After Ivan Rakitic embraced his Barcelona role, success followed
Barcelona fans have been spoilt by a seemingly endless stream of world-class midfielders coming through the La Masia youth system over the years.
The talent of playmakers such as Guillermo Amor, Pep Guardiola, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta has been instrumental over the last two decades, ensuring the Blaugranas' style of play retained that distinctive tiki-taka flavour with which millions around the world have fallen in love over the years
At the same time, however, it is fair to say that their talents could only shine thanks to the undeniable contribution of non-homegrown midfielders who offered an extra element of directness and physicality. Bernd Schuster in the 1980s, Jose Mari Bakero in the 1990s and Deco in the early 00s were prime examples.
Fast forward to the present and, perhaps unsurprisingly, history is repeating itself. That Luis Enrique's team has completed the perfect season by winning the treble is as much to do with Ivan Rakitic as anyone else.
The Croatian international has excelled in his first season at the Camp Nou, with an impressive total of 50 appearances under his belt as he established himself as a key member of the starting XI.
Like the rest of his teammates, Rakitic spent the first third of the season trying to work out what Luis Enrique expected from him. With the new manager fielding a different lineup every week, a general feeling of discomfort amongst his players was unavoidable.
Such confusion was never more obvious that when Barca travelled to the Santiago Bernabeu in late October to face Real Madrid. Despite having been trusted as a regular starter, Rakitic was relegated to the bench as Xavi started.
With all due respect to Barca's iconic playmaker, it was clear that, at 34, his inability to keep up with the physical demands of such a high-tempo game ended up hurting the visitors badly and, unfortunately, was one of the key reasons why they came back to Catalunya with a disappointing 3-1 defeat.
Being dropped for the biggest game of the season until that point seemed to affect his confidence but he slowly regained his manager's trust to the point of becoming pretty much indispensable and an automatic choice whenever available.
After much experimenting, analyzing and tweaking, Luis Enrique finally worked out that, if Rakitic was ever going to become a cornerstone of his formation, the ex-Sevilla man would have to compromise some of his individual brilliance and replace it with industrial amounts of hard work instead.
Rakitic had impressed as an attacking midfielder at his previous club but, once he realised he had not been brought to the Camp Nou to replace Xavi but to help build a more robust, physical, direct team in his absence, things started looking up again for him.
Meanwhile, though an embarrassing 1-0 defeat at Real Sociedad in early January made the club's core tremble, it was clear the penny had finally dropped for Luis Enrique: Success was only going to be achieved if his experimenting was replaced with undisputable trust in an ideal XI.
Rakitic had his place in the manager's preferred lineup alongside the magical Iniesta and in front of holding midfielder and chief distributor Sergio Busquets. Perhaps more importantly, Luis Enrique trusted his No.4 as a link with both Messi and Dani Alves on the right flank.
Considering the freedom La Pulga had to roam around Barca's attack and the way in which his Brazilian teammate loves to push forward, Rakitic was given the crucial role of ensuring their backs were covered in case the opposition managed to regain possession and looked for a quick outlet on the counter.
The 27-year-old international grew in confidence as the season developed, responding to the manager's trust with a string of convincing, commanding performances which helped him become a regular.
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The rest, as they say, is now history. Barcelona's right flank has dominated rival defences ever since, with Rakitic knowing exactly how to combine and complement the almost instinctive Messi-Alves partnership.
Whether it is by opening up spaces with a clever pass, covering up when pushing forward or even overlapping on the wing, Rakitic is always ready to make a difference. He does this while knowing he will certainly not have his name splashed all over the headlines if the team succeeds, even after scoring the opener after just four minutes of the Champions League final.
Kudos to an ultra-committed international who is always willing to sacrifice himself for the overall benefit of the team, a reliable professional capable of establishing himself ahead of the player with most appearances in Barcelona's history and making fans forget about the departure of both Cesc Fabregas and Thiago Alcantara in the last couple of years.
As the proverb says, "Everything happens for a reason."