It may seem strange to suggest this as the last-chance saloon for Spaniard Bojan Krkic in his quest to finally make an indelible mark at the top-table of European football given that he is still only 23 years of age, but his transfer to Stoke City and the English Premier League really is the final opportunity for the player to make the grade following several years of flattering to deceive on a nomadic journey which took in Barcelona, Rome, Milan and Amsterdam prior to pitching up in the Potteries.

  • By David Lee Wheatley
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bojan dSince bursting on to the scene as a fresh-faced 17-year-old, Bojan has failed to live up to the lofty expectations reserved for him in Catalonia and he subsequently witnessed his stock rapidly falling from an era when he was once held in similar high esteem to the great Lionel Messi, to now finding himself standing at something of a crossroads.

The forward’s potential was there for all to see when breaking all manner of club records relating to being the youngest player to feature in La Liga and the Champions’ League for Barcelona at the time, as well as becoming the youngest Barca goalscorer in a domestic league fixture. He ended that debut season with a tidy haul of 10 league goals, plus a further two in cup competitions. Surely, legendary status beckoned for the rising Spanish star born in August 1990 to a Serbian professional footballer and Catalan mother? Well, no, not exactly.

He featured in nine less La Liga games during the second season in comparison to that sparkling breakthrough year and struck only twice, but was prolific in the Copa del Rey on the upside. A full national team debut for Spain also came his way only twelve months after his Barcelona bow, but that remains his solitary senior cap to date after talking his way out of the nation’s Euro 2008 plans citing fatigue as the reason for dropping out of Luis Aragones’ squad.

Bojan became a progressively peripheral figure at the Nou Camp with single-figure returns on the scoresheet for a further two campaigns before Barca finally saw fit to part with the precocious striker.

It was with a heavy heart that the Catalan giants allowed Krkic to make a move to Roma in Serie A for a fee in the region of £10million. However, they inserted a buy-back clause in his contract with the Giallorossi in the hope he would triumphantly return as a complete player one day.

Alas, it failed to work out and just one season later he was farmed out on loan to AC Milan for the entire 2012-13 campaign. He wasn’t a regular in the side and therefore his impact at the San Siro was minimal. For the bright star of Barcelona, this was some fall from grace.

Amsterdam was Bojan’s next stop via an obligatory triggering of the Barcelona buy-back agreement, which came into force after two years away from the club. The diminutive academy product made it clear that he wanted game-time though, prompting the Blaugrana to allow Ajax to take him on for one season with the option of a second. Despite Ajax winning their domestic league title convincingly, a faltering Bojan contributed just four Eredivisie goals towards their cause. Furthermore, Ajax decided against exercising their right to hold on to Krkic in a rather damning indictment of the player’s efforts.

The skilful attacker did get his wish to play more often at the Amsterdam ArenA thanks to his persistence in pushing through the temporary switch, which must be admired about the man, and he certainly enjoyed his stint in the Netherlands on a personal note. Unfortunately, it cannot be ignored that his stay in Holland was far from a spectacular success and he still has so much more to prove.

This latest summer transfer from Barcelona may make him a Premier League participant in name, but will he be capable of turning all of that undoubted promise into a wonderful reality throughout a projected four-year contract at the Britannia Stadium?

He is blessed with pace, dribbling ability, versatility (he can play as a striker, winger or number 10) and ball skills to rival any top player in world football today. However, his wildly frustrating inconsistencies and occasionally awful performances, when he seems to lack any focus or concentration, have set him back a long, long way from those heady days when excitable Barca fans believed they had a tandem of burgeoning superstars in the shape of Leo Messi and Bojan coming through the ranks.

What is to blame for the perceived lull in Bojan’s development – could it be burn-out, too much pressure or did his progression simply come to a natural end at a much younger age than the majority of his peers? Indeed, did his career zenith arrive when he was in fact a mere teenager?

Now that Krkic has apparently severed ties with his hometown heroes for good, could he now be ready to kick on to that next stage of a career in danger of going completely off the rails?

Stoke City boss Mark Hughes thinks so and therefore utilised his links with former side Barcelona to extract the 23-year-old from his deal in Spain for an undisclosed fee in the hope of bringing out the very best of fellow forward Bojan, but it remains to be seen whether that will be possible. The ex-Wales striker’s acquisition of the Catalan has been described in many quarters a huge coup for Stoke, but will that be borne out by his overall contribution on the pitch? Well, on the evidence of the last three years, then perhaps not.

In any case, the next four seasons in Staffordshire represents the most crucial period in the Spanish international’s still-fledgling pro career and he absolutely must grasp this chance with both hands. If not, top-flight football could become a distant memory for a highly talented individual who seemingly had the world at his feet only six years ago, yet now stands on the precipice with one last throw of the dice remaining.