Many players have been dubbed “the next Messi” over the years, but one can credibly lay claim to being the first.
It was back in 2006, when Lionel Messi himself was just 19 and two years into his Barcelona career, that Bojan Krkic was first compared with the Argentine genius.
It was French publication Foot Mercato who can perhaps lay claim to making the first comparison, publishing an article titled ‘Bojan Krkic: the future Messi?’ 15 years ago.
Fast-forward to the present day and we can probably answer that question with a resounding no.
Because although Bojan has embarked on a long professional career which has taken him all over the world, he has not come close to reaching the heights of Messi.
He did have plenty to back up the hype at the time, however.
Like Messi, Bojan was a sensation during his early days in Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy.
Born to a Serbian father and a Catalan mother, Bojan joined Barca at the age of nine. By the time he was 16 he had scored over 850 goals for the club’s youth teams.
Playing up front with long hair and a diminutive stature, the comparison to Messi was an obvious one.
And in the early years of his career the parallel was apt. Bojan was joint top-scorer at the 2006 Under-17 European Championships when he was just 15 years old; a year later he scored the winning goal in the final of the same tournament.
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In all, he scored 16 goals in 20 appearances for Spain’s Under-17 side.
He went on to break one of Messi’s records, too. In September 2007, at the age of 17 years and 19 days, Bojan made his debut for Barcelona, becoming the youngest Barcelona player to play in La Liga by nearly eight-and-a-half months.
Three days later he came on for Messi to make his Champions League debut and break another record.
He had the world at his feet and initially the only way was up. In the 2007/08 season, Bojan made 48 appearances, picking up 12 goals and six assists.
Barcelona manager Frank Rijkaard was delighted with his progress. “Bojan is a treasure,” he said.
Despite struggling for game time more under Rijkaard’s successor, he still picked up high praise. “There are only a few players who have a magical touch and Bojan is one of them,” said Pep Guardiola.
Bojan stayed with Barcelona for a further three seasons, ending up with 41 goals and 19 assists in 163 appearances to go with his three La Liga titles and two Champions League trophies.
In July 2011 he joined Roma. He didn’t know it at the time, but there began his nomadic career.
The next 10 years would see Bojan turn out for another seven clubs in three different continents.
His time in Italy with Roma and AC Milan did not work out. Neither did a loan at Ajax. He spent five years on the books of Stoke City, going on loan from the Potters to Mainz and Alaves, before heading to Canada to join Montreal Impact, where he played under Thierry Henry.
He was released in December 2020 and spent seven months without a club.
Then, in August, the chance came for a Barcelona reunion in Japan. Bojan signed an 18-month deal with Vissel Kobe, joining up with Barca old boys Andres Iniesta, Sergi Samper and Thomas Vermaelen.
"This opportunity is one of the best, both personally and professionally, and I can't wait for this big challenge," said Bojan.
"I have been attracted to Japanese culture for a long time, and thanks to Vissel Kobe, I can experience Japan for myself.
"Iniesta is special to me and I am happy to be able to play with him again. I want to score a lot of goals from his assistance."
So far the 31-year-old has scored one goal from six matches in Japan. He helped Vissel finish the season in third place, 19 points adrift of Kawasaki Frontale, who were crowned champions earlier this month.
Vissel have strong links to Barcelona due to the club's owners, Japanese electronics company Rakuten.
Barca are sponsored by Rakuten and were partnered with Vissel for the 2019/20 season, the same campaign which saw former Barca striker David Villa end his career at the Japanese side.
Bojan is six years younger than Iniesta, who is still playing aged 37, so still has plenty of years left in his career.
While his chances of becoming the next Messi are long gone, he can perhaps still add another continent to his nomadic career.
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