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.
Can Alexander Isak be the firepower Barcelona need in their attacking arsenal
With incoming presidential elections and the resulting anticipation of a rebuild, more and more players are being linked to Barcelona. Besides big names like Erling Haaland and David Alaba, Real Sociedad centre-forward Alexander Isak is reportedly on the Catalans’ radar. A new striker is an absolute must for the club and Isak’s €70 million release clause is turning heads. His stock is rising and he has a bright future ahead of him, but should Barcelona pursue him?
Isak is currently in the midst of his second season for Basque-outfit Real Sociedad. The 21-year old started his career at the Swedish club AIK before moving to Borussia Dortmund’s youth setup in 2017. Lacking first-team opportunities, he was loaned to Dutch club Willem II, where he tallied an impressive 14 goals and 7 assists in 18 appearances. Isak then moved to Sociedad in the summer of 2019 and scored 16 goals in his debut season. This season, he has 12 goals in 29 appearances.
He has been dubbed the “next Zlatan Ibrahimovic” by some, and with the Swedish national team, Isak has scored five goals in 18 appearances.
Tactical and Statistical Analysis
Isak has all the attributes of a classic “target man”, one whose main role is to win aerial duels and play off of creative teammates, but his game is much more than that. He stands tall at 190 cm, or 6 foot 3 inches, but has incredible speed and balance. Despite his height, however, he is only winning 42% of his aerial duels this season.
Isak likes to play off the shoulder of the defence, eagerly waiting for through balls from creative midfielders like Mike Merino or David Silva. Alternatively, he can also hold the ball up. With his combination of speed and dribbling ability, he is a constant threat on the counter-attack, capable of getting past defenders or dragging bodies and creating space for runners. He also has decent vision and passing acumen for a centre forward, but Sociedad’s set up doesn’t allow him to maximize these qualities.
Statistically, he is averaging 1.36 dribbles per 90 minutes this season at a clip of 64.8%. According to fbref.com, when compared to forwards in Europe’s top five leagues (Spain, England, France, Germany, and Italy), Isak stands out in terms of his successful pressures rate (93rd percentile), pressures in the attacking third (81st percentile), and carries into the penalty area (87th percentile).
In front of the goal, Isak is dangerous with both his feet and his head. He is unpredictable with his finishing, always keeping defenders and goalkeepers on edge. This campaign, his 12 goals are fairly evenly distributed: six with his right foot, three with his left, and three with his head. Most of his goals have come from through balls or passes over the defence. He carries the ball in his stride and finishes with confidence.
His goalscoring record was rough to start the season, scoring only four goals across 20 appearances, but he’s picked things up in 2021. The forward has been in rich vein of form, already scoring nine goals this calendar year. Furthermore, in La Liga, he has scored in each of his last six appearances, not to mention a hat trick last time out against Alavés. He could have a breakout season if he continues scoring at this rate, attracting offers from teams across Europe.
Where would he fit at Barça?
Naturally, Isak fits a need for the Blaugrana at centre forward. The team has no natural “number nine” –other than Martin Braithwaite — and with Messi entering his twilight years and potentially leaving in the summer, they desperately need goal-scorers. The Swedish international is well adapted to playing as a lone striker in a 4-3-3 system and is already accustomed to playing in La Liga, so Barça won’t need to worry about adaptation along those lines.
Tactically, his height and runs into the box could bring a different dimension to a fairly one-dimensional Barça attack. While he could fit in well with the team’s patient and possession-oriented approach, his game is more suited for runs into open spaces and spearheading counter attacks.
The question is, would he start for Barcelona? Messi is best suited for a false nine role, and Isak would not displace Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembélé, or Ansu Fati in the front line. On the contrary, he could be an extremely productive squad option, but his potential transfer fee would be too high to warrant such a role.
Should Barcelona pursue him?
There are plenty of intriguing reasons for Barça to pursue Isak, but he should not be their number one transfer target. He undoubtedly has a bright future ahead of him and is showing immense quality this season, but he might not be ready to carry Barcelona’s front line.
There will be a lot asked of him, and he will be expected to perform on the biggest stages in world football, and his zero goals in the Europa League this season are not reassuring. Despite his incredible form over the last few games, Barça need to see more consistent output if he is to be their number nine for the next decade.
He would also cost the club around 70 million euros, and that money could serve the team better by investing that in other areas like centre back or centre defensive mid.
While he is still young and has time to improve, Barcelona should focus on more refined and finished products.
On the one hand, Isak could bring a lot to the Blaugrana and offer much-needed variation to their attack. On the other hand, there are signs pointing to the fact that he is not yet the calibre of player Barcelona need to lead their frontline, especially for that sum of €70 million. He could be a more than sufficient squad option and someone who could develop in the long term, but once again, that transfer fee warrants caution.
Also, facilitating his move could be quite difficult given that his ex-team Borussia Dortmund have a reported €30 million “buy-back” clause attached to his name. If (and when) the German club are to lose Erling Haaland, they could easily opt for Isak as his replacement.
Isak is a solid striker and has a lot of potential, but he is not yet the player capable of leading Barcelona’s front line. That paired with his potential transfer fee means the club should focus on other transfer targets first.