Ivan Rakitic has offers on the table from Spain's premier clubs following a miraculous 2013-14 campaign with Sevilla, but which club would he slot in with best?
The Croatian was a common pick in fans' La Liga Team of the Season after stunning everyone with his all-round game, combining great passing, dual-footedness, work rate and positional discipline to help win Los Rojiblancos the UEFA Europa League at campaign's end.
The player's father has told newspaper Jutarnji, per AS.com (via ESPNFC.com), that Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid—quite the list of suitors—are interested in purchasing the midfielder.
He's been deep in talks to extend his contract with Sevilla and has shown a willingness to sign, but it's thought that agreeing an appropriate release clause has held up talks significantly.
Regardless of Rakitic's dealings with the club, he won't be a Rojiblanco for long. He's too good and too relevant in 2014 to put off a big transfer for long.
Who, then, should he join?
Barcelona appear to be in "pole position," as per Ben Burrows of the Mirror, and look set to offer €20 million to tempt Sevilla into a sale.
Luis Enrique has essentially put Cesc Fabregas up for purchase due to his poor fit in the Catalan club's system, but is Rakitic any more suited to play in a tiki-taka 4-3-3?
The honest answer is no.
The Croatian is a more box-to-box midfielder than Fabregas, and his game in no way suits the short pass, slow tempo approach play of la Blaugrana's. Rakitic makes things happens when he runs with the ball and takes on players, and his best passes are lengthy, cutting deliveries that set strikers off in a one vs. one situation.
That last part is Fabregas in a nut shell, so why swap like for near-like? It's not that Rakitic can't subscribe to the system—it's that it's a complete and utter waste to force him to. He's all energy, less finesse.
Real Madrid, then, are legitimately interested, as when Angel di Maria was absent this past season they missed that exact vertical drive and dribbling ability to break between the lines.
None of Asier Illarramendi, Luka Modric and Casemiro can offer the penetration Di Maria does, and Rakitic is a smart, acclimatised backup option to the Argentine wonder.
But that's the catch: backup.
Does a player like Rakitic deserve to be riding the pine for half a season, rotating in and out? He's the kind of player who hits form and delivers, and to do so he needs a regular spot in the team. If you're gifted physically, you need regular minutes.
He won't oust Di Maria, and Carlo Ancelotti is unlikely to run with two "bruisers" with the ball, instead preferring his Croatian compatriot Luka Modric and his game-managing abilities.
That leaves cross-city rivals Atletico Madrid, who will have cash to splash if their fire sale continues to pick up speed, and all things considered, he's a dream fit in at the Vicente Calderon.
He's disciplined and pliable enough to absorb all of Diego Simeone's instructions and carry them out, then flash a bit of brilliance when the time is required. He has the energy and stamina to play hard, stubborn and physical; the verticality to be a threat moving forward.
Even if the club retain Koke, he's a valuable pickup, as Tiago has left and Simeone has shown a slight distrust in Mario Suarez. Atletico run their central midfielders ragged, and Rakitic is the type to enjoy the exhaustion that undoubtedly follows.
The Croatian must make a simple choice: the glamour of tiki-taka, a bit-part role at Madrid in a good systematic fit or a near-perfect switch to Atletico.
Which club he chooses, if any of the three, should reveal a lot about how he sees himself as a player.