It has been a tough three weeks for Barça fans following Bayern’s 8-2 demolition of the Catalan side. With the embarrassment of the loss itself and the Messi Saga that has come since then, it has been a dark time for Culés all over the world.
However, on Tuesday, for a lot of fans, there was at least a brief moment of respite. Unfortunately, for Ivan Rakitić, it was the confirmation of his move back to his former club, Sevilla, that was met with both delight and relief amongst a large section of the FC Barcelona fan base.
After 6 years as a mainstay in the Barcelona midfield, the Croatian has finally sealed his move back to the Andalusian club for an initial fee of just €1.5 million, with potential for a further €9 million in add ons. Rakitić is heading back to the club where he spent a hugely successful three seasons, where he netted 32 times and provided 41 assists in 149 matches, whilst also captaining the club to Europa League glory in the 2013-14 season, putting in a Man of the Match performance in the final.
So, six years later, as Rakitić prepares for his return to the Ramón Sánchez Pizchuán, it’s time to weigh up the positives and negatives of this transfer for both clubs and for Rakitić himself.
A necessary sale for Barça?
No matter what your opinion of Ivan Rakitić is, it is impossible to deny his influence and success at the club, especially in the first few seasons after his arrival. He took to the Blaugrana’s midfield with total ease, helping to temporarily replace the ageing Xavi alongside Sergio Busquets and Andrés Iniesta. 310 matches later, Rakitić is leaving the Catalan capital, after scoring 36 goals, registering 40 assists and helping Barça to 13 trophies. With his best days behind him on the pitch, are Barça making a good move by selling him?
“We have money. The problem is the player wage bill”
– Josep Maria Bartomeu.
Barça’s wage bill has become a huge problem. Throughout the Bartomeu/Rossell years, Barça has continued to haemorrhage money due to unnecessary contract renewals and salary increases.
This is where the first major benefit comes for the Blaugrana. After being rewarded with a contract extension in 2017, Rakitić was earning a lucrative €8 million per year according to Onda Cero, with other sources claiming the Croat was earning up to €12 million per year. If (and that is a big if) what Bartomeu claims is true, then clearing this €8 million from the wage bill is a good start when looking forward to the promised regeneration of the squad.
Coupled with the seemingly inevitable departures of Arturo Vidal and Luis Suarez, the sales of these three players could see the club save around €40 million per year in wages – which if used wisely, could be very useful.
The other benefits of selling Ivan Rakitić are simple: Does Ivan Rakitić improve the Barcelona midfield? No. Does Ivan Rakitić’s presence at the club take game time away from promising young midfielders? Yes.
As previously stated, nobody can deny the midfielder’s impact when initially signing for the club. He ticked all the boxes. However, over the last three years, he turned from a hero to a villain in the eyes of a lot of Barça fans. His initial sharpness, consistency and big-game performances, such as the 2015 Champions League Final, had turned to inconsistent, lethargic, game-slowing slogs.
This along with his off-field antics (which we will get into later) helped the Barça fans turn him into the embodiment of their frustration with the club – entitlement, unprofessionalism and indifference.
Is Rakitić still good enough to be in Barcelona?
For a lot of Culés, this is one of the images that will be remembered longest with regards to Rakitić’s time at Barca. A defining moment in the Anfield capitulation in 2019. This encapsulates why Rakitić is not good enough to star in the midfield at Barcelona any more and has not been for a few seasons now.
Rather than turning and driving into space, or even picking out the simple, forward pass to launch a counter-attack, Rakitić instead played a tame, easy pass to Jordi Alba (blue arrow) which was intercepted by Trent Alexander-Arnold, who went on to provide the assist to Gini Wijnaldum, making it 2-0 and piling the pressure on the Catalans – we all know what followed after.
It is pretty obvious what a forward-thinking, hungry midfielder would do in a situation like this. And whilst it is too late for Arthur Melo, fortunately for Riqui Puig, and Barça fans alike, it will be him in these positions from now on.
Hopefully, the departure of Rakitić to Sevilla is also the departure of the slow, reactive, conservative play which has plagued the Barça midfield for far too long now.
Are there any negatives to the sale of Rakitić?
There is no doubt this deal makes sense and has been a long time coming. There are very few negatives from the club’s perspective. Although, the obvious headscratcher is the price tag. Despite the fact that Rakitić only had one year left on his contract, €1.5 million is a very modest fee.
However, there is another layer as to why this transfer fee is such a poor return on investment. Just two years before being sold for next to nothing, Rakitić and Croatia enjoyed a miraculous World Cup campaign, where they were runners up in Russia. As a response, Paris Saint-Germain offered Barça approximately €80 million for the Croatian’s signature. Barça rejected this bid. This is just another example of the Board’s poor management and lack of sporting vision and project.
It is not just Barça’s balance sheets that have missed out, but also other players that have been victims of this poor choice not to cash in on the Croatian in 2018. Could Carles Aleñá be a bigger part of the midfield? Would Arthur have been forced out of the club? Would it have taken so long to integrate Riqui Puig into the first team?
Will Rakitić return to Sevilla as a conquering hero?
Just like when he left, Sevilla are the current holders of the Europa League, a competition that has become truly synonymous with Los Palanganas. And as the former captain and idol of so many Sevilla fans, the announcement of Rakitić’s return was met with a great reception. Despite leaving the club back in 2014, the Croatian’s affinity to the Sevilla has not been forgotten, with the player’s love for the Andalusian’s clear for all to see.
What is Sevilla really getting in Rakitić?
For just €1.5 million, along with the player taking a considerable wage cut, the transfer is very low risk for both the club and the player. But, with his love for the club, the Croatian will be desperate to avoid becoming just a nostalgia act – he will be motivated to make an impact and revive his on-field career.
Sevilla is bringing back a serial winner, and should he rise to the occasion, a potentially solid player, who can lead by example. One thing that Sevilla fans ought to know, is that the player returning is of a very different style to the player who left in 2014.
The Rakitić that Sevilla fans knew was a devastating number 10, making marauding runs, with creativity and a huge engine, still with the ability to play slightly deeper. At the Camp Nou, he was deployed as an interior in a midfield three, but as his legs continue to slow, perhaps a move into the centre of a midfield three, a system Lopetegui is keen on, could be more suitable to the Croatian’s talents.
This time around, Rakitić will be offering something different, however, all parties involved will hope that he can recapture his form of old and adapt to a new style, and potentially, a new position.
No drawbacks for Sevilla, right?
Sevilla’s midfield does not overly rely on youth, with the four central midfielders who played in their Europa League final win, averaging nearly 31 years of age. Despite the move of Éver Banega to Al-Shabab, Ivan Rakitić will join the likes of Fernando, Roque Mesa and Franco Vázquez as midfielders who are 31 years old or older.
This begs the question: will the reintegration of Rakitić into the Sevilla midfield come at the cost of less game time for the likes of Óliver Torres, who will be keen to push on with his career, as well as the club’s young midfielders? We will have to wait and see how Rakitić is used by Lopetegui before the answer becomes clear.
The dream move for Ivan?
Looking forward, the Croatian has seemingly made a wise decision. He has left the potentially sinking ship that is FC Barcelona, to return to the club closest to his heart, on and off the field. With his wife being from Seville, Rakitić got married in the city and the first of his two children was born during his first stint in the Andalusian capital.
As well as clearly being at home in the city, Rakitić will still be running out in the Champions League next season, making this move even more appealing, as well as getting out of the toxic environment that currently surrounds the Camp Nou.
One regret that Ivan Rakitić may have about his transfer, is how it ended at Barça. Did he ruin his legacy amongst the fans? Despite being an ever-popular figure with the Catalan journalists, whom he would often give exclusive interviews to over the years, his popularity within the Barça fan base has somewhat plummeted.
Whether this is due to his comments on the prospect of sharing a locker room with homosexual teammates; his partying the day after Anfield, or diving into a swimming pool on live television to celebrate Sevilla’s Europa League win. This is all on top of the decline of his performances.
In some parts of the fan base, he had become a controversial figure in the Barça squad. A shame, considering his undeniably electric start to life with the Blaugrana.
The transfer is no doubt a low-risk move for all the parties involved, and if Rakitić can regain his World Cup form, it could prove to be a genius bit of business from Sevilla. For Barça, it’s a move that has cost them in money and in developing the next generation of Barça midfielders, however, it is a welcome relief on the wage bill.
So, how will Ivan Rakitić be remembered? Will it be as the man who filled the gap left by Xavi? Or will it be as the man who caused so many fans irritation with his performances in the second half of his Barça career, as well as his off-field actions? Ultimately, that is up to the individual Culé to decide for themselves.