Ivan Rakitic has long been in the doghouse of Culés online. That sentiment doesn’t persist as much at the Camp Nou, where the Croatian is still treated like the faithful steward he has been to the club since he arrived back in 2014. He is arguably one of the 50 greatest players in FC Barcelona’s storied history.
Since joining the Blaugrana, Rakitic has made more than 200 appearances and has played every role there is to play through the seasons. For Luis Enrique, he played as a ball-shuttling midfielder who would get involved in the attack with direct balls or long shots. His game transformed under Ernesto Valverde to something less suitable to the eye, but he did paint over many of Barça’s defensive frailties over the last few seasons.
At the start of this campaign, Valverde (or maybe a directive from higher) put Rakitic on the bench to give Frenkie de Jong ample time to earn his spot in the midfield. Carles Aleñá even got an audition, as ill-fated as it was, over Rakitic. Yet, when the transfer window closed and the Croatian was still hanging around, he moved right back into the line-up and made 41 appearances this season.
That said, he did have a reduced role, which is why Culés were probably less harsh on him this season. He only started 42% of La Liga matches and 43% of Champions League fixtures. That reduced role gave hope that the transition to a younger midfield led by de Jong and eventually Riqui Puig is closer than we think.
But the problem that remains is the smoldering remains of his high wages and little resale value. The wages are an issue; Barcelona has the highest percentage of their bill taken up by wages of any club in the world and Rakitic is certainly part of that problem. However, through the lens of a transfer fee, 10 million euros back to Sevilla at 32-years-old is more than fair since he was bought from Sevilla in 2014 for 18 million euros and Barcelona had him in his prime.
Sure, the club should have tried harder to sell him to PSG or Inter Milan for the outrageous amounts that were being floated about (believe them with more grains of salt than a soft pretzel). But to think that a player will choose to step aside to see a younger teammate try to take his spot at FC Barcelona is ludicrous. If that younger player was good enough to take his minutes, than the manager had to be brave enough to make that decision. The player is culpable for his behavior with that decision, and Rakitic’s professionalism was brought into question a few times. Yet, from everything we’ve always seen of the Croatian, I tend to believe that any dissent was also blown out of proportion.
For many reasons, a move away from the Camp Nou never materialized for Rakitic, but now is the time, for both the club and the player. His deal expires next summer, so selling a 32-year-old on an expiring contract for 10 million euros isn’t a bad piece of business. He was an important player for Sevilla and one of the best midfielders in La Liga when he left the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, and I think he would fit in well in Julen Lopetegui’s system as a do-everything midfielder in a lesser role.
For Barcelona, Rakitic’s minutes finally have players who are more than ready to take them. de Jong has his own minutes, but Puig, Aleñá, and Pedri all deserve the time that the Croatian was given this season. This tumultuous year may not end the way fans or the players want, but sending Rakitic off into the sunset to a club that will welcome him back with open arms makes sense for parties. Add to that his accomplishments in a Blaugrana uniform and the initial fee that the club paid for his services, and I hope that Culés will eventually turn around on the Croatian’s time at the club.
Dan Hilton is an American journalist, broadcaster, and current Editor-in-Chief of BarcaBlog. Extensive work as a play-by-play broadcaster, producer behind the scenes, and quite average player in his younger years has given him a well-rounded and informative perspective on the sport. Alongside BarcaBlog founder Francesc, Dan started The Barcelona Podcast in 2017.