Bojan and Thierry Henry with Barcelona - Montreal Impact
Courtesy FC Barcelona

Reunited in Montreal with former Barcelona teammate Thierry Henry, Bojan shares his soccer philosophy

When Bojan was 17-years-old, he forced his way from Barcelona's famed academy, La Masia, into the first team at the beginning of the 2007-08 season. He was fighting for minutes alongside the likes of Lionel Messi, Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto'o, Deco and more of the world's most lavish attacking talent. It was perhaps the most opulent group of attacking talent on the globe at the time. 

They added to that belligerently excellent group over the summer, acquiring Thierry Henry from Arsenal. From 2007-10, as Bojan found his way into professional soccer as the continent's most hyped teenager at one of the world's biggest clubs, Henry was a teammate, someone he relied heavily on for advice and, most importantly, a friend. 

Their relationship has taken on a new dynamic this year, as Henry and Bojan are reunited in Montreal with the Impact. Henry is no longer Bojan's teammate, but his head coach. It's different relationship structure, but one that still includes Bojan's utmost respect for the French legend. 

"When we were teammates, he’s part of my history," Bojan told MLSsoccer.com last week. "I have really good memories, he’s always going to be one of the greatest players and people I’ve met. He really helped me at the beginning of my career. That’s one part, but now it’s a new chapter we started this year. We started with really good impressions, we want to build a good thing here in Montreal. I’m happy to have Thierry as a coach.”

From the time he was nine-years-old, Bojan was taught the importance of retaining possession in accordance with Barcelona's world-renowned style. The beauty of soccer as it's meant to be played, as he sees it. He remains an ideologue of the Barcelona way.

“I hate the teams that play five at the back," Bojan said. "I hate the teams that want to win the game with 20% possession, you know? I respect that, but I hate that. It’s the game, I understand that, there a lot of different ways to play. But the one I love, the one I feel is to have 70- or 80% of the ball.

“For instance, these days we’re running to keep fit. But I don’t like running without the ball, you know? When I was young, I was dreaming to play football. That means to have the ball, enjoy the ball. That’s the way I see football!”

Henry fit into the Barcelona style seamlessly, already one of the most elegant players on the planet after eight seasons at Arsenal under Arsene Wenger, whose teams also routinely hoarded the ball.

So early his tenure with Impact, which consists of a grand total of five competitive matches, even Henry admitted he's still laying the foundational tenants that he wants from his teams. It's more about work rate and fight than passing patterns for now. 

“I started playing at Barcelona when I was 9," Bojan said. "Everything I learned in football was in the Barcelona academy. It’s the best academy in the world, with all respect to the other ones. It’s a very special philosophy, a very special mentality. It’s not applicable to a lot of teams. In my career of all the teams I played, maybe only Barcelona and Ajax had the mentality that I like."

Bojan (center) celebrates a goal last season | USA Today Sports

After leaving Barcelona, Bojan bounced around Europe with stops at Stoke City in England, Mainz in Germany, Ajax in the Netherlands and others. Along the way, he says the foundation he received at Barcelona helped him adjust to more pragmatic tactics. 

“It’s like when you learn a language," Bojan said. "If you learn English but you go to Spain or France, it’s difficult, you know? You need to understand the other things. That’s why I think I have a really good base and experience from Barcelona, it’s the best one, but there a lot of different mentalities to play football.”

And he's happy to have a manager with a similar wealth of experiences.

“It’s good for the league to have coaches like Thierry, like Frank de Boer [in Atlanta]," Bojan said. "They have different mentalities. They played in good teams with the ball. I’m sure Thierry loves playing with the ball.”

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