Ivan Rakitic is heading back to Sevilla and it seems like public opinion of the Croatian has come full circle.
He was bought for 18 million euros in 2014 alongside Marc-André ter Stegen from Borussia Mönchengladbach and Liverpool’s superstar forward Luis Suárez, though that deal was done earlier. When he was signed, Xavi was slowing down, but Rakitic was seen as the like-for-like successor.
Less than a year later, with Xavi on the bench, Rakitic scored in the Champions League final to cap off a treble for FC Barcelona. Many point to that treble as the catalyst for destructive behavior in the subsequent seasons, but the decisions of the board are not the fault of Rakitic.
At his best, the Croatian was never spoken about as an essential member of Barcelona’s team because it still included Andres Iniesta, Neymar, Dani Alves, and one final year of Xavi. Rakitic could be spoken about as a Javier Mascherano-type, a player that would help the team win and do things for the crest without the personal glory.
After six season, 13 titles, 36 goals, and 40 assists, it’s hard to argue that Rakitic didn’t give what he had to the crest. Yet, as his role on the team remained the same but many of those headline grabbing stars left the club, he was pushed more into the realm of ‘important figure’ by the media because he already was one.
It was the 2017-18 season where the relationship with fans online turned sour on Rakitic. It must be said – the Camp Nou never stopped cheering him. Those who saw the Croatian in person always appreciated what they saw in front of them. As Ernesto Valverde made Barcelona into something more defensive than Culers were accustomed to, Rakitic became the embodiment of that change. As the product on the field moved away from what Culers wanted to see, Rakitic’s swashbuckling direct balls and runs into the attack became 15-yard passes back to Piqué and Busquets. Rakitic changed his game as Barcelona was changing its game, and he became of a symbol of the change that some fans hated to watch.
That summer in the 2018 World Cup, Rakitic made the final with Croatia. Culers were again reminded how much of a ‘big game player’ he is. Problematically, making it so far in the World Cup also meant that he played more than 70 matches in the calendar year.
For a player with a game that necessitates a high motor and incredible amount of stamina, putting those miles on his legs was never going to have a positive outcome. Since then, there have been good performances when the team is playing well, but rarely was Rakitic the standout player on a day when the squad wasn’t at their best. Unlike the stars that he replaced, the ‘big game player’ was getting criticized for only having big games when the rest of the team did too.
At the start of last season, Valverde tried to force him out (though it was probably the board pulling the strings). Since he still had time left on his contract, he refused to leave. Once it was clear that he wasn’t going anywhere and the squad was severely lacking depth, he returned under Valverde and Setién to finish out his Barcelona career on the field.
Now that he is heading back to Sevilla for 1.5 million euros with variables that could amass a little more money, Rakitic is again being seen the way we probably should have looked at him the whole time. As a terrific footballer who served the club well. I think he’s a top 50 player ever at the club.
Some point to him not being sold to PSG when rumors reported that he was worth 90 million euros, but I’m not sure those reports were completely accurate. More likely, the club was trying to use those rumors to apply pressure on the player to look elsewhere and give the fans ammunition to distance themselves from the player. Half of that equation worked – at least online – because while some fans demanded he leave, others fans, especially those in Catalonia, continued to support him. More importantly, he still chose to stay.
Rakitic’s exit isn’t about the transfer fee either; it’s about getting the Croatian off the wage bill. That’s the overwhelming positive of seeing him leave now. Yet, it’s upsetting to know that Rakitic will get a proper farewell (albeit without fans), and Messi may not. But has often been the case in Rakitic’s Barcelona career, that’s not really about him.
Rakitic is the first player to leave FC Barcelona in a summer that should have seen a ton of movement – but the Messi saga has left the club paralyzed. Francesc and I discussed what needs to happen with this Messi business on the latest edition of The Barcelona Podcast.
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.