COMMENT: Unai Emery's men have battled all the way to the Uefa Europa League final against Benfica and their Croatian midfield dynamo remains integral to their chances
Over the course of the last 12 years or so, Sevilla have acquired something of a reputation for turning huge profits on players signed for pittance. Some deals may not have gone to plan, but sporting director Ramon ‘Monchi’ Rodriguez has generally enjoyed great success in the transfer market.
Alongside valuable cantera products Jose Antonio Reyes, Sergio Ramos and Jesus Navas, the club signed Dani Alves, Julio Baptista, Adriano, Seydou Keita, Geoffrey Kondogbia, Gary Medel and others on the cheap before offloading for far greater sums.
Now, Sevilla could be about to dwarf all of those deals as speculation engulfs their current star man: Ivan Rakitic.
Follow Ryan Benson on
After notching 13 goals and as many assists in all competitions, Rakitic is having easily his best-ever campaign. He has played a huge role in helping the club put two utterly dismal years behind them.
The 26-year-old has been the team’s main driving force and a set-piece sensation. Despite being such a decisive factor in the final third, it would be short-sighted to look no further than his creative ingenuity.
After appearing lightweight and even shy in his earlier days in Seville, the modern Rakitic is notably combative. With his up-right running style and all-round powerful figure, Rakitic is now more physically imposing than the skinny 22-year-old initially signed from Schalke in January 2011.
With his contract coming close to an end, the Germans opted to sell Rakitic to avoid missing out on a transfer fee. Although Atletico Madrid and Juventus were reportedly interested, Sevilla pounced and signed him for just €2.5 million.
Despite catching the eye immediately after his move, Rakitic has not always looked destined for the top.
New coach Marcelino Garcia Toral implemented a 4-4-2 system in order to accommodate an attacking partnership of Frederic Kanoute and Alvaro Negredo, meaning Rakitic played in an exceptionally deep role.
Michel replaced Marcelino in February 2012, but Rakitic’s position hardly changed. A 4-2-3-1 formation may have been introduced, but Kanoute filled the space behind Negredo, while the Croatian slotted into defensive midfield once again.
The 2011-12 La Liga season proved to be goalless for Rakitic and he started 17 matches on the bench. It is difficult to imagine now given his ‘hero’ status in the red and white half of the city, but some fans had started to get on his back.
Arguably the most important day in the midfielder’s Sevilla career to date was when fan favourite Kanoute left for Beijing Guoan.
Kanoute’s departure left a gaping void in the attacking midfield position and Michel opted to move Rakitic into that advanced role; the former Real Madrid star’s only lasting impression from an ill-fated spell as coach.
Rakitic has not looked back since.
Last season saw the rugged – yet elegant – Rakitic blossom, netting eight league goals and 10 assists. It was clear that a mass exodus was going to befall the club during the summer of 2013, but they were adamant that their Croatian gem was going nowhere and they subsequently named him captain.
With virtually an entirely new squad built around Rakitic, Sevilla finally appear to getting close to the heights supporters expect as they close in on a fifth-place La Liga finish and could yet win the Europa League.
His spectacular, headline-grabbing performance in this season’s 2-1 home win against Real Madrid exhibited just how much he has improved in big games.
But just as contract issues played into their hands when signing the Basel youth product, they are also making a summer exit look likely.
Rakitic’s current deal expires in June 2015 and although his agent – and brother, Dejan – is in talks regarding a renewal, Sevilla are understandably losing patience, with the process becoming exceedingly drawn out.
The player’s representative reportedly suggested that any new contract would have to include a buy-out clause well below €20m, something Sevilla dismissed immediately with that figure currently standing at €40m.
Of course, it remains to be seen what happens with this apparent roadblock, but the World Cup is likely to at least help provide an answer.
The 60-times-capped Switzerland-born Croatia star is expected to be one of the players who really emerges internationally in Brazil this summer, but he will be hopeful of not being shunted out to the right wing as he has been in the past.
In theory – and depending on the formation – he should form a central trio with Luka Modric and either Mateo Kovacic or Ognjen Vukojevic, but Rakitic’s form at club level means coach Niko Kovac must deploy him just behind Mario Mandzukic.
Although Sevilla will not want to see their leader make a move, the better he performs in Brazil, the more likely a team will meet his buy-out clause, and Rakitic’s own father claimed during the winter break that his son will break Croatia’s record transfer: Modric to Real Madrid for €30m.
There was no indication as to who would make the offer or when it will happen, but Rakitic has arguably had an even bigger impact on Sevilla than Modric had on Tottenham and a host of clubs are on his trail.
Either way, Monchi will probably be handed a substantial cheque once again rather soon.