The latest footballing prodigy to roll off the Spanish production line, the improbably talented Bojan Krkic is the talk of the footballing world these days, and is poised to become one of the stars of the show at the upcoming FIFA U-17 World Cup Korea 2007.
2007 has proved the teenager's breakthrough year, with Krkic underlining his burgeoning reputation in May when he struck his country's winner against England in the final of the UEFA U-17 European Championship.
Back in January, the diminutive yet pacy forward was a fixture in the Barcelona youth team. It was not long, though, before he was promoted to the club's reserve team, and his speedy rise through the ranks continued apace with a maiden first-team outing in an April friendly against Egypt's Al-Alhy, the youngster repaying coach Frank Rijkaard's faith with a goal. Fittingly, the jersey sported by the boy wonder that evening was none other than the No14 once worn with such distinction by Barça legend Johan Cruyff.
"It's just a coincidence," he tells FIFA.com. "But it was special all the same. What a debut. I was hoping to get on for a few minutes, but to start the game and score a goal was just amazing."
His impressive progress continued in June with a debut appearance for Spain's U-21 side, although he has now rejoined the U-17s in preparation for their mission in Korea. Not that his employers were very keen on letting him go, however, Bojan being on the verge of jetting off with Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto'o and Thierry Henry on the Catalans' pre-season Asian tour when they reluctantly agreed to release him.
"To be honest that was tough," explains the man at the centre of the tug-of-affection. "Training with the first-team was like a dream come true and what happened complicated things a bit. But I've always said that playing for my country is a privilege and I'm gradually readying myself to hit top form for when the World Cup starts."
Slowly but surely
Bojan's many assets include a maturity that belies his years. In conversation he chooses his words carefully, perhaps the result of the experience and wisdom passed on to him by his father, a former Yugoslav international with Red Star Belgrade and now a scout at the Camp Nou. It is this valuable advice that has no doubt helped him approach each stage in his dizzying ascent to global prominence with such calm, and when he is not training the teenager devotes his time to his schoolwork and his friends and family.
"From the moment I had to leave my family to join Barcelona's youth team, I was aware that this is a sport you need to dedicate a lot of time to. But I'll sacrifice everything I have to football because it's the most important thing to me," he says with conviction.
"He's a player with tremendous potential. There's no limit to what he can achieve," says national team boss Juan Santisteban. Despite such fulsome praise, Bojan is keen not to get ahead of himself. "I don't like taking things quickly," he responds cautiously. "I prefer to take things as slowly as possible when it comes to football. But whenever opportunities come your way, however unexpectedly, you've got to try and take them as best you can and hope that everything works out fine."
Bojan's next challenge is waiting for him in Korea. "World Cups don't come around very often and it's wonderful to have this opportunity. If we can go on and win it, that would just round it all off both for me and the team," remarks the smiling Bojan after a training session with the boys in red. Although nursing his left knee, the Barça starlet says he has had no problems in training, and showed once again how valuable he is to the team in Monday's 1-0 friendly win over Colombia.
Despite being in the spotlight, he is keen to emphasise the importance of the team as a whole. "I don't think I have to be the key man in the team or anything like that. I'm just a player who can contribute different things, that's all. Everyone's got something to offer and all that matters is how well the team performs. There's a good feeling in the squad. We all know each other really well because we've just won the European Championship. We're all very excited about this World Cup and we hope to be good shape by the time it all starts."
A lethal predator in the box, he possesses a sharp eye for a goal and finely honed dribbling skills, the perfect tool for outfoxing imposing defenders. Using his searing pace to latch on to Fran Merida's carefully weighed through-balls, Bojan was the architect of Spain's continental success. "Becoming European champions was an important success, but the World Cup is a different competition and we have to start from scratch," he says. "We'll be taking it game by game and trying to reach a consistently high level."
As he goes on to explain, one of the team's priorities is to get some valuable match practice in. "The Spanish season hasn't started yet so perhaps the tournament has come a bit early for us. That's why we have to step up our fitness. That will be one of the key factors. We've been playing together for a long time and we hope to get used to the time change and the food straight away so we can hit top form out on the pitch."
The first obstacles facing the Spanish are Argentina, Honduras and Syria. "On paper it looks like an easy group for us, but a World Cup is a World Cup and you can't take anything for granted these days. I think the important thing will be for us to focus on what we are doing and to worry about our opponents as little as possible."
The objective is to reach the last eight at the very least, the stage where the U-20 side went crashing out at Canada 2007. For a born winner like Bojan, however, that will not be enough. "I hope we have a bit more luck than they did and that we can go even further. After all, there's no reason why we can't win it."