Why didn’t Ivan Rakitic to Arsenal happen?

By now many of you would have seen the tweet from former Arsenal youth team play Les Thompson.

It is a picture of a team sheet for a game in the mid 2000’s against the Ajax youth team that contains Ivan Rakitic (spelt incorrectly) on trial.

Like with everything Arsenal related, the reaction has been OTT, saying it is yet another player Arsenal missed out on.

As with Yaya Toure, hindsight is beautiful – it is easy to judge 10-15 years down the line, but no one really knows how Rakitic performed during his period at the club.

I have read plenty about Yaya Toure, that his trial period was less than convincing. That he was awful in a game against Barnet. Lost. The worst player on the park. An average performance.

It was the summer of 2003, Arsenal went on to be invincible that year. Toure was 20 years old.

Against Barnet that day, Toure played fairly advanced, he would have been compared to 18-year-old David Bentley who was technically brilliant at a young age. Arsenal at the time had also just bought a 16-year-old Cesc Fabregas.

Toure would have been behind both Bentley and Cesc; who were both junior to him.

Arsenal still wanted to sign the brother of Kolo Toure (who was already at the club) but struggled to get a work permit. He ended up at Metalurh Donetsk in Ukraine, and went through Olympiakos and Monaco before eventually joining Barcelona.

History has been re-written when it come’s Yaya Toure.

I tell the anecdote because you have to remember circumstances when young players come for a trial.

From the looks of the players, the game was in either 2005 or 2005.

The game was against Ajax U17s, whom Maarten Stekelenburg was managing up until 2005.

Nicklas Bendtner joined the club in August 2004. With it being a friendly game, it is likely that it is 2005 rather than 2004 as the season would have been underway before Bendtner had joined the club.

This means that Rakitic (born in 1988) would have been 16 or 17 based on whether the game took place in 1004 or 2005.

At this age it is very hard to judge players. Someone like Rakitic would have been bought to England by an agent. He probably would have been offered to many clubs, Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Spurs and more. It is how these things work. You can not sign them all.

What I find interesting with Rakitic is that after the Arsenal trial, he did not go on to join another top European club, he remained at Basel until 2007. This is an extract from an article on Rakitic written in 2007:

“At age 16, the leaders of Arsenal, Chelsea and Juventus were all interested in Rakitic but he signed for Basel….In the same sense that he did not want to be one of the many gifted children in large clubs.”

The article then go’s on to say how in 2006 his family “refused offers from Barcelona and Milan; Rakitic’s manager brought me Barcelona and Milan’s offers in writing. We also refuse Shakhtar from Donetsk. We were careful when selecting a club, and we selected Schalke because we were looking for a team where he would play. Because he knows German, we knew that he would not need time to adapt”,

What is clear is that he and his family had decided a path on him to help fulfil his potential, and the proof is in the pudding as he is now a regular starter for Barcelona.

First Basel, then Schalke, then Sevilla.

He went to smaller clubs, each one a step up from the next. He went to places he would get game time, where he would improve by playing.

The Rakitic that Barcelona attempted to sign in 2006 would have been an inferior one to the one they secured in 2014.

The same age as Sergio Busquests, would the Spanish side have been able to develop the pair? Probably not. He probably would have fallen away the same was as Jonathon Dos Santos and Bojan.

By taking small career steps, it meant that when he did join Barcelona, he walked straight into the first team.

I actually completely agree with his stand point. Too many talented players end up getting lost at big clubs. They join as a talented teenager but do not get the first team game time to progress and fulfil their potential.

You also get the situation at Arsenal at the time.

If we assume it was 2005, Cesc Fabregas had just played 33 league games. He was 17 turning 18 during the season. He set the bench mark for all midfielders around the same age to be compared too.

Arsenal had also just signed Alex Song who was just a year older than Rakitic.

They had also agreed a deal to take Denilson from Brazil to Islington once he had turned 18 in 2006. Back in 2005, Denilson was captaining his countries U17s to a runners-up spot at the 2005 FIFA U-17 World Championship.

We were also making moves for Abou Diaby.

The reality is you can only sign so many teenage midfielders.

Arsenal already had two 18 year olds in Song and Cesc. The former training with the first team, the later performing for the first team. At 18, Diaby and Denilson were being labelled as superstars.

When it comes to youth players, it is so hard to predict a players progression from youth player to senior pro.

Who could predict that Diaby would get an injury that would ruin his career at just 19? Or that Denilson would go from Brazil’s highest rated young central midfielder, to letting referees run past him when he tracks back.

So we have a player in Ivan Rakitic who was perhaps not as good as two other teenage midfielders at the club, not as good as two more who were set to join, and did not particularly want to join us.

I am sure we would have offered him a deal, and I am sure that he decided to stay at Basel.

Fabregas ended up becoming one of the best midfielders in the world at 19. Rakitic took till his mid-20s before finally feeling ready to play for Barcelona.

It is all about circumstances at the time, and football is easy in hindsight.


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