Bojan Krkić. Gerard Deulofeu. Same promise, different eras of Barça – Will there be a different end result?
The case of Bojan Krkić
Joining Barça as a 9-year-old in 1999, Bojan proceeded to break all of Barça’s youth level goalscoring records, scoring a total of 961 goals in his 7 years at La Masia. As expected with the precocious talent that his is, the diminutive Spaniard moved through the Masia age-groups with ease, even skipping a level or two in his rise to the Barça B squad. Bojan rose steadily from Alevi A(2001/02) to Infantil B(2002/03), Infantil A(2003/04) and Cadete B(2004/05) in his early years at the La Masia.
Bojan’s development soon accelerated – to the extent that he started the 2005/06 campaign with the Cadete A side but ended it, skipping a youth level(Juvenil B) along the way, at Juvenil A. Over the course of the following 2006/07 season, the 16-year-old Bojan Krkić scored 10 goals in 22 appearances for Barça B. His talent was undoubtedly clear for all to see, his potential seemingly limitless. The next step, it would seem, is where it all went wrong for Bojan’s future till today. Without meaning it to sound like premature promotion of youth talents and, while the overall conditions of Barça B during Bojan’s time year at reserve team level are a stark contrast to the present day and age, things could have and should have been handled with more tact and wisdom.
For someone who broke the youth level records of a certain Lionel Andrés Messi during his time at La Masia, Bojan Krkić was (as can be expected) praised by fans and garnered plaudits from all areas of the Footballing world. Bojan, one of the youngest players to ever score a Champions League goal, can also count “1st player born in the 1990s to score in the Champions League” and “Youngest debutant for Barça in La Liga” amongst the records that he has broken to date. Scoring 12 goals in 48 appearances in his debut season in the Barça 1st-team, Bojan seemed to have limitless potential. The kid could do no wrong. All that happened before he turned 18 in the summer of 2008.
At the international level, Bojan was an absolute sensation. He played a key role to La Rojita winning the 2006 UEFA U-17 European Championship, picking up the Golden Boot award along the way. The Catalan forward was a year younger than his competitors. For the FIFA U-17 World Cup the following year, Barça regarded Bojan so highly that there was an issue between La Rojita’s inclusion of Bojan in their tournament squad. Bear in mind that this World Cup was held at the start of Bojan’s debut season at senior level (which has been mentioned above). Bojan went on to finish joint-3rd in the goalscoring charts, tying with current Bayern Munich and Germany playmaker Toni Kroos, and was also named 3rd best player overall, clinching the Bronze Ball award.
Bojan’s goal-scoring record for the following 3 seasons was as follows: 10 goals in 42 appearances in 2008/09, 12 in 36 in 2009/10 and 7 in 37 in 2010/11. After Zlatan Ibrahimovic left Barça for Milan on an initial loan deal in the summer of 2010, Bojan took up the mantle of being Barça’s “Number 9″. He had only just turned 20. Since then, after a couple of years in the Barça 1st-team, Bojan has been moved on from Barça to Roma, Roma to Milan and, this summer, Milan to Ajax. Quite clearly, the prodigiously talented forward has veered off his path to Footballing super-stardom.
Between the ages of 17 and 21, Bojan made 163 appearances and scored 41 goals. He had also worn the armband, when the club captains were not on the pitch, on a few occasions. Now, compare that with one of today’s wunderkinds, Mario Götze - 116 appearances at senior level between that same age range. Bojan made 47 more appearances – effectively 1 full season more – than Götze despite his team-mates being of a higher level than Götze’s at Borussia Dortmund. Bad management? One would think so.
One thing that Bojan always had against him was the extreme levels of hype, hence pressure, right from the start. No teenager should have to deal with and work under such conditions, no matter how good and/or how much potential they had. Barça did wrong by Bojan in the decisions made to push him into the 1st-team spotlight so early on in his career. Yes, Bojan did want the vacant Number 9 shirt, hence he did play some part in the heaping of expectations on his young shoulders, but there’s no doubt that Barça should’ve intervened – perhaps refuse Bojan the Number 9 then but promise that he’ll get it in the future (he was already wearing a popular number 11 then).
Sure, he was absolutely brilliant at youth and reserve level, but to push a youngster so far into the 1st-team spotlight just because he’s done well at reserve level is wrong on almost every level. Rijkaard had the likes of Ronaldinho, Thierry Henry, Samuel Eto’o and an emerging Lionel Messi to choose from, so why push Bojan so hard so early on?
Since being promoted to the Barça 1st-team at the ripe old age of 17 by then Barça coach Frank Rijkaard, Bojan’s career to date has clearly been yet another case of “too much, too soon”. Fortunately for him, turning 23 this year, time’s still on his side.
The New Approach
La Masia and the Barça hierarchy have learnt priceless lessons from the case of Bojan Krkić. The most prominent case of Barça applying these valuable lessons to a Masia youngster’s career can be seen in their cautious and calculated management of Gerard Deulofeu’s rise through the youth ranks.
Gerard Deulofeu joined Barça as a 9-year-old in 2003, which is coincidentally the same age Bojan was when he joined. Rising through the ranks with ease, Deulofeu made his Barça B debut in March 2011, just a week or so before his 17th Birthday. Since his debut till now, most of Deulofeu’s playing minutes have been with the B team, though he has made a couple of 1st-team appearances.
As we can see, Deulofeu, unlike Bojan, has not been pushed into the 1st-team spotlight. That has been due considerably to the fact that, since Pep Guardiola took over as Barça coach in 2008, the team has been largely successful and has had sufficient squad depth in the final third. Barça have been able to give Deulofeu the space and time he needs to develop holistically into a potentially world class attacker. Last season, his 2nd year with Barça B, Gerard Deulofeu just burst onto the scene, scoring 18 goals and providing 6 assists as Barça B finished the season in a very respectable 9th place. Deulofeu ended the 2012/13 campaign as the joint-4th top goalscorer in La Segunda, where Barça B have played their Football since the 2010/11 season. That is an extremely impressive feat, considering the fact that the young maverick only turned 19 in the 2nd half of that season.
At international level, Gerard Deulofeu has been mightily impressive, moving from Spain’s U16s to U21s within the years of 2009 to 2012. He has also dazzled in the various youth tournaments, helping La Rojita finish 2nd in the UEFA U17 Euros in 2010 and winning 2 consecutive editions of the U19 Euros in 2011 and 2012. Deulofeu was named “Golden Player of the tournament” of the aforementioned U19 Euros in 2012. He was a key part of Julen Lopetegui’s squad in the recent 2013 FIFA U20 World Cup, where Spain exited the competition in the Quarter-Finals after a shock 1-0 AET defeat to Uruguay. La Rojita were extremely impressive up till their shock exit, winning all their matches in a group that contained 2 eventual Semi-Finalists – Ghana and eventual champions France.
Having extended his contract through to 2017, with a release clause set at €35 million, Gerard Deulofeu is now on loan at Everton for the currently ongoing 2013/14 season, Toffees manager Roberto Martinez has asserted that the prodigiously talented Spaniard will be given the time and space he needs to yet again push on to the next level.
“We need to be patient as he’s a young man, but in the same manner I think we can enjoy his quality. You saw a flash of his undoubtedly special talent [against Madrid]. He’s decided to come to Everton and we need to look after him well. The warmth of our fans and Goodison will help him to grow, but clearly he’s got the talent to help the team and we’re really excited about Gerard’s progress.”
- Everton manager Roberto Martinez on Gerard Deulofeu
Barça have exhibited a great deal of wisdom in sending the Catalan teenager out on loan, instead of having him play a 3rd season in La Segunda. Deulofeu is clearly ready to leave Barça B and take another step up the ladder to the Barça 1st-team, but he is not yet good enough to assert himself at the senior level. The best possible option – a loan spell in the English Premier League – has been chosen both for and by him.
Lessons have been learnt, unfortunately at Bojan Krkić’s expense. For every Lionel Messi, there’s a Bojan Krkić. Which path will Gerard Deulofeu and the young talents at La Masia – Sergi Samper, Jean-Marie Dongou, Fabrice Ondoa, Frank Bagnack – take?
(*For the record, one still very much hopes that Bojan Krkić realises his immense potential and eventually takes his place amongst the best strikers in the world)