The feel-good story you missed: Rakitic visits Des Moines, Iowa

Barcelona midfielder was guest of PDL's Menace Soccer Club.
Ivan Rakitic

Photo credit: Matt Homonoff

FC Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic regularly plays at the Nou Camp; a magnificent and historic stadium that can hold just under 100,000 people. 7500 miles away sits Des Moines, Iowa with a population of 200,000. In other words, half the population of Des Moines could fit in the Nou Camp. So what exactly was Ivan Rakitic doing visiting Des Moines’ Menace Soccer Club, a PDL club in Iowa? The answer to this question is the most heart-warming U.S. Soccer story you almost certainly missed.

Soc Takes was also able to interview Rakitic via the help of Ignacio Lana.

Rakitic arrives at Valley Stadium. Photo credit: Matt Homonoff

 

 

 

 

Menace Soccer

Menace Soccer are a club of “extraordinary resources, a wealthy owner with a successful company. We still have amateur status, but are able to provide players with amenities such as furnished apartments,” Matt Homonoff, general manager of Menace Soccer tells Soc Takes. “Our owner, Kyle Krause (Note: Krause is the CEO of Kum and Go) has owned the Menace PDL team  for 20 years.” The men’s team was founded in the USISL and has played in the Heartland conference of the PDL since 1999.

The team focuses on developing talent and providing them with the chance to have a significant impact in the professional game. “We are looking for ways to use resources to benefit and grow the game,” adds Homonoff, “While we focus on developing players from the Midwest, we’ll fly you in from wherever if you are talented and you meet our vision.”

 

Elite Soccer Experiences

Rakitic poses with young FC Barcelona fans. Photo credit: Matt Homonoff

The intermediary influence of ‘Elite Soccer Experiences’ (ESE) was critical to bringing Rakitic to Des Moines. Homonoff informed us that initially Juan Mata, then Rafinha were supposed to come to Des Moines. The former proved to be too expensive, while the latter injured himself after the contract was negotiated.

ESE is an organization that started in 2015 and works with various athletes in football and basketball. According to Ignacio Lana, Country Manager of ESE, they have offices in Barcelona, Oviedo, Miami and Madrid. “In the US we do soccer camps and coaching clinics.” Lana and ESE have cultivated contacts with many European players such as the aforementioned 3, Eden Hazard and Andres Iniesta. These contacts have provided the “Soccer Abroad” section of ESE’s vision.

 

Why Des Moines?

Rakitic speaks to attendees of the camp. Photo credit: Matt Homonoff

Lana explains there were two big reasons. Firstly, Lana’s own person connection in Iowa to Thomas Boltnar. But, more so than that, Lana explains that players such as Rakitic want to visit cities like Des Moines because it gives them the ability to experience something unique and different from their normal, highly-scrutinized and fast-paced lives. 

“Rakitic told me that seeing kids faces when he was kicking around the ball with them was the highlight of his summer so far,” Lana says adding “At ESE we want to make children very happy. We loved being in Des Moines.”

 

“I watch a lot of games, and highlights, following how MLS is growing. I am happy to see that more soccer stars from Europe are joining the MLS every year. I like the league.” – Ivan Rakitic

Des Monies

If you’re cynical like me, I know what you’re thinking right now. “Come on you shill, Rakitic was only in Des Moines for the money.” Trust me, that was my initial thought as well. Turns out, that while there may have been other unspecified reasons for Rakitic’ visit beyond philanthropy, a heavy payday is not one of them.

Homonoff declined to provide an exact amount citing confidentiality issues, but said  “Was a five-figure amount”. According to Total SportTek , Rakitic earns 75k euros ($86k) a week. Therefore, even if we take Homonoff’s statement to its extreme end; 99k, Rakitic would earn that amount in just over a week.

When Soc Takes asked Lana about the 5-figure sum, he said “it’s about right” without specifying the amount due to contractual obligations and later adding, “Elite only works with players who are sensible towards kids and they want to give back what they received. We never work with players who are trying to do this for the money.”

It’s hard to argue that Rakitic was visiting Des Moines to expand his bank balance.

 

Rakitic’ experience in Des Moines

Matt Homonoff with a fan. Photo credit: Matt Homonoff

“He loved the experience of going out and not being mobbed, he rode ATVs. It was a whirlwind trip as he got in late Thursday night and left early Sunday morning. But, we made sure we built-in time that he could experience Iowa,” said Homonoff excitedly.

“Was wonderful for Ivan,” Lana said, “His family went to the farmer’s market. Together they went to the forest, enjoyed the landscape and the food and the weather was very good.”

According to Homonoff, Rakitic’s attitude and professionalism was a revelation for the kids and adults alike. “Rakitic was warm, genuine and put in an effort to speak English. He repeatedly asked us what else he could do for us,” later adding, “He takes cares of himself even in the off-season and spoke to the students about proper diet and training.”

 

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An exclusive Soc Takes interview with Ivan Rakitic:

Soc Takes was able to get some answers from Ivan via email thanks to Ignacio Lana.

NC – Hi Ivan, what was your favorite part of your trip to Iowa?

According to Homonoff, Rakitic patiently posed for pictures and autographed jerseys/footballs for 100s of fans like these kids. Credit: Homonoff

IR – I don’t have a favorite part of the trip because everything was nice, sharing a fun time with the kids playing soccer, getting to know the city and watching the Menace game. A really great experience and I appreciate very much all the warm welcome and kindness from the people of Iowa. 

NC – How much American soccer do you get to watch in Spain?

IR – I watch a lot of games, and highlights, following how MLS is growing. I am happy to see that more soccer stars from Europe are joining the MLS every year. I like the league.

NC – Do you have a favorite American team?

IR – I don’t have a team yet, but I follow those with European famous players. I like to see the passion and effort at every game! I hope to come back next year to the US, this experience was unique and fun, congratulations to Elite Soccer Experience, they did a very good job.

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The Rainbow

 

“It was raining during the first half of the game, but then we scored, and Rakitic 

The rainbow. Credit: Matt Homonoff

celebrated with us as though he was one of us. All of a sudden a rainbow (see pic) appeared in the distance.

“I looked around the stadium (note: Homonoff estimates 3500 people attended the game that night) and thought to myself, ‘Wow, this is incredible’, I felt proud to be from Des Moines and soccer was the vehicle for that.”

 

You can follow Nipun and Soc Takes on twitter at @NipunChopra7 and @SocTakes

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Nipun divides his time between his two great loves – neuroscience and soccer. You can find him discussing both of those, as well as regular updates (pupdates) on his wonderful doggo, Octavia on Twitter. Get in touch with feedback/story suggestions at @NipunChopra7 or nipun.chopra@SocTakes.com

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