I hope it is not long after he leaves that Ivan Rakitic is fully rehabilitated as a Barcelona star. It looks like he is off in January and that is the right thing for both player and club given where we are now. It is frankly undignified for a four-time champion of La Liga, Champions League winner and World Cup finalist of such quality to have become a bit part at just 31 years of age. He isn’t an all-time great but give the man his considerable due.
“They’ve taken my ball away and I’m sad,” he said somewhat oddly comparing himself to his daughter when she had her toys confiscated. But it’s nice to see he’s taking an active role in his kids’ upbringing.
Barca don’t want him and haven’t since they signed Frenkie de Jong. Last summer Rakitic declared, surely in hope rather than expectation, that he didn’t see the Dutchman’s arrival as a sign that he was destined for the exit door. Ivan, they paid €75m for the most sought-after young midfielder around – what did you really expect? Barca’s central midfield options already included Sergio Busquets, Arthur Melo, Sergi Roberto, Arturo Vidal as well as the youngsters Carles Aleña and Riqui Puig. How many central midfielders does one club need? Unless they’re Juventus, of course. The Camp Nou wage bill is astronomical, even compared to rival mega-clubs and someone has to go. It is a test for the club’s hierarchy to manage the situation with class.
I would forgive Rakitic for thinking he still has a more significant role to play than his 205 minutes of league football so far this season. Compare that to de Jong’s 942. Rakitic has been used less than Busquets (726), Arthur (576) or Vidal (318), and Sergi Roberto has played a lot more (823) between his positions.
Vidal’s relative prominence would be a source of frustration if I were in Rakitic’s boots. The Chilean is older and not paid significantly less. There are differences between their games however; Vidal adds physicality and under Ernesto Valverde has played in an oddly advanced role. The most astute criticism of Rakitic from a Barca fan I’ve seen is that when put under pressure by an energetic opposition he tends to resort to sideways or backwards passes. Barca’s Achilles Heel is being bullied by aggressively pressing opponents in away games, though the Croatian isn’t the sole cause of that.
The stick Rakitic has received from some Barca fans online is disappointing, but hardly surprising. There are lots of Barca fans around and in any group that large some will inevitably be unreasonable. I suspect they think they’re doing the club a favour, helping them force out an unwanted player. The danger is that Barcelona is developing a reputation for having a vocal and hostile online minority, and that’s not cool.
There will be no shortage of takers for a player of Rakitic’s experience and ability. It would be a significant market failure if he doesn’t move in January. Juve are down to their last ten central midfielders and reports have suggested Atletico Madrid are keen to get him. This week a Premier League club has had a £13m offer refused: good, because that’s less than Bournemouth paid Club Brugge for Arnaut Groeneveld. Barca apparently want €35m but with the player actively seeking a move and his 32nd birthday looming they would need multiple clubs to be in the chase to get that sort of money.
In time Rakitic’s contribution will be appropriately recognised by all or at least most Barca fans. His first season was his peak, as Luis Enrique’s side sorted out their teething problems to sweep to the Treble with the Croatia ghosting past Paul Pogba to score early in the Champions League final victory over Juve. That was Xavi’s last season in Spain, the end of an era perhaps and whoever took the Barcelona midfield forward from there was likely to suffer by comparison.