A year on from his move from Sevilla to Barcelona, Ivan Rakitic has the world at his feet.
World Soccer: Has the size and reach of Barcelona surprised you?
Ivan Rakitic: You go to Belarus, say, and there are people outside the hotel. You set foot outside and they go mad. You have to enjoy it because there’s nothing bigger than this. I got to the training ground this morning and there were kids there, excited, waiting for us., And I think back to when I was 13 and I did much the same. Recently, I saw [former Basle striker]Gaetano Giallanza here in Barcelona. He’s an agent now, looking after a friend in the national team and he asked me for a shirt. And I said to him: “I was ballboy for you.” That’s an illustration of the journey.
Javier Mascherano once said that he had to relearn how to play football when he joined Barcelona. Was that your experience too?
It’s true that Barcelona have a very clear idea of how to play that has been established over many years and also that every coach puts his own touch on it. If you play the Barca system at Sevilla it’s not going to be the same because the players and coach are different.
The biggest difference here is that you dominate every game. You always have to take the game to the opposition, you carry the weight, you always have to win. But the way we bring the ball out from the back here, for example, is similar to the way it was done at Sevilla. What’s different is the quality and the intensity. That’s why it’s the biggest club in the world.
Was replacing Xavi a weight on your shoulders?
Not a weight, no. I wanted to make the most of the time I had playing alongside the greatest midfielder that we have had. Working with him and learning from him was perfect and I’m grateful to him for that year not only because of what you learn on the pitch but also in
the dressing room – being respectful, being humble, how to deal with the press, how to work with the physios, how to prepare for games.
When you arrive you watch how things are done. And to be able to have that year with him still here was important. I don’t think there will be anyone like Xavi again, but it wasn’t a weight, it was an opportunity. But I also wanted to be me: I’m Ivan Rakitic and I wanted to give what I can offer too: my ability. I wanted to learn but also put my stamp on things.
You were captain at Sevilla. Are you among the leaders at Barcelona, too? Are you a voice that’s heard in the dressing room?
I understand hierarchy. I know there are people here who have been at the club a long time. I understand that when you arrive you have to see, observe and understand what the club means. When it’s right to talk then I have the character to give my opinion, but I accept and understand the hierarchy and understand that you have to go bit by bit. My character doesn’t change. I’m a relaxed guy but also very open to helping others, especially new players. You have to wait your turn, respect that.
What’s it like playing behind Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez?
We have the best forward line in the world. A lot of the time people say: “Ah, how great that you have those three up front, they make things easy.” But it is not always like that. They have won the right for the team to have to play for them of course but that doesn’t make it easier.
Everything you see them do during matches you need to multiply by I don’t know how many for all the times they do the same in training: the quality they have is unique and that is why they are what they are.
Leo is not just the best player around at the moment, he’s the best player in history. We may never see another player of this quality. And Ney, and Luis…they’re the best. Having those players conditions the way we play and influences what you have to do; you work towards them.
We press high, trying to win the ball back 20metres from the opposition goal instead of 50m, so that there are just one or two players between them and the goal, not five. We play to them, which is fine – if we have to run 5,000m or 10,000m for them then we’ll do it. It’s worth it. If I can help them to play a little better, perfect.
And if you can win the treble and score in the Champions League Final, then so much the better. Was that the best moment of your career so far?
Well, there are lots of moments, but to score in the European Cup Final, with your family there, is very special. There are no words to express it. You feel like hugging everyone. You feel like picking up the ball and taking it away, thinking “This is for me.” It’s unique, you savour it but you always want more. You want to experience it again.
This is an extract from an interview published in the November 2016 issue of World Soccer.