As Ivan Rakitić has sealed a move to Sevilla, his former club, let’s take a look at his career at Barça, where he spent six seasons as a starter.
Succeeding in football is the best feeling ever. Excelling at one of the biggest clubs in the world is a whole different story, however. In those clubs, you can go from hero to zero in the matter of seasons if you are not careful enough. One must play well in every game, which is an unrealistic demand, and, along with that, help the team with goals and assists if they play further up the pitch.
Barcelona has a history with great midfielders who were not always the most prolific in terms of goals and assists, but who are now in every conversation concerning the greatest ever. The culés also have a history with turning on their players. From Cesc Fàbregas to Ousmane Dembélé passing by Luis Suárez, who is currently mistreated by the board, and Ivan Rakitić, many have had an unfair treatment for many reasons. To hate on someone because of injuries or bad form is sad and turning on a legend because he has had a steady decline is childish. The last name on this list has had a severe treatment from the fans and is now out of the club for good.
The story of Ivan Rakitić is the tale of a blond boy from Basel who had to battle his way to the top, passing by Schalke and Sevilla to achieve untouchable status at Barça. The Croatian has spent the best part of the last decade defying the odds in Spain. After becoming captain of Sevilla in a few seasons where he won a Europa League title, Rakitić jumped ship in 2014 to become Xavi Hernández‘s replacement in Barça’s trophyless 2014 squad. It’s fair to say he fit like a glove in Luis Enrique’s system, playing as a shuttler and covering Lionel Messi’s and Dani Alves’ runs forward and always having a rocket in him.
In 2015, Rakitić entered the best midfielder in the world conversation as he destroyed everyone on the defensive side or with his insane right foot that could break a net. While he wasn’t the classical Barça player, Luis Enrique knew how to use his midfielder to the point where he didn’t need to touch the ball for more than a few seconds before releasing it perfectly towards a teammate or the net.
Even if Rakitić’s time at Barça was up now, he has been a magnificent servant for the club | Photo by Alex Caparrós via Getty Images
This 2014/15 was Rakitić’s best at Camp Nou, and he will be forever remembered as the one who opened the scoring against Juventus in the Champions League final, with his shot nestling into the net after Andrés Iniesta’s magic footwork. In the following campaign, Rakitić was still an unmissable addition to the squad as he had another insane course behind the MSN front three. This time, he was more attacking and scored many rockets, as per.
Barça’s 2015/16 ended with mixed feelings as the Catalans tanked it a bit after Zinedine Zidane’s appointment at Real Madrid and the blaugrana outfit lost the Clásico and the Champions League quarter-final against Atlético de Madrid. The squad only finished with a one-point advantage against Zidane’s men in La Liga. Still, Rakitić was one of the reasons Barcelona had such a comfortable advantage going into this lost Clásico, and he began to tire out a bit as it was clear Luis Enrique overused his Croat star in midfield.
After 2016, Ivan Rakitić was untouchable in Barça’s squad and played every game of the season, even if it meant he would lose efficacity. It was in 2016/17 where he showed glimpses of what was to come with some iffy displays all year long covered by some superb goals like that one in the 3–2 Clásico win at the Santiago Bernabéu. The 2016/17 term was meant to be a warning sign, as if Rakitić was beginning to signal that he was not a robot and, sometimes, the bench was a decent option to get him fresher and more prepared for the next games.
It was around this time where interest in the midfielder increased, and Barcelona could have made big bucks on him, but decided to opt against selling their star man, understandably. The next season was the symbol of overuse as Ivan Rakitić did not have a minute to breathe as he went in as the player with the most minutes between everyone in the World Cup. A World Cup where he excelled and reached the final as a star in Croatia’s midfield, battering Leo Messi’s Argentina squad en route to the final.
This is where, after three quarter-final exits and humiliation in Rome in 2018, Barcelona should have possibly cashed in on their midfielder, who was in Paris Saint-Germain’s books to strengthen their squad. Rumours of exorbitant fees began and, if they were right, Barça should have sold Rakitić, first for financial reasons and then for the football.
Now Rakitić will be heading back to Sevilla, where he shone between 2011 and 2014 | Photo by Cristina Quicler / AFP via Getty Images
After 2018, nothing was ever the same for Rakitić, where Ernesto Valverde continued the trend of overusing his player at the detriment of the squad, getting humiliated twice in a row in the Champions League. Rakitić was, inexplicably, the first in the teamsheet for every important game of the year. Nevertheless, despite not being his old self and tiring out a bit, his solitary goal in March 2019, where he chipped Thibaut Courtois, was enough to win a heated clash against Real Madrid and give Barça the 2019 league title.
For that, Rakitić will always be rated at the Camp Nou, where he made a name for himself, and it wasn’t because of him that things went south. His 2019/20 campaign will be remembered as his worst one in a while, as he began the term on the bench and played awfully before lockdown. After the break, he looked revitalised and even scored the winning goal in Barça’s narrow 1–0 win against Gaizka Garitano’s defensive Athletic Club de Bilbao.
Now that he is almost officially a Sevilla player, Rakitić’s story at Barça will always be remembered thanks to moments where he showed heroic qualities and gave culés a smile on their face. Hopefully, now, Ivan Rakitić will be touted as one of the greats to have graced the pitch in Catalonia.
Ousmane Dembélé: Is the serious business finally about to start?
After three long campaigns plagued by injury, many hope that Ousmane Dembélé can overcome these issues in the 2020/21 season. The young Frenchman has exceptional talent and, on his day, can change the outcome of the match at any moment.
As the second most expensive player in the club’s history, Ousmane Dembélé has not lived up to his price tag yet. Having missed the majority of matches at Barcelona due to injury, it has been a frustrating time for both the player and culés.
There is no doubting the winger’s talents, but Ousmane Dembélé must prove his worth in this upcoming 2020/21 season. He has the potential to be one of the world’s best if he can stay injury-free, but will he achieve it? When he has managed to stay fit, Dembélé has been one of the most decisive players at the club, but many conditions have to be met for that to happen.
The injury problems
It is almost impossible to discuss Dembélé’s time at the Camp Nou without mentioning his injury problems. Before joining Barcelona, the pacey winger was only injured for a total of 10 days during his time at Borussia Dortmund. Then, with his move to the Spanish giants, injuries have stacked up.
According to Transfermarket, Ousmane has missed a total of 80 games due to injuries since joining in the summer of 2017. In terms of days out injured, this amounts to 512 days unavailable in just three terms. Although injuries are common in football, it is the frequency and length of Dembélé’s that are the issue. At the most important times of the season, the club has not been able to rely on him.
Questions should be asked on why the injuries started mounting up when he arrived in Barcelona. It is the same recurring injuries that are affecting the former Rennes youngster. The predominant ones are involving his hamstring and muscles. These can be serious and, without the proper treatment and recovery, can haunt a player through his full career regardless of the talent that once mesmerised the world and terrorised the opposing defences.
What Dembélé can offer
Though these injuries have been a cause of much frustration, there have been enough flashes of brilliance to convince the club to keep their faith in him. When the 23-year-old has managed to have a consistent run in the team his form continues to grow. The fake shot king can be one of the most exciting players to watch at his best. His incredible pace and dribbling can be a real asset to Barça in unlocking tight defences.
Dembélé has scored some incredible goals at the club already. His goals in the Champions League against Tottenham and his thunderbolt winner against Sevilla in the 2018 Spanish Super Cup are real standouts. Being just as strong with his left foot as his right, this allows him to play on the left or right wing effectively. By April 2019 he had achieved the incredible record of having 14 goals and 14 assists with both his right foot and left foot.
So far, the Frenchman has played a total of 74 games for Barcelona, scoring 19 and assisting 16 times. It shows that he can create and score goals. Thus, ahead of the 2020/21 season, Ousmane Dembélé could be an important player for the team if he can stay fit. He could be key in taking some of the pressure from Lionel Messi in terms of having to create and score the goals for Barça.
With the likes of Ansu Fati, Francisco Trincão, Antoine Griezmann and Philippe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembélé will face tough competition this year | Photo by David Ramos via Getty Images
When watching Dembélé play for the Catalan side there are several impressive attributes that also stand out, apart from his pace and dribbling. One of these is his ability to drag in two or three defenders to try and contain him. This creates a lot more space for others to exploit, especially Messi. Barça have particularly struggled against teams that play a low block and Dembélé could be the player to help break these defences.
Another attribute he posses is a good connection with Messi. When Barça’s number 11 is on form, he connects well with the Argentinian. They have a good understanding of each other’s game. With Luis Suárez‘s departure from the Camp Nou, Messi will be looking for others to connect with in attack. Both are creative and can pick out difficult passes.
The 2020/21 season, already his fourth at the club, will be the most important in the Barcelona career of the still young Ousmane Dembélé. If another long-term injury strikes, then it is likely patience will run out with him. He can make basic mistakes such as misplacing simple passes, being out of position and lacking composure in front of goals. He does return from injuries rusty and the ball bounces off him or his control lets him down at times.
But the potential the winger has when he plays is endless. Dembélé is a special player and could be a generational talent if able to play regularly. If he can stay injury-free, he could be the second most important player at the club, after Messi. One of the most enjoyable players to watch on his day, Dembélé needs to perform this season and fulfil his potential.