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Luis Enrique: “I chose Ivan Rakitić over Toni Kroos”

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The former FC Barcelona coach confirms that he had final say in the decision

Real Madrid CF v FC Barcelona - La Liga Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

Luis Enrique has confirmed in an interview with Catalunya Ràdio that when he first joined as Barcelona coach, he was forced to choose between signing Ivan Rakitić from Sevilla or Toni Kroos from Bayern Munich. The Asturian ended up choosing Rakitić while Kroos went to Real Madrid.

The coach said that in truth, however, he wanted both Rakitić and Kroos to join Barcelona, but his request was denied:

“[Kroos] fit in as well, I remember this was our doubt. I would have signed both. But there wasn’t enough money. Don’t laugh. Andoni [Zubizarreta] also liked Kroos a lot. I did as well. I said, ‘if I can only choose one, then I sign Ivan.’ I wish I had signed both. But remember, when Ivan came in, it was a time in which Xavi was going to leave, but in the end Xavi didn’t leave. And Xavi, we know what Xavi means for everyone.

[...]

“Kroos is more like a pivot, Ivan can be a pivot or an interior. Kroos has good touch, good shooting. He would be a good interior as well, eh? Maybe he doesn’t have the profile to receive in ball in between the lines and turn. Maybe he doesn’t have ability to beat players one-on-one, but well, Ivan doesn’t have that either. They’re players that are alike, that are similar, but with a few exceptions.”

Luis Enrique said one match in particular stood out to him when making the decision.

“I was very clear first of all because I knew Rakitić better, let’s not fool ourselves. I had seen him. What’s more, I have an anecdote that’s very good. When I was at Celta, he was at Sevilla. He was Sevilla’s captain, our best player was Rafinha. We played in Vigo. Sevilla was a team that could potentially land a spot in Europe, Celta was trying to avoid relegation. Rakitić marked Rafinha, in the box, outside... Sevilla’s star marked our best player with such a discipline, with such a capacity... then offensively, we all know the characteristics he has. Great runs, passing, ball control, ability to to maintain the ball, ability to play the final ball, strategy... he has it all as a player. And on top of that, his behavior at the personal level when you ask about him. And that’s something we always ask before we sign someone: how is he as a person? Because this is key.”

Celta would win that match 1-0 with an 87th minute penalty from Nolito.