In the final stages of the first-team's preseason training in Portugal, Sevilla FC media sat down to chat with Ivan Rakitić at the Cascade Wellness Resort in Lagos. The Croatian hailed the progress being made in training: 'It's quite hot here, but we're working hard and there's nothing better than sharing this progress with your teammates. We're getting on well, it's a very close-knit group and we're with each other most of the time. What you miss most is your family and children, but we know that we're here to prepare ourselves in the best way possible, and we have amazing facilities to do so.'
IVAN RAKITIĆ: 'WE WANT TO SHOW THAT LAST SEASON WAS NOT A ONE-OFF'
As someone who has captained Sevilla, Rakitić wants to help the new arrivals to settle at the club even though they don't need much help to do this: 'The lads who are here with us from Sevilla Atlético and the two new arrivals have settled in very well here, and they know what playing for Sevilla FC means and what we want to achieve together. I've helped as much as I can, but from the first moment, they've fitted in perfectly. They're hard workers and are great additions to our family at the club, and day by day, they will keep settling in and progressing.'
On his objectives for the season, the ambition is as big as ever; 'I'm not sure if my coaches will want to hear me say this, but everyone who knows me know that I'm always striving for more, in each training session, in each preseason friendly. Without going in to too much detail, our philosophy is to keep improving on what we've done up until now. We know that it'll be difficult to go beyond what we did last season, but we want to establish ourselves as one of the best. We'll give it our all to fight until the end, and we'll prepare ourselves in the best way possible for the start of the season and show that we want to compete.'
'I'm always striving for more, in each training session, in each preseason friendly.'
In terms of hunger for more success, finding that motivation is so important: 'In the Olympic Games, there are athletes who have won everything but they are still hungry for another gold medal in Tokyo even in a year as difficult as this. In individual sports without crowds to spur them on - how does Djokovic do it? With the same hunger and desire as he felt on that first day of competing. We all know what it means to play for this club. We want to show that last season was not a one-off and we want to play in front of our fans again. It's a good place to start and we need to continue with that hunger in the upcoming season.'
The Croatian reiterated his desire to see the return of fans in the Sánchez-Pizjuán: 'Reuniting with the fans at the stadium was the first thing I thought about when I came back here. I'm still hoping that this can happen, even if it is at 30% or 50% capacity. I hope we can have a full capacity stadium soon. It was so nice to hear the fans in the game against Las Palmas the other day, and they motivated us to win and keep pushing. We really want to be reunited with our fans and fight together because they are our twelfth man, and it is much more difficult in an empty stadium. We all want to see full stadiums again.'
He was also asked on his thoughts following the draw against PSG: 'It was important to see that we're where we want to be physically and we were able to compete against a very good team. They didn't have all their players available, but a their style of play is always the same, and we fought well against them. We played well and it's another game under our belts. Of course we were disappointed not to win the game because you always want to win, be it a friendly or not, but overall, we're very satisfied with the game.'
'We played very well against PSG and we were disappointed not to win the game'
The midfielder admitted that his return to the club has not been easy: 'I want to be honest when I say that it's not been my best season. I know that I improved as the season went on, and as I was saying to our Vice President the other day, an additional five or ten games would have been good for me at the end of the season. I know that I can play better and have more consistency. It was an important change to make for me after spending 7 years with Barcelona. I needed a new project and challenge. I would have liked to have had a better season, but five goals and eight assists helped the team. In recent months, I feel like I've been playing more like myself and what I expect from myself. I'm grateful for my teammates' backing in preseason and I know that this year will be different.'
On his return to the club, Rakitić admitted that it wasn't plain sailing at first: 'I arrived last year when the team was playing very well together. It wasn't easy to get in to the team, but it makes sense that I needed time to adapt. I knew that I had to change a few things, and I had to adapt to my team's style of play and vice versa. It took a bit of time, but we're always looking ahead and striving for more. We eventually got to where we wanted to be, competing against the giants. We want to continue with this improvement and continue working hard together. I feel really good at the moment, I'm working hard and I'm feeling more prepared with every game and training session.'