IKEA gives you a tool to assemble their stuff. It’s an excellent device. But have you ever tried using that tool as an actual tool of some kind? It sucks.
In the world of “lies, damned lies and statistics,” the folowing won’t alter a whit anyone’s worldview of Ivan Rakitic, a player who it has become trendy to slag in some spaces. But WhoScored, because of the Liverpool rumors, looked at the effect he has for Barça.
In his 17 apps in the XI, 12 wins, 4 draws, 1 loss, 3 goals for, .8 against.
Not in the XI, 7 wins, 2 draws, 2 losses, 2.7 goals for, 1 against.
Thr Rakitic addition was hailed, at the time, as this great thing because of his role at Sevilla, and the presumption that he would just come to Barça and do that. This was done without really consideriing what the team needed, which was … Keita. That is, a guy to run around and do stuff, one of those Leatherman multi-tools rather than an IKEA device.
Most “whar does he really add?” evaluations come folks who put him into that Barça midfielder” template, this thing that has come to limit perception of what a midfielder who plays at Barça, rather than a Barça midfielder, does. Iniesta is a Barça midfielder. So is Xavi. Gomes is a midfielder who plays at Barça. So is Rakitic. So was Keita.
Pep Guardiola asked for, played and loved Kekta because qualities that Keita brought to his task were not attributes of “a Barça midfielder.” Keita was the guy you called when that Barça midfielder messed up or got outphysicaled, he was the guy who ran over and corrected errors, a lot like Rakitic.
In a few key matches this season, things went to pot when Rakitic went off. Whar happens? What does he bring to the game when on the pitch. To understand that you have to get outside the “Barça midfielder” template. One match back in the day, I did nothing except watch Keita, with an eye toward answering the “I don’t see what he does” brigade. He did a lot. But as with Raktic, none of it shows up in a direct individual stats analysis. But it does show up in team stats. Rakitic is the guy who runs over to help the press when Iniesta can’t get there. He helps Dani Alves and then Sergi Roberto on defense. He helps Busquets spring a midfield trap. He runs into the box to shoot or make space.
Rakitic is the kind of midfielder that Barça midfielders need to make them more effective. Guardiola knew that, which is why he got Keita. Luis Enrique kmew that, which is why he got Rakitic, who is the right tool for the job.
Rakitic isn’t glamorous. He won’t inspire rapture with a trick, flick or bit of skill. Rakitic does work. Countless minutes of work that shows up in match films and teammate resoect and adulation. Raktic makes everyone around him more effective by doing nothing more than working his ass off, again like Keita. And the best way to evaluate a player such as that is by his absence.
Rakitic is even more important than Keita was, because the latter was in a team with prime Xavi, a younger Iniesta and peak Busquets. Then there was peak Alves. Rakitic has none of those, which makes his job more difficult and also more important.
Barça mids are evaluated using one of three templates that are the residue of the glory days: Xav£, Iniesta and Busquets. Those three are the archetype. Any midfielder who comes to Barça now is expected to find one of those slots. Rakitic fits none of those.
But what if, as with the glamor players, there was a “next Keita?” Then people would speak of Rakitic in the same hushed tones with which they speak of Thiago Alcantara, or Verratti, the “kind of midfielder that Barça needs.”
When Rakitic gets tired his game goes to hell and he has to be subbed. This is because suddenly, everything gets easier for the opponent as Rakitic isn’t there or is tired. Rakitic is also versatile. He is more Sevilla Rakitic when Vidal was in the XI because Vidal has the pace to makemthe presence of Buttress Rakitic less essential, but even Sevilla Rakitic isn’t a Barça midfielder. That player is made at Barça from a specific set of tools.
Andre Gomes is suffering from that same evaluative complexity. He can’t do what a “Barça mid” does, therefore, he is deemed a failure. But he, as does Rakitic, brings something different to the team. Turan in midfield is more facilitator than creator. We see him do his job and because it isn’t the job of another player who fits the template, he sucks.
Players are tools, ssuitable for certain tasks that match their skill sets. A screwdriver makes a pretty crappy butter knife, just as Rakitic is an awful Xavi, a poor Iniesta and a mediocre Busquets. The disservice comes when we try to use a hammer to set a screw, or try using a eapier to cut down a tree. Rakitic is a pretty awesome Keita. More crucially, Rakitic is an exceptional Rakitic.