While we may know everything about Croatia’s footballers on the pitch, how much do we really know about them off the pitch? A wonderful story about one of Croatia’s most famous footballers who met the love of his life at a bar in Seville.
Ivan Rakitić, the 30-year-old Barcelona midfielder who’s spent 11 years on the Croatia national team, is not shy about opening up to his fans. The famous midfielder has been known, on quite a few occasions, to pen significant stories about his life to various sports publications. You might remember the story where Rakitić revealed why he chose to play for Croatia over Switzerland. Such is the story published by The Players Tribune in September 2017 where Rakitić opened his heart about the girl who won his heart.
“It starts with a Croatian guy walking into a bar…
It was 2011. I was 21 years old. I arrived in Spain really late — maybe 10 o’clock at night. I had been playing for Schalke in Germany for the past four years, and Seville were all set to sign me the next morning. All I had to do was take my medical test and sign the papers. My older brother Dejan was traveling with me, and when we got to the hotel, we had a late dinner with some people from the club. For whatever reason, I was a little bit nervous after dinner, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep. So I said to my brother, ‘Let’s have a drink and then we’ll go to bed.’ Those words changed my life,” Rakitić writes in the opening of his love story.
Following the sequence of a romantic film, Rakitić recalls the beautiful woman working at the hotel bar, and though Rakitić spoke 5 languages, Spanish was not one of them.
“But I couldn’t say anything to her other than ‘Hola,’ because I didn’t know any Spanish. I spoke German, English, Italian, French and Serbo-Croatian, but no Spanish. It was terrible. So my brother and I were just sitting there, having a chat, when someone from another big European club called my brother on the phone. They said that they had heard that we had arrived in Seville, and they wanted to send a plane to come pick us up so I could go and sign with them instead. We didn’t have a formal agreement with Seville yet. It was a big step for me to move to Spain, and maybe a big risk. New country, new language. I didn’t know anyone there. The team who wanted to send the plane for me — let’s just say it might have been an easier adjustment. So my brother said, ‘What do you want to do?’ I told him, ‘Well … I said ‘Yes’ to the president of Seville already, and my words are worth more than a signature.’ He said, “Alright, I’ll tell them.’ Then I pointed across the bar and I said, ‘You see our waitress? I am going to play here for Seville, and I am going to marry this woman.’”
Rakitić ended up signing the contract for Seville and stayed in the hotel for three months while he searched for a place to live. Each morning, Rakitić would go to the hotel bar to see the love of his life. The footballer knew her name was Raquel, and knew that she didn’t speak any English. Not much help as Ivan couldn’t speak Spanish, Rakitić, however, managed to order the same thing every day:
“Buenos días, Raquel. Un café y un Fanta naranja.”
“I don’t know how to explain it. Sometimes, you meet someone and you just have a different feeling. Whenever I saw her, it was like a bomb went off inside me. Week after week, I slowly started to learn some Spanish words, and if I was struggling, I would use my hands a lot to try to explain what I was trying to say to her. She thought that was funny. She was like, ‘Me … Jane. You … Tarzan.’ I was drinking so much coffee it was ridiculous. I probably asked her out 20 or 30 times. She never said no, but she always made an excuse that she had to work and then go to bed. After three months, I moved into my house, and I remember feeling really sad, because I thought maybe it was over. But I didn’t give up. I would still drive into town and go for a coffee at the hotel all the time. If she wasn’t working, I’d walk straight back out the door and go to another place. If she was there, it made my day.”
Rakitić’s Spanish started to improve, allowing him and Raquel to have better conversations, though this hotel waitress still wouldn’t give him the time of day.
“One day, Raquel finally explained why she wouldn’t go out with me. She said, ‘You’re a footballer. You could be moving to another country next year. Sorry, but no.’ You know, I’m not the biggest guy in the world, so I thought, Shit, maybe she sees me and she doesn’t think I’m going to be very good and Seville will sell me in the summer.”
Rakitić said it took seven months for Raquel to warm up to the idea. Rakitić’s friend messaged him one day that Raquel wasn’t working, and that she was at the hotel bar having a drink with her sister. Rakitić immediately made his way to the bar, sat next to Raquel, and said: “‘O.K., you’re not working. You finally have time to come to dinner with me.’ She was surprised. She said she didn’t know, maybe… I said, ‘No. I’m not leaving. I know you’re with your sister and everything, but we have to start today. Let’s go. We’ll all go.’ So we all went out together.”
The dinner went so well, that the two had lunch the following day. The couple has been together ever since.
“Six years together, with two beautiful daughters now. And it was the hardest thing I’ve done in my life. It was harder than winning the Champions League, and it took nearly as long.”
While his love life may be stronger than ever, Ivan Rakitic opened up about the tough times in Barcelona and losing his place in the starting lineup after five years at the club in the 2019/2020 season.
“They took my ball. I am sad,” he said in an interview for Spanish TV Movistar.
Coach Ernesto Valverde left Rakitic on the bench in numerous important La Liga games back in November, and had only played in 10 games at the beginning of the season, recording just 255 minutes, which was the least by minute among Barcelona’s seven midfielders.
“I understand and respect the decisions of the coach, the club, or anyone. I have given a lot during these five years at Barcelona and I want to continue to enjoy it. I’m 31, not 38, so I feel I’m at my best,” said Rakitic.
He said he was hit emotionally by being losing his place in the squad because he had been a member of the starting line-up since joining the club.
“How does my younger daughter feel when you take away her toy? She’s sad. I feel the same way. They took my ball away, so I’m sad,” said the Croatian midfielder.
Rakitic has been Barcelona’s most used player since Ernesto Valverde took over the team in the summer of 2017, and has won the Spanish Championship twice during those two seasons. But since the start of this season, Rakitic was seldom in the starting lineup once – and Valverde didn’t even include him in the player list for one of the games.
“I like to show my feelings. When you need to cry, that is okay. When I need to celebrate, I celebrate, like winning the silver medal with Croatia at the 2018 World Cup,” he noted.
Valverde said in October that he had more midfielders this season than in previous seasons, and the Barcelona administration has not yet revealed anything about the situation with Rakitic, who has a contract until the summer of 2021.
Recall, in the 2019 summer, Barcelona brought in 22-year-old midfielder Frankie de Jong from Ajax for €75 million.
Fortunately, Rakitic has been given more minutes since then, and even regained his starting place in crucial Champions League games in January and February 2020. Whether Rakitic will end his career at Barcelona, or move onto greener pastures like the speculated Juventus or an English Premier League club, only time will tell.