It’s 2pm on a Thursday, and I’m down at Clayton Wood, Stoke’s training ground. I’ve just driven through the autograph hunters who look, ahem, ‘slightly’ disappointed when I turned the corner and my 09-plate Kia crawled apologetically past them and through the security gates……
I’m armed with any number of things, ranging from bobble hats to dictaphones, and from framed prints (of THAT cover) to a sheet or two of questions. The telly is on, and Mark Hughes and his trusty lieutenants walk past.
We exchange ‘Good afternoons’, and they are off to do a press conference or something a bit more important than nod their heads and say hello to some giddy, mid-40’s bloke from a magazine.
“He’s about, he’ll be here in a minute”.
I was early. Very early. Well, you would be, wouldn’t you?
It wasn’t really akin to being at the end of the aisle waiting for your partner to show up on your wedding day – it’s far worse. This is Bojan Krkić Pérez , El Petit Geni, or just simply BOJAN, we’re talking about!
As we take a seat and start talking, one thing becomes absolutely clear: Bojan takes his football unbelievably seriously. And why wouldn’t you when you have his God-given talent? For the entire interview he never moves his gaze away from me when he’s talking. Bojan is supremely well-mannered and polite, down-to-earth, and very serious…..and we’re there to talk football, family, friends, Spain…..and Stoke.
Tell us about the young Bojan…..
I grew up in Linyola. It’s got a small population and my family are from that town. My mother’s from there and it’s my best place, my favourite place. My family still live there, although I don’t have any brothers or sisters. It’s about an hour from Barcelona. I love it there.
I was a quiet boy. It’s great to go back. I really started getting into football when I was about four years old and I eventually signed for Barcelona when I was nine. My father was a professional footballer – I watched a few games, but not many. He played in my position; he was a number 10.
I heard you were a good musician when you were younger?
(laughs) Yes, I enjoyed playing the violin when I was young, and I love music. I would like to get back to playing music one day.
How were you spotted?
I was playing in a tournament in France. It’s an international tournament and there were lots of scouts there. They (Barcelona) saw me and liked me. A lot of teams had scouts there, but I signed for Barcelona, the team I loved. It was a dream.
So I went to La Masia (La Masia de Can Planes, usually shortened to La Masia) the Barcelona training ground at the age of 9. For the first three years I was travelling from home, but when I was 12 I moved there to live there with my grandparents where we lived in a flat. In the morning I’d take a bus to school and spend all morning there.
What’s different about La Masia compared to other academies and training camps?
Well, everyone has different ways of coaching kids and what they believe in. I think that Barcelona’s is the best academy because they put your schooling first and after that its football. I like the idea of that. School is very important as it’s everything when you are a youngster growing up.
Barcelona like to have that education philosophy and mentality in their football. But when we trained it was almost always with a ball.
So do you have any plans to coach in the future?
Yes, in the future I would like that, but that’s a long way away. But yes, I think I would like to coach in the future.
You made your first team debut at Barcelona when you were just 17 – breaking Messi’s record. Were you starstruck?
Yes, of course, because before I played for Barcelona I was always a fan. I was in the stadium to watch the games, and then suddenly I was playing for them! It was a fantastic feeling; a dream come true to play for Barcelona and with such great players. I had an amazing time there.
Who were your best friends at the club?
I wouldn’t like to single out just one player. There are a lot of players there and they all helped me, but special players like Henry, Pique, Iniesta, Puyol….they all really helped me to develop.
There was a lot of pressure as a 17 year old, but you don’t really notice it at the time. I wouldn’t change a thing about it. I’m very, very proud to have played for the club I supported, such a big club, and I tried to do my best at all times. It’s hard when you’re 17 as you think as a 17 year old thinks, but when you are playing for such a great football club you must expect pressure. That’s why having such a good schooling is important. I loved my time at Barca.
Roma, AC Milan, Ajax……fans of those clubs liked you. Why weren’t you signed?
Yes, after Barcelona I played in some great cities and for some great clubs: Rome, Milan, Amsterdam…. great cities. I had a big contract at Barcelona and it’s hard when you’re on loan. But when the loan ended at Ajax I said to my family that it was now the time to settle down, sign a contact somewhere, and play regularly.
What did you know of us Stoke before you signed for us?
I knew Stoke were a Premier League club and had played many years in that league. I knew Stoke City has a lot of history, too. I knew of the reputation they had before I came and some people said to me ‘look at their reputation’ – but I knew Mark Hughes was the manager and I replied to them that if Mark Hughes wanted me then I know he wants to play in a certain style.
Mark Hughes was hugely important in getting me to Stoke. He’s the gaffer and he knew I wanted to play games. He gave me confidence and it was a really good move and I feel really comfortable here.
What changes did you need to make for playing in the Premier League?
Most important I think was to add more muscle to my body. I can quite easily get used to the pace of the game and wasn’t worried by that when I first came, but when I first came here I wanted to add more muscle as the game is more physical here. I am now far stronger.
That run of games last season from Spurs away to Rochdale: was it the best form of your career so far?
That’s difficult to say. I think I played consistently in that period. I’ve played really well at all the clubs I’ve been at, but the gaffer here knows that when I came to Stoke it was really important for me to play regularly and to be happy and feel wanted. That is how I feel. I was happy with how I played last season.
I feel a lot of love at Stoke but I also felt a lot of love at Barca and also at Roma, too. I am happy.
That night against Rochdale – did you know immediately it was serious?
Yes. I knew that something strange had happened straight away and that it wasn’t nice. I was running and my studs stuck in the turf, it was just a complete accident. Things can happen like that as we play football. It was a complete accident. I now feel strong and good.
Did you ever have any doubts that you’d be back playing?
I felt a lot of emotions at that time. You always have doubts, but for me the key is to think if you have a doubt then you have ten positive thoughts to make up for it on the same day. I looked at the injury as though your leg is just a small part of your body, and I was very positive. Recovery is about your body and mind. It’s hard when you have an injury but that’s football and that’s life. I am a positive person.
So to your recovery and recuperation. You went back to Catalonia?
Yes, it was very nice and important for me to go back home to recover. It was hard to move away from the team and the club, but I had to as I felt that it’s so important to get your mind totally right and focussed, without distractions. For that, you have to be around family and friends. The sun also makes a difference too, ha, ha!
Thousands monitored your recovery work on social media? Was this your idea?
Yes, it was my idea to put videos of my recovery on social media as we as footballers are important to our fans. But not only when it’s going well and you are in a good way – it’s easy then – but more so when it’s hard. I worked really long hours to get back to good health and get my leg strong, and I even wrote a daily diary, but it was worth it!
I wanted to show my fans that ‘ok, this hard, but I am going to come back stronger and I am doing my very best to do so’. I feel they have the right to see how I am doing and they liked doing so. I’m not at 100% yet but I am working hard towards that goal. It’s was a long time that I was out of football, but I am working so hard to be at my very best. I need games to get that fitness, plus training of course – but I am very happy with how it’s going.
What are the things you miss about home?
My town, my food, my family, my friends, the views……..I don’t need to be surrounded by a lot of special possessions, I just like the normal things in life to make me happy.
My family came over last Christmas and they are doing so again this Christmas. That means a lot to me – it’s a very special time of the year where I come from. In Spain you don’t play at that time of the year, so that’s a big difference, but it’s a very special part of the year.
You have won one cap for Spain – ambitious for more?
Of course, I’d love to play for my country again. It’s very difficult to play for Spain as they have great players and it’s so hard to break into the team, but I know that I first have to play a lot of games, be 100%, and play a lot of good games at Stoke City. Then, it’s up to others.
What’s your message for Stoke fans?
Yes, thank you for your support it means a lot to me and the guys. We are a team, a group, always together. The season is a long season and we didn’t start that well, but we try every game to do the very best things, and it’s now getting a lot better as the season goes on.
Keep supporting us, whatever the result, no matter if we play well or not – we love your support! Oh, and Happy Christmas!
…..and that was that, apart from Bojan then taking the time to sign prints that had been auctioned off for the Donna Louise Children’s Hospice. Bojan was really keen and happy that the print was so popular and had raised £600 for the Donna Louise, and asked questions about the organisation.
Not only is Bojan an outstanding footballer, it’s pretty obvious that he’s a lovely bloke too, an absolute gentleman. It’s great that such a well-known, world famous ‘name’ player can fit so easily into the Stoke dressing room DNA of being a decent human being and having time for the fans.
We shook hands, I thanked him for his time, gave him a Bon Nadal bobble hat and a framed print, and I walked back to my car. As the security gates slowly opened, I could see the autograph hunters were walking away from the training ground. I would the window down…..
“Bojan’s still in there, and is on his way out soon”.
They all turned round and jogged back to the gates. Just as I would have done. THAT, is the Bojan effect!