While Leo Messi was flirting with the exit door at Barcelona over the past few weeks, a more acrimonious departure was taking place at the Camp Nou. No stranger to romanticism, Ivan Rakitić’s return to Seville was the perfect curtain call to the autumn of his career.

To understand the parabolic significance of the Croat’s return to Andalucía, we must first revisit his open love letter to The Player’s Tribune from 2017.

The scene is set in the hotel bar of a Seville hotel in January 2011. Nervous about his unveiling at the club the following day, he and his older brother Dejan have a nightcap to help him sleep.

Calls are still pouring in from Europe’s elite clubs to prize him away at the last moment. Then Raquel enters stage left.

Having seen this apparition, Ivan has a road to Damascus moment whereupon he decides that Seville is the right landing spot and proceeds to tell his brother

You see our waitress? I am going to play here for Seville, and I am going to marry this woman.”

Dejan laughs off the idea, tussles the hair of his wide-eyed brother, and wishes him the best of luck in his on and off-field pursuits.

Over the following weeks and months Rakitić operated out of the same hotel and frequented the hotel bar for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In his broken Spanish, the lusciously locked Croat often had Raquel in his sights and showed little hesitation in his advances.

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.”

At this point you’re probably wondering if Rakitić was closer to a restraining order than a first date. Harassing local waitresses in pidgin Spanish is hardly behavior befitting of such an elegant on field performer.

So persistent was the future Champions League winner that he even used a team of undercover accomplices to alert him to Raquel’s days off.

And therein lies the lesson, 31 times a charm it seems, as Raquel finally agreed to dinner with the playmaker, on the condition that she was chaperoned by her friend.

As they grew to know each other on a less voyeuristic basis, Raquel’s initial reluctance became apparent.

You’re a footballer. You could be moving to another country next year.”

While Raquel herself was not an avid football fan, the same could not be said for her Sevilla mad family, who were delighted with their relationship. This pride was intensified when in 2013 Rakitić became the first foreign captain of the club since Diego Maradona.

The boy whose parents fled Croatia at the outset of the Bosnian War always had dreams of playing in Spain and emulating childhood hero and compatriot, Robert Prosinečki who played for Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Sevilla respectively.

In 2014, Rakitić followed Prosinečki’s path in reverse when he joined Barcelona in a deal less straightforward than it appeared on the surface.

When Barcelona wanted to sign me in 2014, it was quite an interesting experience, because my wife’s family obviously wanted me to stay. But they also knew that you only have one opportunity to move to the biggest club in the world. So in the end, they supported whatever I decided.”

With the move to the Catalan capital came much anticipated success, and Ivan went on to score the opening goal of the 2015 Champion’s League final in a Barcelona win. And while playing alongside the likes of Messi, Suarez, and Neymar has seen his stock rise over the years, a return to Andalucía was always on his radar.

In the intervening years, his legs may have diminished, and his hairline has thinned, but the passion for his beloved Seville still burned strong. Last week the club’s social media accounts, known for their more chaotic unveilings, reintroduced Rakitić to Sevillistas in modestly biblical fashion.

Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet.”

The adopted son has returned. Long live Ivan Rakitić.

Ciarán Brennan