The earnest question of whether Lionel Messi could do it on a cold, wet night in Stoke has persisted as a cliched joke for a few years now. So when Barcelona surprisingly sold Bojan, a 24-year-old once hyped as the next Messi, to Stoke City, the only explanation was that Messi personally asked him to go there on an expedition to see if the conditions in this mythical place are as challenging as the fables suggest. This is Bojan’s seventh letter back to his friend.
I can now report with absolute certainty that the stories we have heard about Stoke and its mystical powers are all true. For I have now seen them with my own eyes! And I would be lying if I said I wasn’t afraid.
It was a cold, wet Tuesday night — just like the ones school children only dare to whisper about back home — and Chelsea had come to face us in the Number One Capital Cup. I could not play because I made the mistake of telling Charlie Adam that I had a blister on my toe and he decided to try and pop it by stomping on my toe as hard as he could. This remedy was both unwanted and unsuccessful.
Anyway, as soon as Chelsea walked onto the pitch, they looked as if they were under a wicked sorcerer’s spell. I must admit that I have not watched Chelsea play very much this season because I have been trying very hard to avoid Charlie Adam at all costs, but I can only assume that as reigning Premier League champions coached by Jose the Horrible, they probably hadn’t lost more than one or, at the absolute most, two matches all season.
This was a Chelsea performance unlike any that you or I have ever seen, Leo. The cold, wet, Stoke Tuesday night toyed with them in ways I never thought possible. In the 33rd minute, Diego Costa, the beast we once thought was a thousand year old dragon, was hurt so badly that he had to go to a hospital. A hospital, Leo! Can you imagine an immortal dragon in a hospital? Well that’s something that happens in Stoke.
We scored the first goal of the match in the second half and I could tell that Chelsea were growing frustrated with the hex that was destroying them. They tried to fight it, perhaps using The Force of Obi-John Mikel Kenobi, and even scored an equalizer just before full time. This only angered whatever dark forces are summoned by the dreadful midweek weather pattern.
It seemed like Chelsea might overcome the unseen when The Bard of Stoke was sent off, leaving us to play extra time a man down, but this was just a tool to frustrate Chelsea further as they could not score against 10 men over the additional 30 minutes. Then came penalties.
Chelsea’s goalkeeper was powerless to stop our shots even though he had endured the trials of Stoke for years before joining the champions.
And then, after nine successful penalties in a row, Eden Hazard, the greatest footballer in all the land, was sapped of his skills and his shot was saved.
He couldn’t do it on a cold, wet, Tuesday night in Stoke. Not even him. That’s how serious this is!
It would be easy for me to abandon this quest and come home to you and Pique and sunshine and happiness, but I will not do that. I have come too far already and I will not turn back now even though I know it will only get colder. And wetter. And darker. And Tuesdayer.
Wish me luck, Leo. I will need it.
Yours in bravery,
Previously in Letters from Bojan: A triumphant return