For over a decade and a half, Lionel Messi has produced moments of sheer magic that have enthralled viewers across the world which makes people to draw comparison between him and the young prospect. However, being dubbed the “Next Messi” always end in one way – It doesn’t end well.
While every hot new attacking prospect that bursts onto the European footballing scene is instantly named the ‘next Lionel Messi’, one young man seemingly fit the comparison better than most – Bojan Krkic.
With his shaggy hair, his skilful wide play – and the fact he played for Barcelona – the wonderkid emerged as the supposed heir to Messi’s throne.
Aged 15, he was joint top-scorer at the 2006 Under-17 European Championships. A year later and he scored the winning goal for Spain in the final of the same tournament. (@Wikipedia)
During the U-17 World Cup in 2007, Bojan scored five goals, finishing as joint third top scorer along with Germany midfielder Toni Kroos and was inspirational in leading Spain to the final.
In 2007, Bojan Krkić Pérez was the new kid on the Barcelona block. A regular with his boyhood club, the teenager had busted along the path to stardom too early for many to even contemplate walking on, plundering some 900 goals at youth level breaking Lionel Messi’s youth reported goals before surging through La Masia and to the world.
At just 17 years and 19 days, Bojan became the youngest player to represent the famous club in a La Liga match – taking the record previously held by Lionel Messi.
When the Guardiola’s Army conquered the world and all before them on the way to an unprecedented calendar year- sextuple, Bojan conquered alongside them. The boy from Lleida was on top of the world.
In August 2021, Bojan joined Japanese club, Vissel Kobe, making it ten clubs in 14 years. Fourteen years in football can feel like a lifetime. Just ask Bojan.
Now 4 days away from his 31st birthday,what went wrong with the “Next Messi”. Having been shown the lack of capacity to cut it on those cold, wet Tuesday nights in Stoke – or Scribing his name among the gladiators of Rome, the cold and icing days of Milan, the memorable night of Amsterdam or elsewhere – one is left to wonder just how it is that Bojan found himself here. Alas, it is a tale one needn’t wonder over for too long.
Truth be told, you may even have heard this one before, or at least one just like it. But, Why did he go into oblivion with such a glaring talents.
Born in Lleida, Catalonia, to a Serbian father, Bojan Krkić Sr., who was a professional footballer for Serbian side Beograd and a fourth cousin of former teammate Lionel Messi according to a genealogical research conducted by Diari Segre in 2011. If the story of wearing short bibs and the Blaugrana jersey is somewhat in chronological order, Bojan is definitely the heir in position to take over the vacuum.
In his junior days, Bojan clocked some 900 goals for Barcelona, a record of a legend nowadays that would have been ransacked and showered with a lot of praises more than David in this present world.
Bojan was promoted to the senior team and made his professional debut for the Barcelona first team on 16th September, 2007 as a second-half substitute away to Osasuna. Bojan made his official debut for Barcelona against Osasuna breaking Lionel Messi’s record of the youngest Barcelona player to feature in a La Liga match.
Three days later he replaced Messi, whose record as Barcelona’s youngest ever league debutant Bojan had just been broken, as a late substitute against Lyon making him the youngest Barcelona player ever to feature in a Champions League game, at 17 years and 22 days at that time.
Bojan started his team’s LaLiga fixture away to Villarreal and found the net 25 minutes making him the youngest ever goalscorer for Barcelona in a league match.
He scored his first Champions League goal against Schalke 04 in quarter final, making him the first person born in the 1990s to score in the Champions League and the third youngest player ever to do so.
Bojan in his interview in 2018 with The Guardian, “At 17 my life changed entirely. I went to the Under-17 World Cup in July and no one knew me; when I came back, I couldn’t even walk down the road. A few days later I made my debut against Osasuna, three or four days later I played in the Champions League, then I scored against Villarreal.”
Despite his tender age, the winger scored an impressive 12 goals in 48 appearances in all competitions, as well as laying on a further six assists. He finished the season with a record of ten goals, breaking Raúl’s record of most goals scored in a debut season.
To even make the bench in a side filled with the likes of Ronaldinho,Messi, Thierry Henry and Samuel Eto’o was no easy task, let alone make the number of appearances that the youngster managed to rack up.
It’s the natural order of things in this life to compare things that are similar with each other. Bojan emphatic start to life in the Catalan’s Army burst the comparison to Lionel Messi. Bojan’s style; his dazzling runs, movement on the ball and adept finishes is somewhat similar to the Argentine wizard. Bojan found himself swimming against a current condition that threatened to consume him.
Sometimes, on his finest days, it seemed as though he could convince the world it was the perfect motivator and He’s Bojan not “Lionel Messi” . But, most often, when he failed to match Messi’s freakish standards – regardless of the fact that nobody, including Bojan, seemed capable of matching them – the comparisons weighed him down like Jonah weighed the boat , to the point where Bojan struggled to stay afloat at all.
“Anxiety affects everyone differently. With me, it was a dizziness, feeling sick, constant, 24 hours a day”
“Overnight, I couldn’t even walk down the street,” he admitted, via Sid Lowe at The Guardian. “I couldn’t go to a birthday party or to the cinema.” Bojan said.
When it all became too much, it was this mental toil that prevented Bojan from answering his first call-up to the Spanish national team. He was named in his country’s squad for Euro 2008 – a reward for his fine form throughout the season.
Bojan could only say no. The opportunity should have delighted him, but he simply found it daunting. The pressure was too immense. Several people persuaded him to review his decision including Carles Puyol. But, he could only say “No”.
Spain, of course, won Euro 2008 in Bojan’s absence and the youngster was left to rue a missed opportunity.
As if Bojan wasn’t under enough stress, battling with the guilt of rejecting his country but knowing he must prioritise his mental health for the sake of his career, the media span it as though he didn’t care about playing for his country.
“I remember being in Murcia and people insulting me: they don’t know, they just think I don’t want to play. That was hard. What hurt was that the headline presumably came from the FA” Bojan in his interview in 2018.
How the new season started is not what the Spaniard would have accepted. By the start of the 2008/09 season, there was a new man in change. The loss of the Dutch manager was a big blow for Krkic. “Rijkaard had complete trust in me,” he said. “He has a great personality. I had a relationship with him that I haven’t had with anyone else.”
Under Pep Guardiola, Krkic fell behind in the pecking order and started to get fewer and fewer appearances, making less and less of an impact when he did play.
Bojan was part of the Guardiola Catalans that conquered the world in 2009. Despite making less appearance than the precious year, he aided the trophy overhaul and got himself on the scoresheet against Bilbao in Copa del ray final.
In the following season, the front three of Lionel Messi, David Villa and Pedro left precious little room for a youngster desperate for minutes.
Bojan departed the city he loved in search of a new pasture to lay his head. He found his new story in Italy, set among the grandeur and gladiator of Rome. Little did Bojan know, the pages set before him were destined to tell a tragedy.
Bojan failed to find what he was looking for in Rome and scored just seven goals in 37 games and was loaned to AC Milan which ended in the same scenario even if not less.
Barcelona exercised the buy out clause to bring him back to the Catalans. Eager to find a suitable foundation upon which to rebuild his shaking career, a selection of potential suitors in Netherlands made themselves known to Bojan with the option of taking him on loan.
Bojan eventually sided with Ajax, Johan Cruyff, whose tales of his own mightily influential years in the Dutch capital earned Bojan’s signature.
His performance in a pre-season friendly against Werder Bremen must have had Ajax fans rubbing their hands with glee.
Krkic was a constant menace against the decent German opposition. He worked hard, combined well with his new team mate , made some intelligent runs, set up one goal and scored another. But it was not long however before that glee evaporated into thin air. He sustained hamstring injury in Ajax 6-0 victory over Go Ahead Eagles which ruled him out for two months.
He finished the season with 4 goals in 24 matches and secured the Eredivise with Ajax at the end of the season.
After the underwhelming season, Ajax passed on the option of extending his loan for a further year.
In 2014, Premier League side Stoke, announced the signing of Bojan from Barcelona for just £1.4m.
In just three seasons, he had gone from lining up alongside Iniesta, Xavi and Messi to Ryan Shawcross, Stephen Ireland and Charlie Adam. The former Barcelona man arrived in the Cold and rainy night of Stoke to revive his career.
Bojan made a promising start to life in the Premier League, scoring goals in memorable wins against Arsenal, Tottenham and Everton. The World was put on hold, “Is Bojan really back?
Unfortunately, the Spaniard met the bad side of fate as he suffered a knee injury in FA Cup fourth round against Rochdale, which ruled him out for the remainder of the season.
Bojan struggled to maintain the flair when he came back from injury as he was release from second-tier Stoke, in the summer of 2019.
Bojan joined the United States Major League Soccer side, Montreal Impact, after leaving Stoke city and the Spaniard has found himself in Japan looking for new pasture with Vissel Kobe.
Managerial fallouts and struggling with the expectation and pressure at the Camp Nou only tell part of the story. There are also questions surrounding his own attitude, his advisors and whether he was overused by Rijkaard.
“I played at a [UEFA] European Championship and a [FIFA] World Cup at Under-17 level and took part in three or four games with the Under-21s. There are no personal problems, I’m just exhausted and I need to disconnect.”
When you consider he featured in all those youth tournaments, maybe Rijkaard should have been integrating him more slowly into the first team and not relying so much on a player of 17 years, when it took Messi five seasons before he made 31 league appearances in one campaign.
However, At this juncture of his career, it’s very clear that :Bojan never reached the heights many expected him to reach. He failed to reach the zenith many people expected him to be.
“Expectation always hurt” said the Greek Philosopher. Frankly speaking, Bojan never made promise to the world to be the “Next Lionel Messi” it was the observer who chose to label him that, disregarded his mental health and sought to pass judgment on his fate.
Sometimes, it’s better to accept rather than expect, because there’s nothing to be learned or gained from evaluating Bojan’s career in such a way.
“I love football and no one will ever take that from me. I’m proud of my career, proud of what I have lived, and even if there are hard moments, you have to be strong,” he told The Guardian.
As he said himself, in that same interview : “People say my career hasn’t been as expected. When I came up, it was ‘new Messi’. Well, yes, if you compare me with Messi – but what career did you expect?”
The comparison with the Argentine Wizard has continued to plague him. There will never be “Next Messi” nor “Next Bojan”. Messi is Messi and Bojan is Bojan.
No man’s legacy in the game exists solely to be compared to another’s.
Bojan has joined the Vissel Kobe trying to enjoy the rest of his career and maybe craft a legacy that will ensure his own name is remembered years from now, not as the “New Messi” but perhaps simply as Bojan.