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.
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