Barcelona have finally officially presented Ivan Rakitic as a new signing in an extensive Camp Nou press conference lasting well over an hour.
After passing a medical early on Tuesday morning, a contract for five years was signed before the presentation to the media.
Holding up the Blaugrana jersey for his photocall, the fact that the Croatian would be wearing the No. 4 next season wasn’t lost on the journalists present.
And Rakitic himself noted:
It’s a special number. To be able to wear the same number that Pep Guardiola wore. He is someone who I always admired and I really like the fact that I’m able to start wearing that number. Let’s hope I have the same success as he had here.
Whether the Croatian will get to anywhere near the same level as Pep is a moot point at this stage, but Barca supporters will have been encouraged by the positive attitude of a player supremely confident in his own ability:
I’ve been in Sevilla for 3.5 years and I hope you’ve had the chance to see what I can do. I promise I’m going to offer you the maximum that I can.
I’ve played against Barca, I know what to expect. Obviously I’m going to have to learn over the pre-season to adapt to that.
[…] I know holding possession and dictating the game is very important to this club […] I don’t think it’s going to be too hard to fit in […] let’s hope I adapt as quick as possible.
Suggestions that Rakitic will be a replacement for the outgoing Xavi Hernandez could be a little wide of the mark. Andoni Zubizaretta was clear that the midfield genius was still very much a Barcelona player:
Today Xavi is still our player and the number six shirt is still his. We spoke to him before the World Cup and when he returns from holiday we will speak to him again.
For Xavi any news will be good for us. If he wants to stay that will be excellent news and if he wants to go we will part ways in the best way possible.
Nevertheless, with Xavi’s influence on the wane, replacing him with Rakitic makes absolute sense at this point.
He is dynamic, quick, and as we saw last season on the way to leading Sevilla to Europa League glory, he affects the outcome of games.
With just four goals and five assists last season, per WhoScored.com, Xavi just isn’t in the same ballpark any longer, whether cules choose to accept it or not.
The facts don’t lie. Compare Rakitic’s own contributions per WhoScored; 13 goals and 13 assists.
At 26 years of age, he is approaching his prime as a player and Barca should see the best years of his professional career. At 34, Xavi has been the fulcrum of Barcelona’s recent history, but it’s now exactly that. History. Time to move on.
Time for new players to create some more history. A hungry and more-than-ready Rakitic certainly intends to:
I’m here to help to rewrite history. Last year at Sevilla we did that. It opened a door to me.
[…] I’ve got a lot of hunger […] I was very clear from the start that it (joining Barca) was something that I wanted […] I’m going to work as hard as I can.
With no real word from Luis Enrique yet concerning which setup he will employ, there are question marks as to exactly where Rakitic will fit in. Whether it be a more forward midfield position, the likes of which he excelled in at Sevilla, or a slightly deeper role like the one he plays for Croatia will become clear in due course.
Sporting Director Andoni Zubizaretta has no concerns, telling reporters:
He can play in different positions across the midfield and will give us many options in attack.
He has an excellent shot from outside the area, is useful from free-kicks and fits into our philosophy.
Rakitic too is more than happy to fit in wherever necessary:
The most important thing for me is to do whatever the manager tells me to do. I’m open to playing where I’m needed to. I’m ready to do whatever is asked of me and do the best I can.
[…] I’m Ivan Rakitic, I’m here, I want to play my football.
His football is something that Ivan Rakitic does rather well. Just ask Real Madrid’s Pepe:
Perfectly comfortable on either foot, the elegant Croat can spread the play either side of the pitch with ease. Intelligent movement and a high level of accuracy for short or long passing will be manna from heaven for the likes of Neymar and Lionel Messi.
A busy and studious football brain gives him a wider appreciation of the tactical nuances of each team he plays in, and Barca are going to be the beneficiaries of the best years of his career.
Although his transfer fee wasn’t mentioned in the press conference at Sevilla’s request, a figure of €15m had previously been widely reported, including by Gianluca Di Marzio.
For that sort of spend, which equates to less than half of the fee received for the outgoing Cesc Fabregas, Barca have gotten themselves a bargain.
And one hell of a player.