It’s amazing to think that Bojan Krkić is only 23 years old. He burst on to the scene, making his Barcelona debut against Egyptian side Al-Ahly when he was just 16 and even scored in that game too.
However, after a promising start his career thus far hasn’t blossomed as he would have liked. Bojan has already played for the likes of Frank Rijkaard, Pep Guardiola, Luís Enrique, Massimiliano Allegri, Frank de Boer, and now Mark Hughes and has been at five different clubs already including Stoke City.
Unfortunately for Bojan, he has never truly found a proper soccer home and whilst the talent is there (he wouldn’t have been so sought after had he been average) no coach has managed to get the best out of him.
That said, Bojan’s life has been in the spotlight since he was 16 and the pressure to adapt to his fame and expectation was a heavy burden to bear. His situation was a little different to that of the average young star as he was touted for greatness and labeled the next Lionel Messi – that’s quite a weight to carry, especially at a club of Barcelona’s stature.
Initially, he seemed to thrive in his breakthrough year, making 48 appearances for Barcelona in the 2007/8 season and netting 12 times. Given his age and the size of the club, that’s nothing short of remarkable. It’s worth noting that in subsequent years Bojan has never played as many games as he did in his maiden season.
Things didn’t go quite as smoothly after that. When Bojan was first called up to the Spanish national squad he pulled out, reportedly after suffering from a panic attack. He later pulled out of the Spanish Euro 2008 squad claiming to be “physically and emotionally shattered”.
Reviewing the numbers, it could be argued that Bojan simply played too much soccer at too young an age. Bojan made his league debut for Barcelona at the age of 17 and in his first four seasons at the Camp Nou he made a total of 163 appearances. Compare this to Lionel Messi’s first four years as a Barcelona first team player. The Argentine made 110 appearances with the number of games played increasing with each passing season.
It has to be taken into account that Messi suffered from a number of injury problems in those initial years, ranging from a broken metatarsal to muscle tears. Messi’s initial injury woes may have been a blessing in disguise as it forced Barcelona to handle his career carefully and prevented the possibility of burnout. Bojan’s fitness on the other hand may have worked against him, strangely enough.
Since leaving Barcelona, Bojan has never quite hit the heights expected of him. A key reason for this could quite simply be confidence and needing to play for someone who believes in him. He spoke in glowing terms of Frank Rijkaard: “Rijkaard had complete trust in me. He has a great personality. I had a relationship with him that I haven’t had with anyone else.”
Contrast this to his summation of Pep Guardiola. In Guillem Balagué’s book Pep Guardiola: Another Way of Winning, Bojan wasn’t too effusive of the current Bayern Munich manager stating: “I didn’t say goodbye to Pep, only those who treated me well. The relationship with Pep wasn’t a very good one.”
Since his departure from Barcelona, Bojan has had a rather nomadic career playing for Roma, AC Milan, and Ajax before finally heading for Stoke.
The challenge for Mark Hughes is to realize Bojan’s potential and despite the Spaniard’s thus far underwhelming career, a punt on the forward, at a reported fee of £3million, is a-more-than-acceptable risk. If Hughes manages to succeed where many have others have failed, the Premier League will be treated to the sight of Bojan in full flow, an exciting prospect indeed.
Hughes is no stranger to restarting stalled careers. David Bentley played his best soccer at Blackburn under Hughes’ guidance, as did Roque Santa Cruz, who had a relatively unspectacular record at Bayern Munich before joining Rovers. Stephen Ireland, after years of underachievement, rediscovered his form after reuniting with the Welshman whilst Peter Odemwingie, a punch line after his jaunt to QPR, also benefited from Hughes’ management.
Hughes’ purchase of Bojan could prove to be a huge benefit for all parties. After a rocky start to the 2013/2014 season Stoke City finished 9th in the Premier League, notching up 50 points in the process. In his first season Hughes managed to achieve Stoke’s highest league finish since the 1974/75 season (where they finished 5th), garnered the most number of points in a single Premier League for the Potters, and evolved their style of play. Bringing Bojan from Barcelona can help Hughes further develop Stoke’s game and if the Spaniard delivers on his promise, the Potters will have a player who is capable of winning a game on his own with a moment of magic.
The signs look promising as Bojan struck in his first game for Stoke City against Schalke. Stoke went on to lose the game but Krkić’s goal was pure quality.
If he produces strikes of that caliber then he will quickly become a favorite at the Britannia Ground.
For Hughes to use Bojan most effectively, he’ll need to deploy him in central areas and allow him the freedom to roam to link up play and create. To get the best out of him Hughes and the rest of the Stoke squad will need make Bojan feel wanted. Perhaps it’s no surprise that his best soccer came under Frank Rijkaard given how the Dutchman supported Bojan in his youth. Hughes is aware of the need to put an arm around the shoulder of the young Spaniard.
“The whole group here has, to be fair, made him feel welcome and tried to settle him in. It is that kind of group,” said Hughes. “From speaking to the boy, that certainly seemed to be lacking at Ajax where he didn’t have any relationship with the players there. That must have made things a lot more difficult for him, but that certainly shouldn’t be the case here.”
From Bojan’s point of view he will need to adapt to the physical nature of the Premier League. Hughes may choose to ease him into the Premier League and predominantly play him at home rather than throw him in the deep end. This may be the best way to build up Bojan and effectively manage the level of expectation.
If Bojan settles in then he can be utilized in a number of positions and offer Stoke tactical flexibility. He’s capable of playing on either flank as well as centrally. He can fulfill the role of a number 10 or even a false 9 if need be. Bojan is fully aware that he’ll need to buy into the team ethic and the initial signs seem to suggest that he’s ready to do just that.
If Sparky can tap into the undoubted talent Bojan possesses, the move to Stoke City could be the making of the one-time Barcelona starlet. As far as Bojan is concerned, he may just find that the Britannia is the home he was always looking for.