If someone told you back in 2009 that Bojan, that Spanish player with Serbian roots labelled as the new Messi, would be playing for Stoke City by 2014, you would’ve probably laughed right at them. However, it’s exactly what is happening and I think after what he has shown since those days, aware of the hype and the high hopes placed in him; it’s a very fair place for him to be.
He had spells in Italy, with Roma and Milan, as well as in The Netherlands with Ajax; enjoying little personal success in both experiences and being seen as no more than a squad player, despite reaching silverware twice in his time in Amsterdam. After paying the relatively low price of €3m, Stoke acquired the services of the skilled Spaniard and it has paid its dividends.
In the last teams he played for, he was constantly forced to go wide or to play in the middle mainly as a second striker. This is something that has totally changed as his new boss Mark Hughes gave his game just what it needed – freedom. The capacity to roam and drop deep to help construct the play, be the conductor of the game for his team when in possession which translates in giving him the most contact with the ball as possible.
More than that, Hughes has also identified something that Bojan lacked recently – or recent managers didn’t know how to provide him; the vow of confidence and responsibility, the power that revitalize a player when he’s feeling important and fundamental in order for his team to keep going further.
A lot of people had trouble imagining success in the Premier League, an incredibly physical league, for a player like Bojan – thin and short at just 1,70m but what’s often forgotten is that this is an extremely tactical and technical league too, an aspect in which Bojan excels (and he’s a Barcelona product, how wouldn’t he excel in it?).
The league, the pace it’s played but moreover his team and the style they implement has benefited him greatly. But retaking on the aforementioned aspect of him having the most time on the ball as possible, the key is that contact takes places only when attacking, mostly at a very high speed allowing quick one-two touches combination.
He doesn’t have to get on the ball in static positions or playing mostly horizontal passes. We’re seeing the real Bojan again, it’s all coming out with him as a #10 in a counter attacking setup, making the most out of his explosive pace, accurate short or long passes, fast dribbling and intelligent decision making. He either gives the pass or marks the path for his teammates to provide him with some superb runs.
Also, he takes defensive responsibilities when the opposition has the ball, actively taking marks, occupying spaces and stealing the ball from behind, always releasing to the nearest teammate and pushing further up the field to re-start the attack.
This give us a pretty complete picture of what kind of player the Catalan is being, an endless worker who goes from one end to the other, getting himself in the box to finish the play himself more often than not but may not be the best finisher. As per usual, the statistics don’t tell the full story, with the former Barça man recording five goals and two assists in eighteen games (all competitions).
When Bojan is dropping, collecting and pulling the strings together off one or two strikers (As he is now) is when he finds his best form. When he’s fielded as a forward and obligated to take more isolated positions at the top, we see an asphyxiated player in-between the defenders, unable to either make spaces for his teammates or get the chances himself.
Stoke City’s boss, Mark Hughes, looks delighted by the way Bojan is playing and thinks that since his arrival to the Britannia Stadium “He’s integrated very, very well. He’s playing exceptionally well.” And went on to say he had been the man of the match most of the times he’s featured for them in the season.
Hughes went on to speak about the versatility this Spanish attacker has brought to his side: “He’s showing everybody that not only is he a good player technically but, in terms of his work rate and what he tries to do for the team, he’s very much a team player as well and we’re reaping the benefits of that” It is obvious the coach has great confidence in his summer signing and the confidence has been spot on and repaid – he’s being instrumental to every right step taken so far.
The Potters currently sits at 10th in the table, with 36 points in 26 games, but wins against Arsenal, City, Swansea, Newcastle, Spurs and Everton prove they can do better if (and it is a big IF) they find the consistency needed to make their best version a constantly displayed one – turn occasional brilliance into long-holding form.
It is easy to forget this Spaniard is only 24 years old and can still have a brilliant career ahead of him – make the right choices and work hard to improve in some aspects of his game such as goal scoring is fundamental in order for him to push higher up his current level. Winning Copa del Rey, La Liga (3), Spanish Super Cup (2) and the Champions League (2) as well as his aforementioned trophies in The Netherlands at such young age doesn’t sound that bad, does it?
Sadly enough, in his team’s FA Cup victory against Rochdale he suffered a serious cruciate knee injury. The club confirmed the worries in their official website the day after “Scans have revealed he suffered a ruptured cruciate ligament in his left knee and will have to undergo surgery.”
Mark Hughes also had some words about it, saying “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.”
Mark Bowen, the assistant coach, stated that the former Barcelona player could be sidelined for eight months, but Hughes himself pointed there are hopes that we will be involved in pre-season if everything goes well. I’m sure every football fan, and more so every English football or Stoke fan wishes Bojan a speedy recovery and a strong return, so he can immediately pick up the form he left with.
Seems like we’ve been way too hard with a youngster that was always surrounded by immense (and unfair) hype, compared since very early stages with Lionel Messi – one of the greatest players to ever grace the game. Pressure may have affected him as it was nearly impossible for him to reach such high regards, but now that whole “new Messi” nonsense is over, next season we may continue to see the real Bojan Krkić – a distinctive, exciting player with hunger for (more) glory.
Article written by: @ZizouRoulette