FC Barcelona: Why it may be time for Ivan Rakitic to say goodbye
“How does my younger daughter feel when you take away her toy? She's sad. I feel the same way. They took my ball away, so I'm sad,”
The 31-year-old had been a mainstay at the heart of Barca's midfield since he joined the club from Sevilla in 2014. However, his minutes have reduced drastically this term, as he has started just once so far, playing second fiddle to the likes of Frenkie de Jong, Arthur Melo, and Sergio Busquets.
It's been a huge fall from being the most featured player in Ernesto Valverde's Barca as well as playing a crucial role in Croatia's fairy tale run to the World Cup final in 2018.
In his time at Barca, he has scored a total of 34 goals in 278 games and delivered 38 assists so far. The Croatian has also had a trophy-laden time at Barca, with a Champions League medal in 2015, four Spanish Championships, and a host of other titles.
However, the Catalan club is aggressively building for the future under the watchful eye of Eric Abidal, and that has seen highly-rated youngster, Frenkie de Jong, arrive for a massive €75 million from Ajax in the summer.
The Dutchman has been a mainstay in the Barca midfield alongside Arthur and the veteran Busquests, playing the most midfield minutes with 16 games under his belt so far.
The 22-year-old has taken to Barcelona like a fish to water, adapting to life in Catalonia fairly quickly, with impressive performances each week. He has played in various positions across midfield, with Valverde not shying away from utilising the young maestro's versatility to the fullest.
The youngster started as a centre back before moving to midfield, and that has seen him inculcate the Johan Cruyff total football orientation, giving him an amazing ability to play in all sections of the midfield with uncanny positional understanding.
Arthur arrived a year before de Jong and has also been impressive thus far. A certain Lionel Messi has even likened the young Brazillian to Barca legend Xavi Hernandez, as he once said:
“He reminds me of him, he has a very similar style, he plays short passes and doesn’t lose the ball,”
The 23-year-old has been christened the next Xavi, and although those are enormous shoes to fill, he has posted some very impressive performances so far and seems like a player hewn out of the famous La Masia academy.
Busquests, on the other hand, is an absolute Barcelona legend, and certainly one of the greatest holding midfielders in football history. He is renowned for his superb ability to read the play, as well as his uncanny technical ability. Indeed Busquets has been a mainstay in the Barca midfield for over a decade, and he is to Barca defensively what Lionel Messi is to the Catalan club offensively.
The 31-year-old is the glue that holds the midfield together, and the young duo of Arthur and de Jong have often looked lost without the veteran, as his absence in certain games this term has stuck out like a sore thumb. Barca has lost three times in LaLiga this term, and the common thread in those defeats was the absence of Busquets. The Spaniard is certainly an indispensable cog in the Barca midfield.
Barca plays a possession-based system, and it requires midfielders who aren't susceptible to being pressed constantly and can play short incisive passes, dribble their way past opponents, and control the tempo of the game with distinction.
At the height of their powers, Barcelona had the legendary Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta calling the shots in midfield. However, after the duo moved on, Barca suffered in that department, and Lionel Messi had to drop deep into midfield to create opportunities, taking him away from the crucial final third for long spells.
Busquets also had to play a little higher up, trying to play as a regista in the absence of Xavi, and this often left the team to suffer during transitions to a defensive phase.
A few players have auditioned for those roles, with the likes of Denis Suarez, Andre Gomes, Paulinho, and Rakitic himself failing to make the cut.
However, de Jong and Arthur fit the bill perfectly, as their budding chemistry rolls back the years to the Xavi-Iniesta era, with Arthur maintaining the tempo of games in the regista role, allowing his Dutch partner the freedom to command play deep in enemy territory.
In 2015, La Blaugrana won their last Champions League trophy, but amid the fanfare, there was a tinge of concern that the club had departed from its core philosophy of possession-based football. Rakitic was an instrumental player that season, as his more direct style of play favoured the system deployed by Luis Enrique.
Unlike traditional Barca midfielders, the Croatian is more suited for counter-attacking, as he is more likely to pop a shot from yards out instead of patiently recycling possession in the final third till an opening occurs. Rakitic favours frequent through balls and long crossfield passes, a risk-laden style that's more likely to turn over possession to the opposite team.
It's been four years since Barca's last UCL triumph, and the unprecedented success of Real Madrid in those years has necessitated a return to the core principles which made the club uber-successful in the Pep Guardiola years.
Rakitic has been amazing for Barca, with his style being key to garnering results despite shunning the essence of La Blaugrana. With Barca returning to its roots, the midfielder no longer fit the bill with the club looking to La Masia graduates like Carles Alena and the aforementioned de Jong and Arthur to provide the much-needed spark.
Rumours of a January exit for Rakitic continues to make the rounds, and with his assertion of discontent in the interview, there may be fire to the smoking rumours. The Croatian is not in Valverde's immediate plans, and with the arrival of Arthur and Frenkie, he is unquestionably not the future of the Barca midfield.
The Croatian starting regularly would hamper the current positive growth trajectory, influence, and budding lethal partnership of Arthur and de Jong. Also, Busquests is an indispensable member of the Barca midfield triumvirate at the moment.
Rakitic's current situation is logical, for although he has represented the Catalan outfit with aplomb, it may be time for him to seek pastures new, as he is a spent force in the current scheme of things.Modified 21 Dec 2019, 01:01 IST