squad | 2016-03-02
Rakitic: ‘I’ll eat the entire pitch if I have to just to play all the time'
Ivan Rakitic gives us a glimpse of the winning mentality that permeates the Barça dressing room
In this interview with Sport, Ivan Rakitic talks about his football journey, from being part of the U-15 in Switzerland to deciding to play for the Croatian national team, to his move from Sevilla to Barcelona, and how it is to play with the best players in the world, fighting “10 times harder” than he had to because of the fierce competition to always be on the pitch: “I’ll eat the entire pitch if I have to.”
You were born in Switzerland, lived in Germany and Seville. Now you’re in Barcelona. And you play for Croatia. Where are you from?
That’s a good question. I feel Croatian, of course, that’s why I decided to play for the national team. From the U-15 to the U-21 I played for Switzerland and then I thought about changing and playing for Croatia. It was a decision made with the heart. I feel Croatian, but I’m also grateful for what Switzerland has given me. With the passing of time and the changes in my private life now I feel very, very, very Sevillano, very Andalucian. And my private life changed a lot thanks to my wife.
What did you think of Barça when you were a kid?
I have to say that I was a fan of Barça as a kid because of the time Prosinecki played here. He was an idol for me and…
Then he played for Madrid.
Yes, but I knew him here. I think I’ve made a very special and nice path in life.
Where will you live when you retire?
If you ask me this today I’ll say Seville, but I don’t know what will happen in the future. Maybe we’ll feel so good here that we’ll end up staying here. Or maybe tomorrow we leave to… I don’t know, the other part of the world. Right now we’re super-pleased here in Barcelona. This year my daughter goes to school and we found the perfect school from the first day. We’re very comfortable, honestly.
Your time in Sevilla was necessary in order to get to Barcelona?
Maybe it did me well because I grew up a lot from various points of view. Football isn’t just football. It’s not that training ends and then nothing happens. Football is much more than that. It’s not like an 8-hour-job, football is a 24-hour-job.
Did you find what you were expecting?
No, everything surprises you because you’re in the biggest club in the world. Not just because of the club, but everything that surrounds you. It’s unique, there’s nothing like it, but I’ve also ended up saying ‘I won’t kill myself thinking about this too much.’ I only want to enjoy, work at 100 percent and win the confidence of my teammates, the technical staff, and the president.
How do you achieve that?
By trying to improve and seeing all the pressure that surround you like a positive and nice pressure and enjoying football. If you don’t enjoy it at Barça, I don’t know where you would.
Did you enjoy the first half of last season?
Well… Yes, that’s football. It didn’t look too positive, but for me it was… the club or the team that was at such a high level that it wasn’t allowed to win just for winning. You have to win in a certain way so that people can say ‘Yes, that’s Barça.’
Is it an eternally unsatisfied club?
No, not unsatisfied, but the demands are very high. People, not just Barça fans, but football people in general. They all expect a lot from the team. This can be very nice or it can be very powerful…
Do you agree with Luis Enrique that Anoeta was not a turning point, but a step in the evolution?
I believe everything. It’s very normal, I remember last season in the third or fourth round we won against Granada 6-0, and the next day it seemed like we won 1-0 with a penalty in the 90th minute. And that’s when you say ‘Yes, but this is Barça.’
And you start to understand where you are.
Yes. And you already know until what point the demands to do better can go at this club. It’s not just training and that’s it. You have to do more. I’ll stay an hour more in the gym, I’ll go do treatment. I’ll take two baths to recover better. You have to do everything much better than you did before. Now I do a lot of things more than I did in Germany or at Sevilla. I always want to be on the pitch.
But can you enjoy it with this level of demand?
Yes. And a lot. Last year when we won the Champions League I was telling my family and friends: ‘I honestly feel bad that the season is ending.’ You feel so strong, you feel so superior. You don’t want it to end, you want it to last a bit more because you want to play more.
Because you were feeling so well on the pitch?
I was enjoying everything, every training, the rondos. You’re so pleased that you think ‘I wish they would schedule the first round of the next season right now’. And this summer I got married, we went on our honeymoon and I was honestly wishing to get back to the pitch again.
Did you tell your wife that?
Let’s see if you write it… Honestly, I was wanting to get back on the pitch with my teammates and to get back to work.
Are you there again this year?
We’re there, but there’s a long way to go, a lot of work to put in, we know that after such a good year, everyone looks at the champion. Everyone wants to beat Barça and they put more fight in it.
Do you handle the rotations well?
Honestly, no. I don’t like sitting on the bench. If you’re a player who likes to be on the bench, that shows a very serious lack of ambition. We’re a team, but you fight to be out there. I’ll find my own spare time to rest. To give you an example, I liked Guardiola’s words about Lewandowski a lot, saying that he’s the best professional he’s ever seen. I want to get to that point.
You want Guardiola to say that you’re the best professional he’s ever seen?
No… I want my coach here to say it. I live for that. I live for football, for being at 100 percent. I want to enjoy it and I know that in order to enjoy it, I have to be at my best.
Is it a change to go from being Sevilla’s captain to not having the armband?
Yes, but you have to understand where you’ve come. You know that you’re playing with the best player in history, that you have people who are the best in their position around you. I want to contribute with my part, that’s what I’m working for, winning the confidence of my teammates, that’s the first thing, and the most important thing is to play with them on the pitch. For me it’s not enough to say ‘I signed for Barça, very well, but that’s it.’ No. If I come here, I want to at least do it the best way possible.
In your presentation, you said ‘I want to write history, we’ll try to win everything and to make people enjoy it’. That’s done already. What else is there left?
Hahaha! Well, thanks to the president I have a few years left. And I want to keep doing it. I’m excited, I don’t know if there’s a unique excitement, but I’m sure it’s the biggest there is, I want to keep fighting for everything and hopefully we’ll be able to repeat it every season. We’re on that path.
Are you prepared to not win?
I came here from Sevilla and I spent seasons there not winning anything. I know and I understand when there’s a period when things don’t work out well and you try to change the dynamic. When that moment comes, because it will, when we don’t win trophies, because that’s normal, we have to get there with a great effort behind us.
Do you think Barça’s style has changed?
I think we’re maybe different players, I think that’s what it is. But saying that the style is different… In football, the opposing team conditions you a bit. If they give you space, you try to take advantage of it. I work for that, to see the weak points of the opposition. If tomorrow I sit on the couch maybe my moment won’t come. That’s why I would rather give what I can. I can’t do what Andrés does or what Xavi did, but I want to contribute with what I can. I want to be Ivan Rakitic. Improving the team as little as I can, that’s perfect, that’s what I’m here for, what I work for.
The team works for the three up front?
In the end, they’ve earned that. They have the freedom to move as they want because they’re the best and when you have them, you have to take advantage of that. But they surely know it and see it this way. They know that the ones behind them are also the best. We know that if we can recover the ball a bit higher it’s better for everyone, but we know that if we need help to be strong at the back they’ll come lower to help. I give you something, but you give me something too.
Clearly, they know that if we don’t raise the line when we attack, we’ll be as lost as when we defend and they don’t come lower.
It’s a great proof of humility from players like you, Iniesta, Busquets, Piqué, world stars in your own right who work for three teammates.
But they’ve earned that. It’s not because we just feel that way. We know that with the quality they have it’s normal at times that they run less than we do or when you see the statistics… that doesn’t matter a lot. Each of us has his role. I can’t dribble like Ney, I can’t raise the ball like he does, I can’t shoot like Leo or have the body strength that Luis has, but I have other things that maybe they don’t have.
Like getting the lines closer together, helping out in defense. We know that they live from a football that involves a high amount of risk, the 1v1s… Well, when the ball is lost you have to be there because if you recover it you have some space and if the first attempt didn’t succeed, the second will. You have to be close together, help each other. It’s like that. Putting everything together, hopefully we’ll be as strong as we are.
Is the objective to be the first team to win the Champions League two years in a row?
(Smiles.) Honestly, and I say this will all sincerity, our objective is to win every game, to be at a very high level. In the dressing room when we don’t have a Champions League game we don’t talk about the Champions League, we talk about what’s next. We know the road we have to take. It’s an objective, of course, but it’s an objective because it’s a competition in which we’re doing well, not because we won it last season and we want to win it again. No, we want to win it every time. With all the respect to other teams, we want to be at 100 percent all the time, we want to win always.
But isn’t being the first ones to do this a motivation?
But we don’t need a special motivation to want to win the Champions, it’s not necessary. Yes, it’s nice to say that hopefully we’ll do it and be the first ones, of course, but that’s not the primary objective. Besides that, the primary objective is the league. Because that’s the day by day stuff. It’s the hardest competition and I think it’s the most difficult one.
Yes, because it’s a whole year. For three months we didn’t play in the Champions League. And during these three months we played like, I don’t know, 20 league games. La Liga is our daily bread and butter. And then of course, an international trophy generates more interest. You don’t just want to be the best in Spain, but the best in Europe and then fight to win the Club World Cup. But we’re going step by step and with humility.
Where does a player have more fun: at a party at the Camp Nou celebrating the treble or on the pitch?
Honestly, you enjoy being on the pitch more with all the adrenaline.
And if you score in the final in Berlin…
I’m not even getting started on that. (His face lights up.)
Is it the most important goal in your career?
Yes, yes. I think that looking for a word to describe that is impossible. There’s no word that can explain what you’re feeling in that moment. Because you want to hug the whole stadium. Not just the two-three guys next to you, but the whole stadium, I wanted to open my arms and hold everyone. I thought of my wife, of my daughter, of my family, everyone. And you see your teammates… I’m getting goosebumps even now. That’s the top. You feel great… everyone sees that game. You’re there to help your team.
And when the game ends and you get to the shower…
Before I went to take a shower I sat down for a moment, they gave me my daughter in the dressing room. After jumping and yelling, I sat down for a moment and the only thing missing was my daughter asking me how I was doing. You can’t be happier than that, honestly. Wow.
Is winning a drug?
Yes and honestly you always want more. You want to improve all the time. You don’t just want to win, you want to do it better in the next game. When we say that we want to improve and people ask what we could improve, there’s a lot of things to be improved.
Like in the last game when Sevilla scored.
Yes, but the opponent also plays.
Of course, but you want to improve that for yourself, not for the opponent. You don’t want to give them even that. You want to minimize the damage they can do, of course, that’s almost impossible, but you want to do it. You want more, you want better, you want to fight. Even for a throw in. You want it to be yours not the opposition’s. Always for you. And when you get that you feel good.
Is this desire to improve, to never settle, the key to this Barça of the last decade?
A big part. A year and a half ago I got into a dressing room where the guys had won everything. They had had a difficult year, but they’d won the lot before. And you get here and you see this desire and you say ‘I won a Europa League with Sevilla’, which is great, and a cup in Switzerland. And you say that you’ll fight 10 times harder if you can. I’ll eat the entire pitch if I have to. I don’t want it more than Andrés or Leo, that’s for sure, but I’ll do everything I can to be there with them.
Do you feel like you’re fighting in a hostile environment? The movers and shakers in the world of football don’t seem to be your friends.
There is tension, yes, but we have to convert that into something good. We’ll play at the hour we have to, where we have to and we’ll show that we’re even better for it. With more fair play. No problems. The important thing is to prove that we’re there, fighting for everything.
That must make the movers and shakers feel a bit impotent.
No, that’s why I say that each of us has to do what’s good for him. I understand that there are places where we have more fans or we’re appreciated more and that in others, less. Just like I like one movie more than the other, but I won’t think about what others have to do. I’ll be thinking about what benefits my own people.