Ivan Rakitic, players and standards

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.

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In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.

16 Comments

  1. Jason
    March 27, 2017

    Thanks kxevin!

    To me the difference between Rakitic and Gomes is the team can rely on Ivan. His play can be assured, where Andre looks timid and indecisive. Not to mention there seems to be a mental toughness that the Barca #21 may be lacking.

  2. *~ Dumangõli - Oüdyaar, Aisalangådi ~*
    March 27, 2017

    \

    Rakitic must not be sold at any cost, He is essential.
    Sell Gomes if we need a makeweight for deal sweetening.

  3. ciaran
    March 27, 2017

    Pardon me but how can the two of you read an entire article about Rakitic, see three lines related to Gomes and make it about him?
    Kxevin, great article but I fear its meaning has been lost

    • *~ Dumangõli - Oüdyaar, Aisalangådi ~*
      March 28, 2017

      \\

      Do not proceed to assume that the meaning has been lost on others even as it may make you feel wiser. All things considered I can still retain the opinion that in a situation that makes it necessary to offload players to raise funds, gomes would be that makeweight given his young age and stock. It is common sense. Nobody has a problem with denis suarez, arda turan or rafinha. People are not blind. Yes, in time gomes may come good. But barca has never afforded that much time to ANYONE. Not even Zlatan. So please. A reference to Gomes in my comment is a considered one not one that is a result of me not understanding the article.

      • eldiablo4
        March 28, 2017

        You do realize the Zlatan played well when he was at Barca but didn’t get along with Guardiola. That was the reason he was sold and not because he needed more time.

    • Jason
      March 28, 2017

      Ciaran, please note I enjoy reading Kxevin’s pieces and his effort to post consistent quality keeps me returning. I like to think that my thoughts on Rakitic are similar to Kxevin’s. The dude is a baller but not in the traditional Barca mould.

      All I wanted to accomplish in my previous comment was to note mental fortitude and adaptability. To me Ivan has demonstrated this out the gate and besides his early season dip in form has been superb for the club. I think Andre is intimidated.

      Thanks guys!

  4. Mishti
    March 27, 2017

    “I get to play with these incredible, out-of-this-world players. To help them play like they do, if I have to run 10,000 miles every match, I will do it”- Ivan Rakitic.

    I cannot thank you enough, Kevin, for writing this one. The sacrifice this guy does day in and day out, for the sake of this team, and all with a smile on his face, deserves a lot more respect than it gets. Love the guy. Early in the season because of injury his for dipped. And the team suffered. The recent matches have made it even clearer how important Rakitic the babysitter is to this team. One can literally do a controlled experiment with Raki in and out of a match and note the difference.

    Every team of ‘artistic’ footballers, if they are to actually win anything, ends up relying on players like him. They are destined to be dismissed out of hand, if not downright vilified, because their role is not necessarily to provide flair, but to enable others to do it. And it is not easy to see what they bring to the table. No doubt Ivan Rakitic knows that’s his lot at Barca. And he seems not to mind. Hats off to the guy.

  5. eldiablo4
    March 28, 2017

    Amen! I’m on a couple other blogs and I have tried to explain this exact concept to some of the guys there and they just don’t get it. I was pumped when he got his extension a month ago and I’m excited to see him here for the next 3-4 years.

  6. ooga aga
    March 29, 2017

    Me like me some Rakitikitaka. Go croat, go croat! Go! Go! Go!

    Quiet here. No mention of Messis four-game ban from Los albiceleste, meaning he didn’t play in the heights of Bolivia. Nor did Masche, due to accumulation of yellow cards. Too good to be true. And Messi misses Granada por acumulacion de tarjetas as well. A nice spring break for el genio! Will serve us well.

    Meanwhile, Lotpegui did us no favors, playing our boys a lot. At least he subbed off Iniesta in the second halves. But, no injuries reported, which is a relief.

    This April will be insane.

    • Davour
      March 30, 2017

      About the ban, I guess many of us are torn between wanting Messi to be fresh for Barca, and hoping he will have a final (?) go at the WC. Though with the current Arg team, they might just as well let it slide… Still, the ban is insane; obviously, there must be politics behind this. No way things are handled this way if not – video evidence without proper context or allowing time to appeal, ignoring the referee’s report and subsequent comments. And four games to that! Quite unheard of.

      Messi claims, apparently, that it was spoken into thin air as an expression of frustration. In other words, context. If he is right, it should’ve resulted in a yellow, if anything, and he would have missed the Bolivia game anyway. But not the rest.

      We’ll see what the appeal brings. If players are judged according to these new standards, we should be expecting quite a number of suspensions up ahead.

      • ooga aga
        March 30, 2017

        I agree it is unfair and strange. But I think they will appeal and it will get reduced; i also think they will qualify for the WC. In the short term we will have a fresher messi.

    • Mishti
      March 30, 2017

      Why did they make him blind and give him such bad teeth? Poor soul!

      • TITO
        March 30, 2017

        That’s just young Ronaldo, i guess. 🙂

  7. March 30, 2017

    Just a few brief thoughts:

    There are many who always blame the players attitudes for everything related to how a team play. Well Tite’s Brazil is the perfect example of how a coach can make a team look so enjoyable. same players , different coach and a team is on its way to its peak. After very very long time, Brazil is looking like a real team. compare that to Argentina, who got only one sane coach, Sabella, in a whole decade!

    There are many who always talk about we dont know what happens behind and other bla bla. Well Pique’s recent comments are clear pointers to how our players feel about many things in Football and its politics. If Pique’s comments had appeared as some anonymous online comments, he would have been treated as a troll or even more.

    The Messi ban is another clear pointer that there is a lot happening out of the pitch. that even someone as sane as Jonathan Wilson has questioned it.

    This international break was well packaged..

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