Barcelona might not realise what they have in Ivan Rakitic until he’s gone.
Before joining Barcelona in the summer of 2014, Ivan Rakitic’s mantlepiece looked somewhat bare. He’d won a Swiss Cup during his time at Basel early in his career and was part of the Sevilla team that lifted the Europa League in the 2013/14 season, but for the most part the Croatian’s neck hadn’t had many medals hung around it.
This is something that has certainly changed over the past five years. Rakitic has been a mainstay for one of the most successful periods in Barcelona’s history, winning three La Liga titles, four Copa del Rey titles, a Champions League title, a European Super Cup and a Club World Cup. His mantlepiece, if his Catalan villa allows for one, is now rather cluttered.
And yet Rakitic has always been a divisive figure for those who frequent Camp Nou. Many point out that the Croatian is one of the most undervalued players in the European game right now. However, some others argue Rakitic was a downgrade on Xavi Hernandez and latterly Andres Iniesta, only getting by on the strength of his teammates.
Of course, the latter opinion is not one held by Ernesto Valverde. In fact, the Barcelona boss has been criticised for relying too heavily on Rakitic, with the Croatian playing almost every game of the season, including early round Copa del Rey games against lower league opponents, up until a few weeks ago. Valverde only rotated Rakitic out of the line-up when it became clear just how desperate he was for a rest.
Now, it seems that Rakitic could be on the brink of leaving Barcelona, with the Catalan club reportedly reluctant to hand the Croatian a new contract. This has alerted a number of potential suitors around Europe. The usual suspects, the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United, have been mentioned, but Inter Milan seem to be leading the pack.
Inter have sought a big name signing for quite some time. Last summer, they made an offer for Rakitic’s Croatia teammate Luka Modric and were believed to be close to getting their man. Rakitic would fit the bill and would improve Luciano Spalletti’s team, and with Barcelona wavering on whether or not to offer the 30-year-old it might well be realistic to do a deal.
Barca may argue that they already have a replacement for Rakitic on the way. A deal was sealed for the transfer of Frenkie de Jong in January, with the highly-rated Dutch midfielder set to arrive at Camp Nou this summer. Adrien Rabiot could also de Jong in making the move to Barcelona as the French midfielder’s future at Paris Saint-Germain gets sorted out.
If that materialises and Rabiot does indeed make the move to Barca alongside de Jong, following on from the arrival of Arthur last summer and not to mention the emergence of Carles Alena this season, what would the role for Rakitic be at the club? If he doesn’t leave for Inter, or somewhere else, he could find his game time squeezed.
But should Barca be seeking to replace Rakitic in the first place? The Croatian might now be over the hump of his 30th birthday, but he remains an influential part of a team that is still on course for a Liga, Copa and Champions League treble. Perhaps most importantly, he is a trusted component of Lionel Messi’s supply line, and so much at Camp Nou comes down to ensuring Messi is kept fit and firing.
Rakitic isn’t Xavi and he isn’t Iniesta either. But that is no indictment. Xavi and Iniesta were among the best football has ever produced, possibly the two best players in Spanish football history. The criticism Rakitic has faced as a Barcelona player is hangover of an era that raised expectations to an unrealistic level at the club. The Camp Nou fans might not appreciate what they have until he leaves for Italy this summer.
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