Bojan destined to upstage Henry

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The Independent Football

Frank Rijkaard, the Barcelona coach, will have a selection problem ahead of the visit of Manchester United this week – Thierry Henry or Bojan Krkic? It is a dilemma that was unimaginable last June when the former Arsenal striker was presented to 20,000 Barcelona fans, and the then 16-year-old Bojan was still in school.

Ten months on, Bojan has eight league goals – one more than Henry – and his scoring average is a goal every 138 minutes compared with Henry's one in every 271. The hero- worship that awaited the Frenchman is instead showered on his protégé.

It was Bojan and not Henry who scored the vital goal in the first leg against Schalke 04 in the quarter-finals, a fact not lost on Barcelona supporters. In the 72nd minute of the second leg, Bojan's No 27 was held up and about 70,000 Barcelona fans let out deafening whistles in protest at the decision as he trudged off. Many would have preferred to have seen Henry withdrawn.

"It is a fact that they took off the best and left on Henry and [Samuel] Eto'o, who were worse," said the Barcelona legend Johan Cruyff. "There is an unwrittenlaw in football that you don't take off the one who is not having a good day because that hits his confidence even more."

And so it was Henry who was left on. Of the crowd's response to Bojan being taken off, Henry said: "You can understand it. He is having a fantastic season. He is a Catalan kid and the supporters love nothing more than to have a local hero."

Bojan edges out Henry in terms of who fans want to see in the side. In a poll in the Catalan tabloid 'Sport' this week, only seven per cent said they want Henry to start against United on Wednesday. Leo Messi, Eto'o and Bojan were the preferred attack of more than 4,000 fans.

The signs were there on the pre-season tour of Scotland that Bojan might outshine the new signing. He impressed to such an extent that the club turned down offers from Ajax and Celta Vigo to take him on loan.

On 16 September he became the third youngest player in the club's history to make his debut when he appeared against Osasuna, and when he scored against Villarreal on 21 October he became the club's youngest scorer, at 17 years and 54 days.

Henry could even have played against Bojan in February when the youngster was called up to the Spain squad to face Henry's France, but illness ruled him out.

The player who signed for Barcelona as an eight-year-old was breaking scoring records in Barcelona's youth team while Henry was hitting the target at Arsenal. Bojan averaged three goals a game in his first six years and has clocked up more than 900 goals in official matches.

But as he has overtaken Henry this season, he remains the Frenchman's biggest fan. "Everybody has helped me but I get on very well with Henry," he says. "He is my reference point and we have a great understanding on the pitch. He made his debut very young and he is able to understand how I feel."

Rijkaard has tried to protect Bojan this season, but popular demand and the player's form have forced him into picking the youngster far more than he anticipated. Rijkaard admits: "He is a special player who always makes the right decision on the pitch." In Barcelona's front three against United, Messi and Eto'o are expected to start. That leaves one more berth in attack. The right decision this time is Rijkaard's to make.

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