Interview

No place like home

Savouring life back in his adopted home city, Ivan Rakitić explains to Graham Hunter just what makes Seville such a magical place and why everyone should try his favourite local delicacy – snails

PORTRAITS Janick Baggenstos for Excensy

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.

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
By

“Whenever Sevilla won, my wife’s grandfather would come to her house with lots of presents and sweets and he’d take the whole family out to dinner. But if Sevilla lost, he stayed at home. Raquel’s mum still laments that her husband couldn’t ever see me play for Sevilla, especially when I was captain. When he was gravely ill in hospital, there was a special moment when they were going to remove all his jewellery before the family would say goodbye to him and he was wearing a watch, from the club shop, with the Sevilla FC crest on it. With his last words, he said, ‘Take everything off me except the watch. The watch goes with me.’

“To hear that… to be a part of this great Sevilla family is incredible. It gives me goosebumps. To be able to play, in some small way, in memory of Raquel’s grandfather. All the great moments are dedicated to him and the family.”

Perhaps Rakitić is the world’s most romantic, sentimental Croat? Particularly susceptible to being seduced? Whatever, it wasn’t simply Raquel’s allure under whose spell he immediately fell on arrival in the heart of Andalusia. The first time Sevilla’s world-famous anthem (arguably the greatest piece of music ever commissioned throughout club football) boomed out pre-match, every Rakitić nerve-ending tingled.

“I remember that moment – at home against Recreativo de Huelva. When the crowd started to sing, it hit me: ‘Wow... this is something else!’ Everyone was feeling it. No matter where you looked, all the fans were standing, singing, clapping, bouncing… I turned to [Ivica] Dragutinović and said, ‘The anthem is great, isn’t it?’ He answered, ‘Wait until you really understand it, just wait and see how you feel then.’

“It’s been exactly like that. Many times, playing here for Barcelona, I heard the Sevilla players singing part of the anthem. I thought, ‘This is amazing.’ With all due respect, this doesn’t happen in other clubs. And you don’t know how many times I sang it to my kids in Barcelona! When we watched Sevilla on TV, every time they won we played the anthem to enjoy it together. Now they sing it to me. Sevilla’s anthem is very present in my daughters’ lives. They’ve fallen asleep many times listening to the anthem with mum and dad.”

Rakitić is now engaged in elevating Sevilla to what his friend Monchi, the éminence grise behind the club’s irrepressible rise and rise, calls “the elite of European football”. And if coach Julen Lopetegui and Co can succeed in making Sevilla still more of a powerhouse, Rakitić would like there to be an accompanying increase in appreciation for the city itself.

“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. Several places have left their mark on me. Of course, first of all, the Sánchez-Pizjuán. Raquel and I got married in Seville’s cathedral, which is very special, with all the history behind it, and in the heart of the old town.

“And having paraded the Europa League trophy to the fans at the town hall, in the middle of the square, I must recommend that people come and see it. Then there’s the river, the Golden Tower, there are so many things… our world-famous Feria (Spring Fair), Easter celebrations. That atmosphere at Easter! If we could invite everyone to come and not just see Easter, but feel Easter, as it is felt here; it’s unique.

“Then, honestly, they should just come and get to know the people from Seville, with all the traditions. Anyone who hasn’t visited Seville is truly missing something – it’s so beautiful. Tell them to come. Many of them might even stay, like I did!”

Ivan’s favourite local delicacy – snails


Like any good Sevillista, this converted Croat loves the local cuisine as well. Naturally, he has a recommendation. “I’m lucky because my wife and her family like to cook, so we eat a lot of traditional food. A lot of local dishes are eaten with a spoon. Lentils and, of course, salmorejo and gazpacho, which are typical. In our fridge at home, there’s always one or the other.

“But, honestly, my favourite dish, which unfortunately you can only eat in a very short season during the year, is snails. I love how they’re prepared here, in the typical bars from my in-laws’ neighbourhood. That’s my favourite. You all have to come to Seville and I’ll treat you all to some good tapas with snails because they’re delicious.”

It would take another article entirely to properly encapsulate the passionate madness which enveloped the club’s Nervión neighbourhood when Captain Rakitić, bearing the 2013/14 Europa League trophy, landed in a helicopter in the middle of a bursting-at-the-seams Sánchez-Pizjuán. Suffice it to say that Rakitić is, and will always be, a king among men in this city.

Yet he can live like an ordinary Joe. Or José. “Seville is a city of very special passion, but I don’t have any problems. Like you, I go to the supermarket, I take a walk with my daughters, I walk the dogs, I go to the bar in my neighbourhood to sit and talk with whoever. I have no problem at all, I love it. This is me. My wife and her family are like that as well. This is our way of living. If we didn’t do that, we wouldn’t really be enjoying life. That’s why it’s important for us.”

Living the dream.

No items found.
Interview

No place like home

Savouring life back in his adopted home city, Ivan Rakitić explains to Graham Hunter just what makes Seville such a magical place and why everyone should try his favourite local delicacy – snails

PORTRAITS Janick Baggenstos for Excensy

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.

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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
By

“Whenever Sevilla won, my wife’s grandfather would come to her house with lots of presents and sweets and he’d take the whole family out to dinner. But if Sevilla lost, he stayed at home. Raquel’s mum still laments that her husband couldn’t ever see me play for Sevilla, especially when I was captain. When he was gravely ill in hospital, there was a special moment when they were going to remove all his jewellery before the family would say goodbye to him and he was wearing a watch, from the club shop, with the Sevilla FC crest on it. With his last words, he said, ‘Take everything off me except the watch. The watch goes with me.’

“To hear that… to be a part of this great Sevilla family is incredible. It gives me goosebumps. To be able to play, in some small way, in memory of Raquel’s grandfather. All the great moments are dedicated to him and the family.”

Perhaps Rakitić is the world’s most romantic, sentimental Croat? Particularly susceptible to being seduced? Whatever, it wasn’t simply Raquel’s allure under whose spell he immediately fell on arrival in the heart of Andalusia. The first time Sevilla’s world-famous anthem (arguably the greatest piece of music ever commissioned throughout club football) boomed out pre-match, every Rakitić nerve-ending tingled.

“I remember that moment – at home against Recreativo de Huelva. When the crowd started to sing, it hit me: ‘Wow... this is something else!’ Everyone was feeling it. No matter where you looked, all the fans were standing, singing, clapping, bouncing… I turned to [Ivica] Dragutinović and said, ‘The anthem is great, isn’t it?’ He answered, ‘Wait until you really understand it, just wait and see how you feel then.’

“It’s been exactly like that. Many times, playing here for Barcelona, I heard the Sevilla players singing part of the anthem. I thought, ‘This is amazing.’ With all due respect, this doesn’t happen in other clubs. And you don’t know how many times I sang it to my kids in Barcelona! When we watched Sevilla on TV, every time they won we played the anthem to enjoy it together. Now they sing it to me. Sevilla’s anthem is very present in my daughters’ lives. They’ve fallen asleep many times listening to the anthem with mum and dad.”

Rakitić is now engaged in elevating Sevilla to what his friend Monchi, the éminence grise behind the club’s irrepressible rise and rise, calls “the elite of European football”. And if coach Julen Lopetegui and Co can succeed in making Sevilla still more of a powerhouse, Rakitić would like there to be an accompanying increase in appreciation for the city itself.

“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. Several places have left their mark on me. Of course, first of all, the Sánchez-Pizjuán. Raquel and I got married in Seville’s cathedral, which is very special, with all the history behind it, and in the heart of the old town.

“And having paraded the Europa League trophy to the fans at the town hall, in the middle of the square, I must recommend that people come and see it. Then there’s the river, the Golden Tower, there are so many things… our world-famous Feria (Spring Fair), Easter celebrations. That atmosphere at Easter! If we could invite everyone to come and not just see Easter, but feel Easter, as it is felt here; it’s unique.

“Then, honestly, they should just come and get to know the people from Seville, with all the traditions. Anyone who hasn’t visited Seville is truly missing something – it’s so beautiful. Tell them to come. Many of them might even stay, like I did!”

Ivan’s favourite local delicacy – snails


Like any good Sevillista, this converted Croat loves the local cuisine as well. Naturally, he has a recommendation. “I’m lucky because my wife and her family like to cook, so we eat a lot of traditional food. A lot of local dishes are eaten with a spoon. Lentils and, of course, salmorejo and gazpacho, which are typical. In our fridge at home, there’s always one or the other.

“But, honestly, my favourite dish, which unfortunately you can only eat in a very short season during the year, is snails. I love how they’re prepared here, in the typical bars from my in-laws’ neighbourhood. That’s my favourite. You all have to come to Seville and I’ll treat you all to some good tapas with snails because they’re delicious.”

It would take another article entirely to properly encapsulate the passionate madness which enveloped the club’s Nervión neighbourhood when Captain Rakitić, bearing the 2013/14 Europa League trophy, landed in a helicopter in the middle of a bursting-at-the-seams Sánchez-Pizjuán. Suffice it to say that Rakitić is, and will always be, a king among men in this city.

Yet he can live like an ordinary Joe. Or José. “Seville is a city of very special passion, but I don’t have any problems. Like you, I go to the supermarket, I take a walk with my daughters, I walk the dogs, I go to the bar in my neighbourhood to sit and talk with whoever. I have no problem at all, I love it. This is me. My wife and her family are like that as well. This is our way of living. If we didn’t do that, we wouldn’t really be enjoying life. That’s why it’s important for us.”

Living the dream.

Interview

No place like home

Savouring life back in his adopted home city, Ivan Rakitić explains to Graham Hunter just what makes Seville such a magical place and why everyone should try his favourite local delicacy – snails

PORTRAITS Janick Baggenstos for Excensy

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.

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
By

“Whenever Sevilla won, my wife’s grandfather would come to her house with lots of presents and sweets and he’d take the whole family out to dinner. But if Sevilla lost, he stayed at home. Raquel’s mum still laments that her husband couldn’t ever see me play for Sevilla, especially when I was captain. When he was gravely ill in hospital, there was a special moment when they were going to remove all his jewellery before the family would say goodbye to him and he was wearing a watch, from the club shop, with the Sevilla FC crest on it. With his last words, he said, ‘Take everything off me except the watch. The watch goes with me.’

“To hear that… to be a part of this great Sevilla family is incredible. It gives me goosebumps. To be able to play, in some small way, in memory of Raquel’s grandfather. All the great moments are dedicated to him and the family.”

Perhaps Rakitić is the world’s most romantic, sentimental Croat? Particularly susceptible to being seduced? Whatever, it wasn’t simply Raquel’s allure under whose spell he immediately fell on arrival in the heart of Andalusia. The first time Sevilla’s world-famous anthem (arguably the greatest piece of music ever commissioned throughout club football) boomed out pre-match, every Rakitić nerve-ending tingled.

“I remember that moment – at home against Recreativo de Huelva. When the crowd started to sing, it hit me: ‘Wow... this is something else!’ Everyone was feeling it. No matter where you looked, all the fans were standing, singing, clapping, bouncing… I turned to [Ivica] Dragutinović and said, ‘The anthem is great, isn’t it?’ He answered, ‘Wait until you really understand it, just wait and see how you feel then.’

“It’s been exactly like that. Many times, playing here for Barcelona, I heard the Sevilla players singing part of the anthem. I thought, ‘This is amazing.’ With all due respect, this doesn’t happen in other clubs. And you don’t know how many times I sang it to my kids in Barcelona! When we watched Sevilla on TV, every time they won we played the anthem to enjoy it together. Now they sing it to me. Sevilla’s anthem is very present in my daughters’ lives. They’ve fallen asleep many times listening to the anthem with mum and dad.”

Rakitić is now engaged in elevating Sevilla to what his friend Monchi, the éminence grise behind the club’s irrepressible rise and rise, calls “the elite of European football”. And if coach Julen Lopetegui and Co can succeed in making Sevilla still more of a powerhouse, Rakitić would like there to be an accompanying increase in appreciation for the city itself.

“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. Several places have left their mark on me. Of course, first of all, the Sánchez-Pizjuán. Raquel and I got married in Seville’s cathedral, which is very special, with all the history behind it, and in the heart of the old town.

“And having paraded the Europa League trophy to the fans at the town hall, in the middle of the square, I must recommend that people come and see it. Then there’s the river, the Golden Tower, there are so many things… our world-famous Feria (Spring Fair), Easter celebrations. That atmosphere at Easter! If we could invite everyone to come and not just see Easter, but feel Easter, as it is felt here; it’s unique.

“Then, honestly, they should just come and get to know the people from Seville, with all the traditions. Anyone who hasn’t visited Seville is truly missing something – it’s so beautiful. Tell them to come. Many of them might even stay, like I did!”

Ivan’s favourite local delicacy – snails


Like any good Sevillista, this converted Croat loves the local cuisine as well. Naturally, he has a recommendation. “I’m lucky because my wife and her family like to cook, so we eat a lot of traditional food. A lot of local dishes are eaten with a spoon. Lentils and, of course, salmorejo and gazpacho, which are typical. In our fridge at home, there’s always one or the other.

“But, honestly, my favourite dish, which unfortunately you can only eat in a very short season during the year, is snails. I love how they’re prepared here, in the typical bars from my in-laws’ neighbourhood. That’s my favourite. You all have to come to Seville and I’ll treat you all to some good tapas with snails because they’re delicious.”

It would take another article entirely to properly encapsulate the passionate madness which enveloped the club’s Nervión neighbourhood when Captain Rakitić, bearing the 2013/14 Europa League trophy, landed in a helicopter in the middle of a bursting-at-the-seams Sánchez-Pizjuán. Suffice it to say that Rakitić is, and will always be, a king among men in this city.

Yet he can live like an ordinary Joe. Or José. “Seville is a city of very special passion, but I don’t have any problems. Like you, I go to the supermarket, I take a walk with my daughters, I walk the dogs, I go to the bar in my neighbourhood to sit and talk with whoever. I have no problem at all, I love it. This is me. My wife and her family are like that as well. This is our way of living. If we didn’t do that, we wouldn’t really be enjoying life. That’s why it’s important for us.”

Living the dream.

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