MONTREAL — When you’ve played alongside Lionel Messi, Thierry Henry and Francesco Totti, anything else may feel like a step down. But that’s not how Bojan Krkic sees his move to Major League Soccer.
The Montreal Impact signed the 28-year-old attacking midfielder through the end of the 2020 season at the MLS summer trade deadline day on Wednesday.
Krkic has scored goals in Europe’s top leagues while playing for some of the world’s biggest clubs like Barcelona, AS Roma, AC Milan and Ajax.
"I felt from the beginning that this club is a family," said Krkic at his introductory press conference on Thursday. "I was looking to be in a club where you feel the love, a family where everyone is fighting for the same thing. I’m like that as a person. It’s a new step in my career. I want to use everything I achieved in my past and keep growing.
"When I decide to do things in my life, it’s because I feel it. This was the case. I felt like coming here and that’s why I took this step."
Krkic’s resume is extensive and his trophy cabinet is brimming.
Once touted as the next Messi, the Spaniard made his Barcelona debut at the age of 17 — the youngest player in franchise history to play in Spain’s La Liga. He scored 41 goals in 163 games with the Spanish giants, where he won three league titles and two Champions League crowns.
Krkic never quite lived up to those high expectations though. In Italy, he scored seven goals in 37 appearances with Roma and another three goals in 27 games with AC Milan.
After a short loan spell to Dutch club Ajax, Krkic joined Stoke City in the English Premier League in 2014 where he scored 16 goals in 85 appearances. He left Stoke by mutual consent this week after five years.
"He’s a natural goal scorer and an excellent passer," said Impact coach Remi Garde. "He’s talented enough to have played with some of the best passers in the game like Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Messi. He has incredible vision and can connect with players on a run.
"His physical level is good right now, he may just be missing some match fitness."
Krkic was not exactly on the Impact’s radar at the start of the transfer window.
With Ignacio Piatti now healthy and newly acquired Lassi Lappalainen on loan from Bologna, Montreal was expected to pick up reinforcements for the back line instead of adding another offensive threat.
But it was Krkic who reached out directly to the Impact to express an interest in joining MLS. With Stoke also looking to shed some salary, the stars were aligned for the Canadian club. Team owner Joey Saputo and president Kevin Gilmore met Krkic last week while on a trip to Bologna and a deal was struck.
"For any transfer window, we need to be improving today, tomorrow and the next year," said Gilmore. "It’s not just about what we need now. It’s about the club’s long-term goals. Our management was told that Bojan was interested in coming here. The timing was perfect."
The Impact made two other moves at the deadline on Wednesday.
Montreal re-acquired homegrown winger Ballou Tabla on loan from Barcelona’s B squad until the end of the season. The Canadian international was struggling to get playing minutes on the Catalan reserve team.
Montreal also acquired the first position in the MLS allocation order from the Chicago Fire, along with defender Jorge Corrales, in exchange for midfielder Micheal Azira and a second-round pick in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft. Corrales has started 15 games for the Fire this season.
The sixth-place Impact are in the thick of a playoff race in the MLS Eastern Conference with nine games left this season. Montreal is coming off a 6-3 loss to the last-place Colorado Rapids.
"These new arrivals are here at just the right time," said Garde. "We needed some renewal before hitting this final stretch of the season. The trick is to play them soon because the season is almost over and we need them now."