Bojan Krkic: United must beware the Barça-boy made good

The Nou Camp has a new local hero in Bojan Krkic, a 17-year-old striker many fans feel should play tonight, writes Pete Jenson in Barcelona.
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Sir Alex Ferguson's dream of winning the European Cup again could be undone tonight by a player who was not even alive when the Manchester United manager lifted his first trophy for the club in 1990. The 17-year-old striker, Bojan Krkic, who was born three months after Ferguson got his hands on the FA Cup with United's replay win over Crystal Palace, has been breaking records and ripping up reputations all season.

The smart money says that if coach Frank Rijkaard does disrupt the Samuel Eto'o, Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta front three who played the first leg, it will be Thierry Henry's Old Trafford experience that will be called on. But if Henry fails to turn the clock back far enough to the days when he was every Premier League defender's worst nightmare, Bojan will get his chance and it will not be the first time he has upstaged the player whose presentation to fans last June he had to miss because he was at school.

His eight-goal tally in La Liga is one better than Henry's and comes despite the fact that he has played fewer minutes. The last time Barça needed a crucial Champions League goal on their travels it was Bojan who provided it, with a strike against Schalke 04 in the quarter-finals that made him the second youngest goalscorer in the competition's history. And when Rijkaard made his first change in the first leg last week against United it was notable that Bojan and not Henry was the player to come on.

Any contribution tonight from Bojan will complete a remarkable year that began last April when he scored on his debut after being picked to start a badly scheduled friendly – Barcelona's season was still in progress – against an Egyptian XI in Cairo.

He then travelled with the first team to Scotland for pre-season as Henry-mania was still in full swing. His performances alongside the former Arsenal striker were so good that Barcelona had to fend off advances from both Ajax and Celta Vigo to take him on loan.

There was still no expectation that he would play any more than a handful of unimportant Spanish Cup games however. But with Eto'o and Messi having missed large chunks of the season through injury, Bojan has consistently been Barcelona's most effective forward. He is also the new darling of the Nou Camp.

Late in the second leg of Barcelona's quarter-final victory over Schalke 04 he was substituted and left the field to the shrills of discontent of 70,000 Barcelona supporters who wanted the first-leg scorer to stay on the pitch, quite possibly at the expense of Henry.

"You can understand it," Henry said. "He is having a fantastic season. He is a Catalan kid and the supporters love nothing more than to have a local hero."

If Henry has come to represent Barça's flirtation with a Real Madrid-style transfer policy of big-money globally recognisable signings then Bojan has been seen by fans as the perfect anti-galactico. He signed for the club as an eight-year-old. His Serbian-born father, then a Barcelona scout, had played for Red Star Belgrade before moving to Catalunya where he turned out for local side Mollerusa. He met Bojan's mother, a nurse, when she helped him recover from a serious injury.

Bojan's dual-nationality hastened Spain's willingness to cap him and – after he won the player of the tournament award two years running in the Under-17 European Championship – he made his debut for the Under-21 side aged just 16. He nearly became the youngest player to represent Spain this February but illness kept him out of their friendly with France.

But it is in Barça colours that Bojan has thrived. After scoring around 900 goals in various levels of the club's youth system he became the third youngest player in the club's history to play for the first team when on 16 September 2007 he appeared against Osasuna.

When he scored against Villlarreal on 21 October he became the club's youngest scorer, aged 17 years and 54 days, from a pass from Messi, who was the previous record holder.

Scampering over tackles and appearing in the right place at the right time, always with a cool finish, there are similarities with a young Michael Owen. Real Madrid legends Raul and Emilio Butragueño are two players the Spanish have likened him to.

If Barcelona fans were picking the side tonight his name would be on the team-sheet, but Rijkaard is expected to be more prudent. But not much more. The coach is aware that Bojan has the element of surprise in his favour.

"It does not matter if a player is only 17, if he gets to play with even better players then, especially in the beginning his level will increase hugely," says Rijkaard. "It is when people get to know who you are that the really important moment starts for a talent."

Eto'o spoke of Bojan as "the player who will end up retiring me". However, the midfielder Deco has countered that things may be happening too quickly. The excitement is tempered with caution. But when the masterplan fails, as it has so many times this season for Barcelona, then caution goes out the window. As Rijkaard goes into battle with the old master Ferguson tonight he will have a plan B at his disposal – 'B' for Bojan.