A talented and hard-working midfielder, Rakitić is known in the media as a well-rounded playmaker, with good stamina and defensive skills, as well as excellent technique, close control, vision, and passing, which enables him to dictate play in midfield and create chances for teammates after winning back possession, despite his lack of pace. As such, he is capable of both breaking down opposing plays and subsequently transitioning the ball forward to start attacks; he is also capable of scoring goals himself, courtesy of his striking ability from distance, as well as his ability to find and exploit spaces with his movement off the ball and make attacking runs into the box. A versatile player, he is capable of playing in several midfield positions, and has been deployed as a winger on either side of the pitch, as a central midfielder, as an attacking midfielder, as a defensive midfielder, in a box-to-box role, or even as a deep-lying playmaker. In 2019, in an interview with BeIN Sports, manager José Mourinho described Rakitić as “one of the most underrated players in the world.” He later added: “He is fantastic on all levels; he defends, he compensates for [Lionel] Messi, he runs and he’s sensible with the ball at his feet.”
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Rakitić’s first international experience came at youth level with the Switzerland under-17, under-19 and under-21 national teams, but decided to accept the call-up by Croatia national team coach Slaven Bilić and play for the nation’s senior team. He made his full international debut for Croatia on 8 September 2007 in their UEFA Euro 2008 qualifier against Estonia in Zagreb, highly praised by the fans as he was entering the game as a substitute. In Croatia’s following qualifier, a 0–6 away win over Andorra on 12 September 2007, he scored his first international goal for Croatia in only his second appearance for the team. He finished the year 2007 with five senior international caps to his name, four of which were in the successful Euro 2008 qualifying campaign.