Stoke: Just like watching Barcelona
Across the world, football purists and hipsters alike are today waking up with a banging head as they pray that the news of Stoke signing Bojan Krkic from Barcelona was nothing more than a bad dream.
Thankfully for Stoke fans, the arrival of Bojan is very real and represents a magnificent coup for manager Mark Hughes as he continues his revolution in the Potteries. Stoke's progression on and off the pitch went largely unnoticed last term; the men in red and white finished ninth in the league, breaking a club record. Convincing wins and fine goals pushed the Potters up the running order on the BBC's "Match of the Day," but for the most part, the footballing world remained blissfully unaware of the sleeping giant beginning to awake in the Midlands.
Hughes sprung a surprise when he signed little-known Marc Muniesa from Barcelona in July 2013, and since Stoke fans have been used to a diet of Sunderland and Portsmouth reserves, they could be forgiven for their overreaction at the concept of their club signing a player from such an illustrious side. Imagine the reaction, then, when reports started to leak out of Spain at about 3 p.m. on Tuesday that suggested Bojan had signed, as well.
Capturing the talent of Bojan, a man once labeled as better than Lionel Messi, is unthinkable for a club of Stoke's perceived standing in the game, even for their own biased fans. The fact remains, though, that Stoke City finished the ninth-best side in "the best league in the world," and Bojan's arrival is a move that will hopefully benefit both player and club. It's true that his star has waned since the heady days of his emergence on the scene off the back of 400-plus youth team goals at Barcelona. Being compared to the best player in the world was always going to be a considerable burden, and despite making 163 senior appearances for the Catalan giant, scoring 41 goals, his loan spells at AC Milan, Roma and Ajax saw him fail to maintain his early success.
In his most recent loan at Ajax, he came under increased scrutiny from coach Frank de Boer and the club's fans, who felt shortchanged against the benchmark of the player who starred so prominently at the Camp Nou. That Bojan won the double at Ajax and scored a goal, recorded an assist or created a chance every 47 minutes during his time there suggest that his spell in Holland wasn't as poor as many made out.
Perhaps some psychological issues are at play for a man who, after a senior call-up, withdrew from the national side because of mental exhaustion. That notion duly followed him wherever he went, and one can only wonder if it started to become a self-fulfilling prophecy as he struggled to replicate his early form and impact. But for him to reportedly turn down more money, Champions League football, and the chance to return to the safety and familiarity of La Liga is testament to his character and determination to succeed, which is a good start to that process of rebuilding his career.
Bojan will find a kindred spirit at Stoke in the shape of Marko Arnautovic, another player of great promise who lost his way but found the sanctuary of the Potteries enough to get his career back on track. That "arm around the shoulder" treatment is something that Hughes seems to be especially adept at, and if he can get Bojan back to even half the player he once was, it would be the manager's biggest success yet.
It's a win-win situation for Stoke; a high-profile, low-cost signing that significantly raises the profile of the club -- and, if successful, he will most likely be moved on for a big profit. That kind of figure for a 23-year-old with such pedigree from Barcelona is a significant move in the club's drive for self-sufficiency and value for money. And to think they were able to bring him in for roughly a quarter of the price of Fulham's Ross McCormack, a 27-year-old Scot without a top-flight game to his name playing in the Championship
It's a great time for Stoke fans -- with Muniesa last year and Bojan this season, I would implore Mr. Messi to start learning English and decide on his favourite oatcake filling in anticipation of his impending arrival in 2015.