Bojan Krkic was widely called the next Lionel Messi when he made his debut with Barcelona at the age of 17.

Krkic bounced around to Roma, AC Milan and Ajax before joining Stoke City in 2014. Krkic has since been loaned out to Mainz 05 and Alaves.

Krkic opened up to Sid Lowe about his issues with anxiety.

“It all happened very quick,” Bojan said. “In footballing terms it went well but not personally. I had to live with that and people say my career hasn’t been as expected. When I came up, it was ‘new Messi’. Well, yes, if you compare me with Messi … but what career did you expect? And there are lots of things that people didn’t know. I didn’t go to the [2008] European Championship because of anxiety issues but we said I was going on holiday. I was called up for Spain against France, my international debut, and it was said that I had gastroenteritis when I had an anxiety attack. But no one wants to talk about that. Football’s not interested.”

At 17 my life changed entirely. I went to the Under-17 World Cup in July and no one knew me; when I came back, I couldn’t even walk down the road. A few days later I made my debut against Osasuna, three or four days later I play in the Champions League, then I score against Villarreal, then Spain called [in February 2008]. And it was all good but your head fills until there’s a moment that your body says ‘stop’.

“Anxiety affects everyone differently. I spoke to someone who felt like their heart was beating 1,000 times a minute. With me, it was a dizziness, feeling sick, constant, 24 hours a day,” Bojan says, signalling his head. “There was a pressure here, powerful, never going away. I was fine when I went into the dressing room for the France game but I started to feel this powerful dizziness, overwhelmed, panicked, and they lay me on the physio’s bench. That was the first time but I had nasty episodes like that again. There’s medicine, psychological treatment to overcome the barriers you’ve erected, the fear. It started in February and it lasted until the summer. When the Euros came I decided I couldn’t go, that I had to isolate myself.

“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?’”