Ivan Rakitic has beautifully summed up the power of football with a touching personal story about his connection with Sevilla FC, where he played for three years.
Football - and indeed sport - connects with people on a number of levels. Sports teams, whether local or national, professional or amateur, are precious to people. They represent them, where they come from and those they know and love. The most obvious local example of this is the GAA and the passion people have for their club and county. And the incredible outpouring of emotion for Anthony Foley elucidated just how much people care about the warriors who do battle on their behalf.
A beautiful yarn from Ivan Rakitic, Barcelona's Croatian midfield wizard, shows not only the connection fans can have with a club, but also how and why players at a club can become personally attached themselves.
Speaking to Henry Winter of 'The Times', Rakitic demonstrates that he's a bit more of a thinker than your typical footballer - but maybe you'd expect that from someone who speaks six languages.
He is talking about the time he flew into Seville for the first time with his brother.
I said to my brother, ‘Let’s go to a bar, have a drink, because I’m nervous. It’s impossible to sleep.’
The bar was next to the hotel and my wife today was working inside. She was really special. When we took our seats, another girl came to take the drinks. I said, ‘No, no, I want the other girl please.’ She arrived laughing. After she left, I told my brother, ‘I want to stay here and I will marry this girl.’ He told me, ‘You’re crazy.’
She didn’t want to go out with me because I’m a footballer. She said, ‘You’re here for some months, some years, and then you go on your way.’ I put myself in her situation, ‘This blond guy came into the bar, from Croatia, doesn’t speak Spanish and now he wants to go out with me. What shall I do? See you.’ I felt really bad. But I persisted and after seven months we go out. Then I told her, ‘Now you have to be close to me.’
She’s a Sevilla fan. All her family are. A lot of times she told me it makes her sad that I couldn’t know her grandfather who was really crazy about Sevilla. My wife told me that when Sevilla won he arrived home with presents for everyone. When Sevilla lost, he was not speaking with anybody. When he was dying, he told his daughter the last words, ‘So I know the moment is arriving, but if you have to take my clothes and everything, don’t touch my Sevilla watch.’
I still speak with Monchi (Sevilla director of football), people from Radio Sevilla and the kit guys. It was really hard to leave. I said to Monchi and the president, ‘I don’t need more money, I don’t want to say I am playing in England or Italy. I will leave only if it is for the biggest club in the world.’ And Barça came for me.
It's well worth reading the full, brilliant interview, in which he also fascinatingly describes the personality and hunger of Luis Suarez, Neymar and Messi - who he insists is "the best" - and compares watching Andres Iniesta play football to listening to classical music.