BARCELONA: Barcelona boss Luis Enrique tried to ease speculation on Wednesday that midfielder Ivan Rakitic could be on his way to the Premier League after falling down the pecking order at the Camp Nou.
The 28-year-old Croatian international was a crucial figure as Barca won the treble in Enrique’s debut season and a Spanish league and cup double last year.
However, he has started just once in four games in 2017 with summer signing Andre Gomes featuring more prominently.
The former Sevilla captain has been strongly linked with a move to Manchester City after previously admitting he would love the opportunity to work with City boss Pep Guardiola at some point in his career.
“Ivan is a player who has been and will be important for the team and the club,” Enrique said ahead of Thursday’s trip to Real Sociedad in their Copa del Rey quarter-final first-leg tie.
Rakitic claimed last week that his respect was such that he would “jump off a bridge” if told to by Enrique.
However, negotiations over a new deal for the midfielder have stalled as Barca prioritise renewals for Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta.
“Rakitic is an example on and off the field,” added Enrique.
“I am not the one that has to evaluate new contracts. I just want all the players that are available to make the most of the minutes they are given.”
Barca travel to San Sebastian on Thursday looking to break an eight-game winless streak away to Sociedad, stretching back to 2007.
“We have seen all sorts of games in San Sebastian, but I prefer not to talk about the past,” said Enrique.
The Barca boss had described his side’s 1-1 draw on their last visit as “almost a miracle” in being thoroughly outplayed in one of the poorest performances of his three-year reign.
“We are looking for changes from that game. We need to be able to overcome their high pressing, be efficient on the ball and create more chances.”
Gerard Pique, Iniesta and Neymar all look set to return after being rested for Saturday’s 5-0 thrashing of Las Palmas as Enrique has named a full-strength squad.