Name: Ivan Rakitic
Born: March 10, 1988, in Möhlin, Switzerland
Pro club: Barcelona
Why is he in the news?
There’s no question that Barcelona is a team of superstars, so heading into the Champions League final on Saturday, most of the soccer world’s eyes will be on Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar. But behind that attacking trio, sitting in the Blaugrana’s midfield making everything tick is Ivan Rakitic. The 27-year-old has enjoyed a bumper first season with Barcelona, winning the La Liga title, the Copa Del Rey and, of course, getting a shot at the treble this weekend. And that Rakitic has played in 50 of 59 games this season will set many Barca fans’ minds at ease, since the Croatian appears set to take over the midfield mantle from Barcelona legend Xavi, who will be retiring (effectively) after this weekend.
He’s special because
Well, see above: Anyone who earns the right to fill Xavi’s position is a special talent. Rakitic has made a good case for himself, proving to be a perhaps more direct player than the scheming Spaniard, but blessed with familiar ability to read the game and play the killer pass. Rakitic’s 90.6 percent pass success rate puts him in the very elite of La Liga midfielders—seventh in the league and ahead even of Andres Iniesta. Add to that a sweet right foot on set pieces, giving Barcelona yet another free-kick threat in an already stocked arsenal.
Having broken into first-team football at Swiss side Basel, Rakitic came to Barcelona last summer in an 18 million Euro move from La Liga rivals Sevilla, where he spent four years as a fixture in the Rojiblancos’ midfield. While this years’ titles with Barcelona are the first Spanish triumphs of Rakitic’s career, he has a Swiss Cup under his belt and Bundesliga runners-up honours from his four-year spell at Schalke, before making the move to Spain.
He also enters this weekend’s fixture with some momentum in European finals: He captained Sevilla to a UEFA Europa League title last season. Coincidentally—portentously, perhaps—that win came at Juventus’ home stadium.
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Born in Switzerland, Rakitic started his international career with Swiss youth teams before making the switch to the Slaven Bilic’s Croatian team ahead of Euro 2008. He impressed straight off, scoring in his second game for Croatia and establishing himself as one of the first names on the teamsheet. Rakitic played three of four games in Croatia’s Euro 2008 campaign, ultimately ending it as one of three Croatians whose missed penalties cost their side the quarterfinal game against Turkey.
Though Croatia missed the 2010 World Cup, Raktic continued to dominate the Vatreni’s midfield through the 2012 Euro and 2014 World Cup, though he was unable to see his side out of the group stage in both tournaments.
Most famous moment
To be fair to Rakitic, we won’t go with his header against Spain at 2012 Euro, so brilliantly saved by Iker Casillas to possibly deny Croatia the win over an in-it’s-prime Spanish team.
Rather, let’s focus on Raktic winning the 2014 Europa League. It may be Europe’s lesser competition, but it’s no easy feat. And for Sevilla it was doubly impressive, given the financial turmoil the club suffered through last year, losing a slew of key starters ahead of the season to counter growing club debts. Rakitic, as club captain, led his team brilliantly, earning man-of-the-match honours in the final as Sevilla won their third Europa League title over Portuguese giants Benfica.
Here’s an interesting fact
Rakitic owns a lower-league Swiss club, NK Pajde. His father is chairman, his uncle director of football and his brother the team’s player-manager. Every year, Rakitic gathers some friends—including Croatian and Swiss internationals—for a friendly game against “his” team.
He said it
“It’s nice that people are saying that I am the successor of Xavi, but I’m Rakitic. Replacements for such a great player like Xavi don’t exist,” he said upon signing for Barcelona last August.
What they’re saying about him
“This will always be your house. Thank you captain” — A sign held up by Sevilla fans during Rakitic’s first match in Sevilla as a Barcelona player, no small message of respect for a departed hero.