Should Ivan Rakitic consider leaving Barca in January?
Background photo: Arria Belli, CC BY 2.5
A slow start to the campaign precipitated by Lionel Messi's injury crisis and Antoine Griezmann's acclimation process appears to be in the past. Barcelona are second and can leapfrog Real Madrid in the season's first El Clasico in nine days. The Catalunyan independence movement pressured La Liga into lobbying for the match to be moved to the Santiago Bernabeu, something both participants have resisted. Another option is to play the match before 99,000 empty seats. It's the hottest issue on the minds of fans who live in and around Barcelona. Those supporters who are farther-flung would rather talk about Ivan Rakitic's future with the Blaugrana. Once an automatic starter in the lineup for both Ernesto Valverde and Luis Enrique, the Croatian is rapidly becoming irrelevant.
Rakitic has lost his place in the starting XI. He has spent most of his time warming the bench since the new campaign kicked off. In 10 games across all competitions, Valverde started him once and looked to him for help five times. The 31-year-old played 186 minutes from a possible 900. It appears he doesn't have a significant role in Ernesto Valverde's plan for the season. As such, there's the need to look into his situation.
The end began when Barcelona signed Frenkie de Jong for this campaign before the summer window even opened. His skills as a deep-lying midfielder labelled him as the eventual replacement for Sergio Busquets. De Jong's instant chemistry with playmaker Arthur Melo puts the Brazilian in the spotlight and Rakitic in the wings.
De Jong, Arthur, Busquets and Sergi Roberto have claimed the lion's share of minutes in Valverde's midfield rotation. De Jong is everpresent with 809 minutes in ten appearances. Roberto has 729 with Busqi and Arthur logging 562 and 535 respectively. Rakitic can't help but feel like a fifth wheel.
The Dutchman isn't his direct replacement but his arrival set the dominoes falling. If he is going to be the midfield engine, Valverde should also install the new carburettor and transmission at the same time. Rakitic is a cast-off part since De Jong's arrival.
If Barcelona are looking to the future, who can blame a player critical to their last Champions League triumph for doing likewise. Moving on is the ideal decision. There's no doubt Rakitic still has a lot to offer another club. He remains one of the finest midfielders in Europe and should maintain that level for a couple more seasons at the least. At 31, twilight is descending but the darkness is still a ways off. It's time to find a team where he'll be relevant.
He won't be short of options. Many European powerhouses would be glad to tie him to a deal. The likes of Manchester United, Juventus, Paris Saint Germain and Bayern Munich were all recently rumoured to be interested in his services. Although many Barca fans hope Ivan Rakitic stays put, the player's comment while on International duty suggests the sentiment isn't mutual. If Barcelona's surging form continues through the holidays, the goodbyes may come as soon as the winter window opens.