Bojan has been one of the clubs biggest stars at the club over the past few years, and has shown quality that many had never seen before. His first season, before his injury, showed what kind of player we had on our hands, but over the past year his inclusion in the first team has been very limited.
Recent reports have rumoured that he will be the target of Valencia in the January transfer window. With his lack of game time over the past year, he may see this as an opportunity for regular first team football.
With the introduction of a new formation from Hughes, Bojan is vying for a place realistically in a two man midfield (we’ll talk about the false nine later), and add Joe Allen to the mix, who Hughes still has no idea where to play, and end the result doesn’t look to good for Bo.
He currently has been given a chance in the first team, thanks to Arnautovic’s suspension, and he took it well, winning and converting a penalty in our 2-2 draw to Leicester. However, when the Austrian returns, where will Bojan fit? We believe (like many other Stoke fans) there is, and still should be a place for our favourite Spaniard in the first team, and here’s why:
He is still one of the best players at the club
Since being promoted to the Premier League, we have been blessed to see so many talented players join Stoke, especially in recent years. Players such as Xherdan Shaqiri, Marko Arnautovic and Giannelli Imbula, just to name a few, but not many stood out as much as Bojan did.
Before his arrival, his career had seemed to have taken a dip. Once tipped as the next Messi, he was part of an unstoppable Barcelona side, but the eventual lack of game time and disagreement with management saw him part ways with the club. Things didn’t go to well for him elsewhere, and in the summer of 2014 he joined us.
I’m sure I’m not the only one that was incredibly excited to see him play, and he didn’t disappoint in his first season. Managing 5 goals in 18 appearances, he looked a new man, and at that point, was by far the best player I had ever seen at Stoke. Unfortunately, the injury against Rochdale left him out for the season, and injuries as bad has his usually means the player is never quite the same.
However, in his return to the side, Bojan was able to pick up his goalscoring form in the 2015/16 season, scoring 7 goals in 27 games, in a season where he was largely unused or brought off the bench.
His natural talent with the ball at his feet is for the most part mesmerising, and can really influence a game when he is on the pitch. His passing range is what you would expect from a La Masia graduate (see his assist for Shaqiri’s second goal against Everton), and he isn’t half bad at finding the net as well.
The old phrase that gets passed around Stoke Twitter is that we should ‘build the team around Bojan’, and not just try and fit him in, which is very much true. The team needs to centred around him, as the playmaker, but instead we tend to bring him in and out of the squad.
He is the best, and really the only attacking midfielder we have at the club
This is a problem we would have with selling Bojan if we were to revert back to the usual four at the back system, rather than the three/five at the back system we are currently using. Asides from Afellay, who is just coming back from a major injury himself, we have no other attacking midfielder that could fill the spot behind the striker.
Joe Allen, as brilliant as he is, has put a spanner in the works this season. The Welshman has already shown his value to the side, with five goals already from midfield, which means he really can’t be dropped. However, the position he takes up in the side is still questionable. Joe himself has said that he is not an attacking midfielder, and he’d rather play in a more comfortable central midfield role, but dropping him back has raised some questions with Hughes, with Whelan, Adam and Imbula already wrestling over that role. Despite this, Allen isn’t an attacking midfielder.
If we were to sell Bojan, we would be able to cope with Allen playing that position, but he lacks the creativity and flair that Bojan brings to the role. It is possibly his most comfortable position, playing as the number 10 behind the striker. The returning Afellay would also look to make that spot his own, but after a long injury set-back at his age, it remains to be seen what impact that will have on his playing ability.
The versatility of playing him at CF in a false-nine
For at least the past two seasons, Stoke have struggled to find a striker that works for us, and have continuously chopped and changed our front-line in an attempt to make something work. The signing of Wilfried Bony on loan in the summer looked like it would be the answer, but he has struggled to make any impact since joining.
One system that did work, before being ditched pretty quickly, was the false-nine. A system most would associate with Barcelona and Lionel Messi, instead of using an out and out striker, you would use a number 10, or a CF. Bojan, who played as a number 10 for most of his early career, seemed a perfect fit, and for the most part it worked a treat.
With Shaqiri and Arnautovic on either wing, and Afellay in behind him, Bojan was given free reign up top, able to drop deep for the ball and work the play from there. This worked against numerous, with home victories against both Manchester clubs being the highlight on the formation. However, this seemed to only work against some teams, as physical sides like West Brom were able to sit back and soak up the pressure, and with Bojan leading the line, their defenders had no problem shrugging him off the ball.
The false-nine overall had most people split, but it’s hard to argue that it is a valuable tactic when needed, and with the trouble we are having up top, would not be a bad idea to at least try it again.
He’s a goalscorer
For this point, all you have to look at is his early career. Playing for Barcelona at various youth levels, it was reported that Bojan scored over 900 goals in that time, which invariably led to him getting tagged as the next Lionel Messi. At Barcelona, he managed 10+ goals for three seasons in a row, in a team filled with world class talent. He finished his time with the Catalonia club with 41 goals.
Even with us, his goalscoring record is unsurprisingly good. Before he his injury in his first season, the Spaniard was almost untouchable, scoring a lot of important goals, including the winner against Leicester away. And who can forget his volley against Rochdale?
Last season, in a campaign where for the most part he was left frustratingly on the bench, he scored 7 goals. If he was to start every game, you’d assume that he’d have ended the season in double figures.
If Hughes were to consistently play Bojan, without dropping him after a bad game, his confidence would be through the roof, and ultimately the goals would come. Obviously we are only guessing that this would be the case, but his track-record shows that he can score goals, and selling someone with his ability would definitely be a mistake.
The one factor that has cemented the loveable Spaniard into the hearts of Stoke fans, apart from his ability, is that he just is a nice guy. Always playing with a smile on his face, it is obvious that he wants to play for the club, and he is a key asset to the club.
His bromance with Muniesa (who sadly also looks like he may be on his way out) is brilliant, and with Joselu out on loan, it wouldn’t be the same without the Spanish lads at the club. I am also the proud owner of the Stoke ‘Guess Who’ that the two played one Christmas, which was signed by both players, so it is hard for me not to like the pair of them.
There are factors that have led people to want Bojan to either leave, or stay out of the first team. His performances, when not on form, can be frustrating, and probably isn’t the player you’d want when the team’s losing and heads are down. He needs to find consistency in his game to assure his place in the squad, as he certainly has the ability.
Well, those were our thoughts on the situation, but what do other supporters think? We asked on Twitter if they wanted Bojan to stay and why, and here are their responses:
@WellBeWithYou stay he must fantastic ability and always plays with a smile
— Peter Plant (@peterplant57) December 21, 2016
@WellBeWithYou Stay. You don't let talent like this go.
— Sho'nuff (@therealhoncho) December 21, 2016
@WellBeWithYou I really want him to stay but I can see why he would leave because he isn't getting the game time that he wants.
— Jack Tatton (@jackotat) December 21, 2016
@WellBeWithYou of course you want your most talented players to stay but he needs to apply himself more when given the chance to start.
— Ben Locke (@BenL1981) December 21, 2016
— Sam Hill (@SamofStoke) December 21, 2016
@WellBeWithYou because it Bojan FFS. Bin Hughes instead.
— Nathan Shelley (@NathanSCFC) December 21, 2016
@WellBeWithYou I'm not a fan doesn't influence a game enough from me.
— jay-Go (@jtgoble) December 22, 2016