The rise and rise of Rakitic

When Barcelona signed Ivan Rakitic from Sevilla last summer, it was seen as a shrewd acquisition – a snip, even – at €20m. The Croatian had just enjoyed a barnstorming campaign with the Andalucians, his performances being crowned with the Europa League, and his arrival pleased many Catalan fans in light of what he added to their La Liga rivals.

The 27-year-old’s versatility and dynamism means he can easily alternate between attacking midfield and defensive midfield, but his main strength lies with his passing. Whether it be first assist at Camp Nou back in August or his outrageous pass in last season’s Europa League final against Benfica, the former Schalke man’s distribution has been breathtaking at times.

In addition, Rakitic’s through balls provide lethal incisions into teams that adopt a rigid defensive line, thus making them easier to break down. His ability to pick out any teammate making a run, whether it’s from short or long distance, is undoubtedly an asset for Barca.

Rakitic has been a virtual ever-present for his side this season, appearing in 32 League games and starting 23. In the Champions League, he has played in 11 of Barca’s 12 games, starting 10 of them. Overall, the midfielder has played a key role this season for the Catalans, always striving to be positive on the ball, looking forward and seeking to create chances for his strikers.

He has also weighed in with seven goals and eight assists this term, despite no longer being considered his team’s main playmaker, but more importantly he has been consistent throughout the campaign, allowing Coach Luis Enrique to trust him in important games – whether domestically or in Europe.

Cesc Fabregas, Rakitic’s predecessor last season, regularly faltered at the turn of the year, a time when a player needs to show resolve in the pursuit of trophies. Fortunately for the Croat, he has stepped up to the mark, and a starring role in Saturday’s Champions League final would be highly deserved.

What’s exciting is that this is only Rakitic’s first season at Barcelona. His best is yet to come.