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Breaking Down What Went Wrong for Bojan Krkic at Barcelona

SEVILLE, SPAIN - MARCH 13:  Bojan Krkic of Barcelona celebrates scoring his sides opening goal during the la Liga match between Sevilla and Barcelona at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on March 13, 2011 in Seville, Spain.  (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
Jasper Juinen/Getty Images
Paul WilkesFeatured ColumnistMarch 12, 2014

Many players have been labelled the new Lionel Messi; stylistic similarities, fellow Argentinians and mysterious nationalities are the usual reasons.

If a player shares a number of attributes, then it's natural for the media and pundits to use high-profile players both former and current to describe what the player is like.

For many years the next Diego Maradona has been sought, but this has subsided a little after they finally found him. He was so good that he simply became the first Lionel Messi. Now other Argentinians will face the pressures of just being born in the same country as the world's greatest player.

We often hear someone nicknamed the "Algerian Messi" or "Slovakian Messi." On a number of occasions, it's for no other reason than that they are the best player in their country by a considerable distance.

Bojan Krkic's reason was a little different. He was the next Messi at Barcelona; he emerged onto the scene only three years after the little magician. Height, style and position were all the same, so there was no avoiding the comparisons.

He arrived into the first team of Barcelona as the youngest player to feature for the club, breaking Messi's record, and then a month later he became their youngest scorer in La Liga (via the official Barcelona website).

MALAGA, VALENCIA - MAY 21:  Bojan Krkic of Barcelona reacts during the La Liga match between Malaga and Barcelona at La Rosaleda Stadium on May 21, 2011 in Malaga, Spain. Barcelona won 3-1.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)
Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

Straight away, he had beaten Messi at something, and perhaps this was the start of his problems. Making your own way into the first team at any professional club isn't easy, but when you're following a player who will likely be the greatest of all time, it's an impossible task.

Finding another Messi in the world is improbable, never mind at the same club. Bojan automatically had to live up to standards that were unattainable, though he did a good job of trying.

In his breakthrough season, he netted ten league goals, a record for a goalscorer in his debut campaign. The fact that he hasn't scored that many in any league since shows his regression.

"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."

It was Frank Rijkaard who gave Bojan his first shot at the big time in 2007/08. After a pre-season friendly against Heartsthe Dutchman told the media, via Tribal Football, "Without a doubt, Krkic has all the attributes to be a world star. I am glad for him. He is a great talent who has more to come, but has already left his business card."

But Rijkaard was gone after that initial campaign. In came Pep Guardiola, who was not pleased at Bojan's refusal to return to the B team the previous season when Guardiola was coach.

Under Guardiola, in Bojan's second season, he featured in eight fewer league games than in his previous season, and it was the same story in his third. Bojan played more under Rijkaard than for any manager since.

"I didn't say goodbye to Pep, only those who treated me well," commented Bojan, via Guillem Balague's book Pep Guardiola: Another Way of Winning. "The relationship with Pep wasn't a very good one."

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.

Bojan told Spain national team coach Luis Aragones that he was fatigued ahead of the 2008 European Football Championship. "I know what it is I'm missing out on but I've reached a point where I'm very tired," said Bojan at the announcement, via the UEFA official website.

"At no point did I ever say 'no' to the Spanish team. On the other hand, I want to be honest with the manager, the [Spanish Football] Federation and with myself."

When a 17-year old player complains of being tired and effectively turns down the opportunity to represent his country in a major tournament, it naturally invites criticism. Former players would argue that you should be prepared to walk to the Euros, such is the honour being given.

Though we also protest when youngsters are played too often. It's up to his club manager to ensure that his fitness is managed correctly. Bojan said in the UEFA announcement:

My commitment to the Spanish set-up can't be called into doubt when you consider that I have always played when I have been called upon to do so. 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, Rijkaard should have been integrating him more slowly into the first team and not relying so much on a player of 17. It took Messi five seasons before he made 31 league appearances in one campaign.

The man Bojan admired the most was a huge factor in his decision to turn down the Euros and avoid exhausting his potential. "[Frank] Rijkaard had complete trust in me," said Bojan to Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sportper Inside Spanish Football. "It was a difficult year when he left, but he has a great personality. I had a relationship with him that I haven’t had with anyone else."

An impressionable kid that got his break when the manager and Barcelona were not at their best. You also have to wonder who else was advising him and why there was the need to make his Euro 2008 decision public.

"I do not regret the decision I made, the Federation knows what is the reason I refused to go to the European Championship, but they didn’t announce the decision at the correct time or in the correct manner," declared Bojan to Grada360.com, per Inside Spanish Football.

It did appear as if it was him doing all the talking, so someone either in his private life, at Barca or at the federation thought it was in his best interests to tell the world that he was tired.

"I was 17 and I would have never said no to the Euro’s but for personal reasons, reasons with justification, I had to," revealed Bojan, without telling us the full details again.

Whether there was a little feeling of "I have made it" or whether there was a serious circumstance that can't be disclosed, his absence has given supporters on the outside a perception of the forward that he has found difficult to shift.

Playing-wise, he might not be the type of player that we think he is. Perhaps another coach could unlock his potential or reinvent him in a different position.

There are many contributing factors as to why things haven't worked out at Barcelona for Bojan, but let's not forget he has 12 months remaining on his contract.

At only 23, he still has time on his side to rescue his career, but unfortunately he may never shift the stigma of failure in some fans' eyes.

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