is successful.” But in the next two seasons, even though he was given the number 9 shirt at one stage, Bojan would find his chance’s limited by Guardiola. He had some good moments, scoring 14 goals in 20 starts and making 50 appearances overall. Such was Bojan’s form towards the end of the 2009/10 campaign in fact, he was preferred to Thierry Henry in the Champions League Quarter Final vs Arsenal and was also keeping Zlatan Ibrahimovic out of the side. But enough was enough, Bojan needed a fresh start, “As a fan, Guardiola is the best coach in the world, but personal things that have happened to me [that] were hurtful. He was not fair with me on several occasions, and this is one of the reasons that I decided to leave.”
Luis Enrique, the man who had replaced Pep Guardiola as manager of Barcelona B the year previously, had become manager at Roma and immediately identified Bojan as a key target. Enrique was looking to bring a Spanish style to Italian football and so Bojan seemed like an ideal fit for his new system. 12 million was all it took, although the deal was highly complicated. Barcelona had a buyback clause of 13 million which they could exercise after one year, after 2 years if Roma didn’t pay an additional 28 million, then Barcelona were obliged to pay the buy back fee and Bojan would return to Catalonia. It would be a disappointing Italian adventure for Bojan, his performances were inconsistent and he struggled to cope with the physicality of Serie A, making 33 appearances and scoring 7 goals. Another disappointing Italian season followed, this time on loan at AC Milan, making just 19 appearances and scoring 3 goals.
As per the deal, Barcelona were forced to purchase Bojan for 13 million in 2013, but it was clear his future lay elsewhere and he was given permission to talk to other clubs regarding a transfer. Another loan move followed, this time to the Eredivisie with Ajax and although he helped them to win the league title and the Dutch Super Cup, Bojan again struggled to make a real impact in Holland, making 24 appearances and scoring only 4 goals.
What would become of Bojan? He was still just 23 years of age, but the days of being a teenage sensation had long gone after a number of disappointing seasons. There’s no doubting his quality but he’s, so far, failed to show it on a consistent basis and there were now doubts that he had what it takes to cut it at the highest level. Nevertheless, a number of teams were vying for his signature in the summer of 2014. Bojan would eventually chose Mark Hughes and Stoke City.
After signing Bojan for a reported fee of just 3 million, both Chief Executive Tony Scholes and manager Mark Hughes were clearly delighted with the signing, Scholes commented, “We are delighted to have signed such a richly talented and exciting player, who is still only 23” Mark Hughes said of Bojan, “Anyone who knows European football will be aware of him as a player and the fact that he sees his future at Stoke City is really exciting and an endorsement of the club itself, he’s desperate to prove himself in the Premier League and we’re pleased to be able to offer him that platform.”
Bojan didn’t take long to impress, scoring 3 goals in 3 games in pre season as he sought to make an immediate impression. The Spaniard made his home debut against Aston Villa on the opening day of the season and even though the team lost 1-0, he put in a strong performance. He struggled for the next few games but Mark Hughes wasn’t worried, “Some of the things he does, the guys congratulate him because he does things they don’t have the ability to do, his finishing is outstanding. The challenge for us is to get him in the right areas because more often than not he will take the chances.”
On the 9th November 2014, Stoke faced Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane. Just 6 minutes in, Bojan picked up the ball just inside the Spurs half, drove effortlessly past a number of defenders and blasted the ball into the corner of the net from 25 yards. It was a brilliant individual goal and from that moment on, he flourished in Stoke colours. Often playing in the number 10 role just behind the striker, he was becoming a crucial figure, being central in everything the team did and was producing moments of magic in almost every game. This was typified by his performance in the 3-2 win against Arsenal at the Britannia, scoring the first goal with a fantastic side foot finish and controlling Stoke’s attacking play throughout. The performances kept on coming, a quality goal away at Leicester and a crucial penalty against Everton cemented his place as a key player for Mark Hughes’ side.
Then disaster struck. After scoring another stunning goal against Rochdale in the FA Cup Fourth Round, Bojan was forced to come off after an innocuous looking collision. Bojan’s worst fears were realised as it was confirmed he had suffered a ruptured cruciate ligament in his left knee and would need surgery. “It’s bitterly disappointing for the club but even more so for Bojan himself as he was making such a big impact on the Premier League and clearly enjoying his football. We wish him a speedy recovery.” Said his manager Mark Hughes. Stoke would go on to have a successful season, finishing 9th in the Premier League with 54 points, their highest ever finish.
That was without Bojan for more than half the season, and who knows where they could have finished if the Spanish forward continued his fine form. What’s clear is that Mark Hughes believes in and trusts Bojan, something that the Spaniard hasn’t felt since the days of Frank Rijkaard. With Bojan nearing full fitness after making his return in a pre season game in July and the phenomenal recruitment this summer by Mark Hughes, with the likes of Ibrahim Afellay and Xherdan Shaqiri, Stoke fans are aiming high this year. Rightly so too as there’s no doubt that with Bojan, Afellay and Shaqiri all fit and in form, Stoke will be a match for any defence in the Premier League.
Written by Nathan Bliss
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