Bojan Krkic has, over his various moves and loan deals, fallen into the category of 'the journeyman'. Over the past six years he has lined out for Ajax, Stoke, Mainz and Alaves. But earlier in his career the diminutive forward showed extraordinary promise, and was one of the few young footballers burdened with the tag of the 'new Messi'.
The Spaniard recently sat down for an excellent interview in The Guardian where the 27-year-old candidly laid bare his struggles with mental health, particularly anxiety attacks. The forward points to a culture where “jealousy predominates” and “everyone has access to you” & bemoans a society where young footballers are exposed to abuse online:
Those of us who have feeling, who are sensitive, who can be affected, need a good shield. Footballers are very young and they’re exposed. Even at under-15s, players have Twitter and I’m sure they’re already getting insults ... it’s ugly, it’s sullies society and football.”
Krkic reveals the anxiety issues that led the Barcelona youth to him taking himself out of the running in Spain's successful Euro 2008 Championships. The 27-year-old explained that when he was called up for a friendly against France, prior to the Euros and it was reported that the forward had gastroenteritis, when in reality he had an anxiety attack.
Krkic goes on to say how he was treated by the Spanish international set-up, who basically threw him under the bus for refusing the call up to the Euros:
Everyone at the federation knew: Luis Aragonés [the manager], Fernando Hierro [the sporting director]. Hierro sent me messages every week to ask how I was and the day before the squad was announced, they rang. ‘Bojan, we’re going to call you up.’ I was in the car, going to training. I said: ‘It hurts to say this but I can’t.’ I got to the Camp Nou and Carles Puyol was there. He said: ‘Bojan, I’ll be by your side all the way, I’ll be there for you.’ I said: ‘Puyi, I can’t.’ I’m on medication, I’m on the edge. And the next day I saw a headline, ‘Spain call up Bojan and Bojan says no’.
That headline kills me, it’s as if I don’t care. I remember being in Murcia and people insulting me: they don’t know, they just think I don’t want to play. That was hard, although at that point I really didn’t care what people said. What hurt was that the headline presumably came from the Federation. How can you call me up when you speak to me the day before, know how I am, and then that comes out? I felt very alone. There are still people now who ask me ‘Why didn’t you go?’
Krkic explains the symptoms of his illness as 'a dizziness, feeling sick, constant, 24 hours a day', and to think that his legitimate refusal was treated in such an irresponsible manner by the Spanish FA is sickening in itself.
Of course Spain would go on to win the European Championships that summer without him, his sole cap for the national side would come that September against Armenia. But the damage from his public refusal still stings and you can only hope that football organisations will learn to value the mental wellbeing of the players that take to the field for them, and appreciate that the spotlight may shine too bright for some.