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Bojan Krkic

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Good interview here about how powerful and destructive social media and the sheer pressure of expectation and challenges to rise to it can take its toll on a young player. I feel for him, really do. It's too easy to 'he was playing football with some great players, earning money' etc etc. It's not always money that can make you happy!




The forward, who scored 900 goals for Barcelona’s youth teams and was labelled the ‘new Messi’, opens up on how the huge expectations affected him

“I have a problem,” Bojan Krkic says, edging forward on the sofa. “I love football, it’s my life.” Outside, through the balcony doors, the sun dips behind Vitoria, northern Spain.

His homeland is one of five countries in which he has played. He started at Barcelona, where he became their youngest player to make a league debut, and then had spells at Roma, Milan and Ajax. He joined Stoke in 2014 before loans at Mainz and now Alavés. He has won four league titles and the European Cup twice, been a world champion and played alongside some of the finest footballers of a generation. He has scored in La Liga, Serie A, Eredivisie, the Premier League and the Bundesliga, and he is proud of all that. So it might sound like a strange sort of problem to have but there is something in it.

The question had been whether he had ever considered leaving it all behind, and it is not one he dismisses outright. Ultimately football, the game itself, conquers all but thrown into it at 17, the pressure intense and the environment unforgiving, Bojan had much to conquer too. The anxiety attacks that denied him a piece of history with Spain have been overcome but he still challenges the expectation surrounding him and much of what gathers around the game.

That is one of the reasons why England had such an impact. Bojan has watched Stoke’s relegation from afar and he talks about how supporters were convinced to embrace a new identity and type of football, describing that as a “big victory” and lamenting the moment they turned back again. He talks of a kind of purity found in England. “There’s a phrase: ‘Fútbol, qué bonito eras’ [football, how lovely you were] ... back when there was no social media, when it was football,” he says. “And that’s the feeling I had in England: the smell of it, the essence.”

It is something he fears is being lost elsewhere, aware of what goes with being a player, “powerful forces you can’t control, opinions you can’t stop”, a society where “jealousy predominates” and “everyone has access to you”.

“You have to not let it affect you but that’s not always easy,” he admits. “Those of us who have feeling, who are sensitive, who can be affected, need a good shield. Footballers are very young and they’re exposed. Even at under-15s, players have Twitter and I’m sure they’re already getting insults ... it’s ugly, it sullies society and football.”

Perhaps it is no surprise that when he retires he hopes to teach football, and life, to young players. Bojan can talk from experience. When he joined Stoke he was 23 and he is still only 27, but it feels like a long time has passed since his Barcelona debut. He scored 900 goals in their youth system and says “that accompanies you your entire career”. It was just over a fortnight after his 17th birthday when he first played in La Liga, breaking the record of a player he was supposed to match. His name: Lionel Messi.

“It all happened very quick,” Bojan says. “In footballing terms it went well but not personally. I had to live with that and 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? And there are lots of things that people didn’t know. I didn’t go to the [2008] European Championship because of anxiety issues but we said I was going on holiday. I was called up for Spain against France, my international debut, and it was said that I had gastroenteritis when I had an anxiety attack. But no one wants to talk about that. Football’s not interested.”

Let’s talk about it, then. It matters. “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 play in the Champions League, then I score against Villarreal, then Spain called [in February 2008]. And it was all good but your head fills until there’s a moment that your body says ‘stop’.

“Anxiety affects everyone differently. I spoke to someone who felt like their heart was beating 1,000 times a minute. With me, it was a dizziness, feeling sick, constant, 24 hours a day,” Bojan says, signalling his head. “There was a pressure here, powerful, never going away. I was fine when I went into the dressing room for the France game but I started to feel this powerful dizziness, overwhelmed, panicked, and they lay me on the physio’s bench. That was the first time but I had nasty episodes like that again. There’s medicine, psychological treatment to overcome the barriers you’ve erected, the fear. It started in February and it lasted until the summer. When the Euros came I decided I couldn’t go, that I had to isolate myself.

“Everyone at the federation knew: Luis Aragonés [the manager], Fernando Hierro [the sporting director]. Hierro sent me messages every week to ask how I was and the day before the squad was announced, they rang. ‘Bojan, we’re going to call you up.’ I was in the car, going to training. I said: ‘It hurts to say this but I can’t.’ I got to the Camp Nou and Carles Puyol was there. He said: ‘Bojan, I’ll be by your side all the way, I’ll be there for you.’ I said: ‘Puyi, I can’t.’ I’m on medication, I’m on the edge. And the next day I saw a headline: ‘Spain call up Bojan and Bojan says no.’

“That headline kills me, it’s as if I don’t care. 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, although at that point I really didn’t care what people said. What hurt was that the headline presumably came from the Federation. How can you call me up when you speak to me the day before, know how I am, and then that comes out? I felt very alone. There are still people now who ask me: ‘Why didn’t you go?’”

Why did Bojan not explain it then? “I was scared. I was ill. I was overwhelmed. I didn’t know what I was doing. I remember doing a Barça TV interview saying I needed a holiday. I knew it wasn’t the right thing … [but] at that age you don’t know and the bomb had already exploded. We just tried to extinguish the fire. I felt that I had to escape, any way I could. Ten years on, I look back and [the reaction] doesn’t surprise me. People struggle to admit things aren’t going well and what matters to football is that all’s OK, gloss over it.

“You still have the scar. It doesn’t open but you can feel it pull at times, a reminder. I was young, you overcome things quickly, but in media terms, the way people see you, that did me some damage.”

Bojan had been built up as a player to mark a generation. In his absence, Spain began the most successful era in history. After four years he departed the Camp Nou. He has played for six clubs in the seven seasons since. “It would have been easy to stay at Barcelona and not play but I needed to go,” he says. “Maybe at times I should have been more patient but I’ve always been honest making decisions [to move]; I always wanted to play. You have your path – Italy, Holland, Germany, England – but Barcelona conditions everything. People don’t value what you do. There’s this line: ‘Let’s see if Bojan gets back to his best level.’ But what’s the best level? Every season I’ve reached that level, sometimes more consistently, sometimes less, but I’ve always competed well.

“One thing people have said to me, is that if I had been more of an hijo de puta, a cabrón [a son of a bitch, an arsehole] … And the higher up you get the more you have to be one. But I say: ‘I can’t.’ And when I have tried to play a nastier role on the pitch, I’ve lost it completely.”

In training at Alavés, when Bojan and Munir El Haddadi are put in the same rondo, the club captain shouts: “Look out, there are four Champions Leagues in here,” Bojan says with a grin. “After the [2009] Champions League I was talking to Thierry Henry and he said: ‘I came here to win my first.’ I thought: ‘Wow, this guy who’s the absolute business, wins his first at 30-something and here I am, at 18.’ There are players who never even play a Champions League game, so I feel privileged.

“And the most important thing isn’t the trophies, it’s the experiences, what you lived, what’s here in your heart, what you know, what you live. No one can ever steal that from you. And those people who spoke ill of you, they’ll forget. If Víctor Valdés, the greatest goalkeeper in Barcelona’s history, has been forgotten, how could they not forget me? And then it’ll be just me and what will be left will be the pride, the moments, unique moments lots of players have never lived.

“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, including this year, you have to be strong. I will always love football, always, I’m still young, I enjoy playing, and I have no intention of stopping yet.”



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