Dreams, by definition, make good bedfellows. Every footballer is used to snuggling up to them. Honing them, cherishing them – fighting for them. All of Ivan Rakitić’s team-mates during his 13-trophy spell at Barcelona were in the business of trying to turn dreams into reality.
Leo Messi and his unrequited dream of winning Argentina the World Cup. It’s his leitmotif. Marc-André ter Stegen’s determination to oust Mannschaft all-time great Manuel Neuer and become Germany’s No1. Gerard Piqué’s determination to revitalise the Davis Cup (tennis), buy and revitalise his own club (FC Andorra) and secure the nine-figure shirt sponsorship for Barcelona. And one day become Camp Nou president, of course.
Rakitić is cut from the right stuff – just as competitive, as ambitious as all these special men. He’s also a cosmopolitan polyglot. Born in Switzerland, capped 106 times and a World Cup finalist for Croatia. Teeth cut, football-wise, in Germany, and not only able to speak seven languages but willing to learn more if he were to suddenly have a team-mate whose mother tongue he didn’t understand. A well-rounded, interesting, creative world citizen. He views horizons as exciting challenges, not daunting boundaries.
So, for heaven’s sake, don’t think the next statement is reductionist. His dominant dream, for some considerable time, has simply been to follow his heart. Follow it home. Not his birthplace home, in Rheinfelden, not home to Basel where he grew up, nor home spiritually to FC Möhlin-Riburg where he first kicked a ball as a toddler and recently sent a donation to help the club with the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
No. Home to this Swiss-born Croatian with a Bosnian Croat mother is, unquestionably, Seville – the city he loves and where, most unexpectedly and most dramatically, he found love. Last summer, that dream came true.
Rakitić’s natural rapture at returning, with his wife and daughters, to this pulsating, searingly hot, tradition-fixated, quixotic, patriotic, culturally rich city in the heart of Spain’s deep south is worth a million television adverts.
“When I could tell my wife and daughters we were returning to Seville… those are moments that stay with you for life,” he tells us. “Just imagine, my wife could call her mother and her sister to announce we were coming home. Very special. I feel really grateful to Sevilla, to the president, to Monchi [Sevilla’s director of football] and to the manager. They made it possible.”
“Seville has amazing history; it’s uniquely beautiful. If you want to discover parts of our city then just close your eyes, point at the map and you won’t go wrong”
At this point it’s worth explaining, for the uninitiated, that Rakitić fell head over heels in love when he first moved to Seville – back in January 2011. Following a day of advanced but unsigned negotiations with Sevilla, another big club phoned him and offered to send a private jet to pick him up, there and then, in order to gazump the Rojiblancos. Rakitić, being Rakitić, decided to honour the conversations with Monchi and reject the private jet and bigger salary. He and his brother then went for a wind-down drink in their hotel – about five minutes’ walk from Sevilla’s Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán stadium.
Taking stock of what had been a remarkable day, Sevilla’s new recruit glimpsed a local girl, on the hotel staff, felt Cupid’s arrow pierce his heart, pursued her for months, sometimes to very little encouragement, won her over, married Raquel and now they have two lovely daughters. It’s very Hollywood. But 100% true.
“I met Raquel that first night in Seville, and there was a language barrier – she spoke very little English. So, I had to learn Spanish by any means necessary... and as quickly as possible! I didn’t speak a word, especially not the strong Seville dialect. Not even ‘Good morning.’
“Moreover, I shared a dressing room with players like Jesús Navas who are from the city, born and raised. Not easy! But I didn’t want to attend classes – rather, to try to learn it from watching a lot of Canal Sur, all the local TV shows, from listening to the radio, from listening to conversations between people. Even team-mates who spoke English really well, I forced them to speak to me in Spanish.
"Telling my wife and daughters we were returning to Seville was a moment that will stay with me for life"
“Now, I’m frequently told I speak with a Seville accent, something very special. Everyone likes hearing it. Getting to know Raquel was initially a bit like Tarzan and Jane, with hand gestures to say, ‘Come here’ or ‘Let’s go there?’ Even that is a part of the story which leaves a lasting impression on both of us. Part of a great love story – all the details are lovely.
“During all the Barcelona years, my wife and daughters kept their accents, their mannerisms, their way of doing things. We took our Seville way of life to Barcelona, and we’ve brought that back again. Just the other day, I was saying to my wife, ‘It doesn’t seem real, does it? It has really happened, we are back home!’”
Given the fundamental role that Sevilla plays in her relationship, it’s a curious anomaly that Raquel isn’t very futbolera. Translation? Rakitić’s wife didn’t initially give a hoot about the sport at which Ivan excels. That’s still more curious once he tells a remarkable tale that helps explain how the red-and-white half of this city lives and breathes the club.