The transfer window, just like every other area of football, is black and white. It is consists of those who got a bargain and others who were ripped off, with nothing in between. Like everything else, it is composed of winners and losers, with no room for nuance.
Except maybe that’s not always true. As La Liga opened this weekend, and a new-look Barcelona negotiated a few bumps in the road to finally coast past Elche, we had a look at how a major refit to their engine room might properly function.
The new owner of the Blaugrana’s No. 4 shirt, Ivan Rakitic, looked every inch the player whom the Camp Nou wants him to be. Cesc Fabregas, its previous guardian, had already proved that he had moved on during his first outings in the blue of Chelsea.
So could it be that this trade-type transfer is actually working out well for all parties? Fabregas’ spell as a senior player at Barca was by no means a failure, but it also was not the smash hit that so many had hoped for and expected.
Their efforts to bring Fabregas were so protracted that when he finally did arrive, in 2011, it felt as if they had snared some sort of holy grail, a puzzle piece that would make Pep Guardiola’s side ascend to an even higher level.
The crazy thing was that once they brought him home, they tried to make him something he wasn’t—much as the case had been with 2009’s big catch, Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Sure, he had started out at La Masia, (and knowing the ropes was part of what made him so attractive to Barca), but Fabregas became a footballing adult at Arsenal.
If his basic technical skill set was all Catalonia, his ability to bomb forward into the penalty box undetected to score (and create) goals was pure Premier League. Just like Ibrahimovic, Barca tended to wonder how he could fit the club’s ethos, rather than looking to use his extra-special skills as an alternative when plan A didn’t work.
Funnily enough, Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque, an underrated pragmatist, did manage to mine this side of Fabregas’ potential to great success. The midfielder’s impact as a substitute in the 2010 World Cup final, and later in the Euro 2012 semi-final against Portugal, showed exactly how he could find a way to swing a tight match at the highest level.
If the sense is that Fabregas can be himself more in the Premier League—and that Chelsea will be richly rewarded for bringing him "home"—then Rakitic’s move within La Liga appears best for him and for Barcelona.
Spain suits Rakitic down to the ground. He and his family love life there, to the extent that legend suggests he holidayed in the Alpujarra mountains in the 2013-14 winter break specifically to avoid transfer approaches as a possible Premier League move loomed. The mountains are, of course, famous for their almost nonexistent provision of mobile-network reception.
It would have been a rare example of inactivity from Rakitic. Having, like Fabregas, arrived in La Liga in 2011, he went on to become an institution at Sevilla. His final season at the Sanchez Pizjuan was the pinnacle, as he racked up 15 goals and an astonishing 18 assists (as Aleksandar Holiga reminds us for Bleacher Report here), captaining Unai Emery’s side to the Europa League title.
If the "click" that turned the Croatia star from good to great in Andalucia was being moved into an advanced position by Emery (simply, the closer Rakitic is to the opposition penalty box, the more damage he can do), it is his education at Basel and Schalke that will allow him to flourish.
Rakitic covered every position in midfield while in Gelsenkirchen, playing on both wings and as a quarterback (to great success) as well. While some may argue that he lacks Fabregas’ sprinkling of pure magic, he has a range of passing, vision and tactical discipline that outstrips his predecessor. Fabregas likes to roam. Rakitic will do whatever suits the team.
So Chelsea, Barca, Fabregas and Rakitic have all done well in the summer’s deals. Everybody’s happy. How often can you say that in the transfer-market whirl?
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