This year, one Croatia international created history by ending the Lionel Messi-Cristiano Ronaldo duopoly in the coveted Ballon d’Or.
At the same time, another under-appreciated compatriot has made a case for being one of the best midfielders for the better part of the year.
A vital cog in Croatia’s fairy-tale run in the World Cup, Ivan Rakitic scored two decisive penalties in to ensure that the dream lived on.
The 30-year-old has been equally important at the club level, playing a key role in Barcelona’s successful start to the 2018/19 season.
A particular statistic serves as evidence to how immaculately he has played his role. No player in La Liga has attempted more passes than the Croatian (2676) in 2018. Also, the midfielder has more successful passes (2436) than any other player in the league.
He has played more minutes than any other player at the Catalan club in 2018 and has rarely looked out of touch. Regardless of whether Barcelona are hosting Cultural Leonesa in the Copa Del Rey or travelling to Wembley for a crucial Champions League fixture, head coach Ernesto Valverde ensures that Rakitic is the first name on the team-sheet.
This has caused annoyance among some Barcelona fans. A synergy of Valverde’s style of play and Rakitic’s conservative approach in executing his role has drawn some criticism.
The Croatian can function as a box-to-box midfielder, a deep lying playmaker or even a screen in front of defence in the absence of Sergio Busquets. However, there are some voids in his skill-set, most of which are desirable in midfielder who plies his trade for Barcelona.
Rakitic is not as press resistant as other players like Busquets, Lionel Messi or Arthur. The Croatian is not the best at interpreting and exploiting space in midfield, always preferring the safest option.
There is footage showing a frustrated Messi when the midfielder opts for a safer option, instead of threading the needle with a pass that sets the Argentine on goal.
Yet, the 30-year-old has fit in perfectly in Valverde’s system. The Croatian has often proved to be the most important player bar Messi, as he operates from the heart of midfield like a perpetual machine.
The two goals he has scored in the league this season hardly makes a case for why he must be considered as one of the best midfielders in the world. The consistency he has maintained over long durations of time despite starting almost every game is a testimony to why he is relied upon by Valverde.
Often, the Croatian has played as a cover for Busquets and allowed the Spaniard freedom to roam and make the risky passes. It is clear that the Octopus of Badia has not been himself lately and the Croatian has done well to cover up for him.
Delivering in crucial games, especially El Clasico, is yet another arrow in the midfielder’s quiver. He has outperformed Modric in almost all the Clasicos the pair have featured in. This again makes a strong case as to why the Croatian is preferred in midfield, despite other players on the bench and in the market boasting a wider skill set.
It is true that the midfielder is not a second-coming of the legendary Xavi. But downplaying his contributions to the team would be a bit of hyperbole.
There have been rumours that the Croatian will be testing himself in Ligue 1, donning Paris Saint-Germain’s colours next season.
In the unlikely event that this occurs, Rakitic will be leaving Barcelona as one of their best servants in the modern era.
Barcelona sporting director Eric Abidal refused to divulge whether the La Liga champion will pursue a January move for wantaway Paris Saint-Germain centre midfielder Adrien Rabiot.
Rabiot, 23, has been consistently linked to Barcelona and has rejected all attempts to renew a deal at the Ligue 1 giants that expires next summer. This means he is open to set-up a free transfer switch to a foreign club from January 1, but reports persist that Barca will try to expedite this process.
“Rabiot? Today isn’t a good day to talk about this, it is Murillo’s day,” said Abidal on Thursday when quizzed during loan addition Jeison Murillo’s introduction.
“We keep an eye on the market to look what is on offer and what needs we can cover.”
Neymar made a world-record €222million transfer to Paris Saint-Germain in August 2017. However, he has constantly been linked to a return to Spain, with speculation rife that he is unhappy in the French capital.
Real Madrid have reportedly been monitoring the situation, while a return to Barcelona has also been mentioned.
Arthur, who made a €40million switch to Barca this summer from Gremio, hopes his Brazil international team-mate will be his club team-mate too one day.
“I personally am praying for him to come because he is a superstar, it is indisputable,” Arthur told Mundo Deportivo.
“I think that the more great players the team has, the better.”
Arthur says he has been trying to convince Neymar to return.
“Personally, I’m doing a lot of work to get him back, but he has his life, he knows what he’s doing and I do not know how deep those negotiations are, if there are options for him to come or not.
“But he is a personal friend and a professional that I admire a lot and would be very happy if he could come back here.”