The Fort Worth Press - 'Next Messi' Bojan learned, suffered in itinerant career

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'Next Messi' Bojan learned, suffered in itinerant career
'Next Messi' Bojan learned, suffered in itinerant career / Photo: © AFP/File

'Next Messi' Bojan learned, suffered in itinerant career

Former Barcelona prodigy Bojan Krkic is playing in his seventh country and "would not change anything" about a career that started with him labelled the next Lionel Messi and now sees him in Japan.

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Many young forwards have been hyped up as the new Messi, but Bojan -- who even had the same floppy hair as the Argentine -- genuinely looked destined for the very top.

At 17 years and 19 days, the Spaniard in 2007 became the youngest player to represent Barcelona in La Liga, taking the record previously held by Messi. Bojan went on to score 41 goals in 163 games for the club.

Fast forward and Bojan, now 31, has been reunited with former Barca team-mate Andres Iniesta in Japan after joining Vissel Kobe last summer following stints of varying success in Italy, Holland, England, Germany and Canada.

"All the situations, all the experiences that you have -- not only in football but in life -- everything can be better and everything can be worse," he told AFP of his wandering path since leaving the Camp Nou in 2011.

"I'm playing my 15th year as a professional footballer at a high level in the big leagues, big clubs. I'm really proud of everything that I did."

Bojan said he was "living a dream" after breaking into Barcelona's first team as a teenager and playing alongside club legends such as Ronaldinho, Xavi and, of course, Messi.

He won two Champions League and three Spanish league titles with the club he joined as a nine-year-old, but his time there came to an end when he was sold to Italian side Roma.

He said he "didn't realise that there was a world behind the Barcelona door" until he left the Camp Nou, but he is glad that he broadened his horizons.

"I realised that there are many clubs, many countries, many places to live and learn. Thanks to football, I had this opportunity," he said.

"In every place that I've been, I learn, I enjoy, I suffer. I grow as a person and as a footballer, and I'm really proud of that."

- Premier League success -

Bojan failed to make an impression during stints with Roma, AC Milan and Ajax, but he says he played "probably the best" football of his career during three and a half seasons in England with Stoke City. He is still fondly remembered there.

He helped the Potters finish in the top half of the Premier League every season from 2013 to 2016 under manager Mark Hughes and says the club will "always be in my heart".

"The Premier League is for me the best league in the world, it's where you enjoy real football, proper football," he said.

"In all the stadiums where you play, you can smell the history, you can smell the respect for the sport and for the players."

Now Bojan is in Japan playing alongside Iniesta, who is still going strong despite turning 38 earlier this month.

Bojan says that the World Cup-winning Spain legend has not given him any indication of when he will retire and that the pair "only speak about the moment".

Xavi, a former Barcelona team-mate of both players, returned to the Camp Nou last year to take over as manager.

Bojan believes Iniesta can "do whatever he wants" when he finally hangs up his boots.

"He can be a coach if he wants, he can be a sports director, he can be involved in business," said Bojan.

"I think he can help a lot with the personal side of the players -- the values of the sport that you can learn from a player like him."

As for Bojan himself, he says he has no thoughts of retiring just yet but he is already making plans to move into football administration when he does.

He started a course in sport management when the pandemic began and thinks he would be better suited working as a general manager than a coach on the touchlines.

"For me, I think the most important thing when you sign a player is that you sign a human," he said.

"I like that side, to understand a player, to build a team that can win, but also to build a team that you can help players to grow."

J.Barnes--TFWP