One Ballon d’Or, four Champions League titles, two league titles, six international tournaments with Croatia, and Croatian player of the year on five occasions – Luka Modric has caressed his way through a career at the highest level. The playmaker’s performance in Real Madrid’s midweek Champions League tie rolled back the years, suggesting he still has all the tools to perform on the biggest stage.
It was a showing which oozed progressive style and grace and prompted comparisons to two players of similar ilk in days gone by in Catalonia. Like most head-turning performances in football these days, adoring fans had their say on social media. Andrés Iniesta and Xavi Hernández the two Barcelona players in question. Both supremely talented, diminutive, and possessed an aura of composure head and shoulders above their fellow professionals.
It’s a fair comparison to make, as Modric saunters past 50 Champions League wins for Real Madrid. It speaks volumes of just how good the former Tottenham man has become, and how he is still so crucial for Zinedine Zidane’s Madrid. His 2018 Ballon d’Or triumph stands clear amongst a wealth of personal achievements, something Xavi and Iniesta, the heartbeat of Barcelona’s midfield, could never quite muster. We should remember, however, that in their prime they sat behind a monstrous version of Lionel Messi who won it on four successive occasions, from 2009-2012.
All three, with the addition of Toni Kroos, should be welcomed into the same conversation of midfield pairings who wowed the footballing world for either club.
MODRIC’S BEST DAYS NOT YET BEHIND HIM
An eight-year, 360 game stint as a Galactico with a sizeable trophy haul totalling 17 pieces of silverware – it sounds like a successful career nearing completion. But that couldn’t be further from the truth in Modric’s eyes. If he keeps putting in performances as he did against Borussia Mönchengladbach, Zidane won’t want him vacating the Spanish capital anytime soon.
‘Gladbach manager Marco Rose picked out Modric in his post-match interview to reporters:
“We have had that difficulty. We gave Real Madrid too much time and space. Madrid played a different game than the first leg, Modric was a very important factor against us. We ran back a lot, and we couldn’t get much of the ball.”
The statistics back up Rose’s eye test, as Modric delivered a performance worthy of ushering a side through to the knockout stages:
In a recent discussion with Marca whilst on international duty, the midfielder spoke of his desire to remain playing his football at the Bernabéu despite his advancing years:
“Of course, I’d like to stay at Real Madrid. However, I am aware that I am at a certain age, and the club must do the best for everyone. As long as I feel that I am an important part of Real Madrid, I would like to stay. When that is no longer the case, I will look for new challenges”. However, this issue is not yet on the agenda.”
Since Modric’s comments during the international break, he has rolled back the years for Los Blancos, missing only 21 minutes of football in the centre of midfield, and highlighting his impact on the team.
PLANS FOR MODRIC AND REAL MADRID’S MIDFIELD?
The key phrase in Modric’s comments come in the way of his importance to the side. There is developing rumours that Real Madrid’s hierarchy will move for a midfielder in the summer transfer window, with two French internationals firmly in the spotlight. Stade Rennes’ teenage sensation Eduardo Camavinga, takes one of the coveted potential Galactico spots. The other, Mino Raiola’s Paul Pogba, whose Manchester United career is up in the air following untimely comments made by the super-agent.
Zidane is believed to favour Pogba as the number one option to bolster the ranks, whereas Camavinga presents as an alternative more favourable to the board. Although Camavinga’s price tag may be substantially higher, the 18-year-old will command a salary far less than Pogba’s. The 2018 World Cup winner will likely match Sergio Ramos as the club’s highest earner, unless willing to take a cut in his Manchester United wages.
“The great clubs make me dream, but I cannot name one in particular for my future.”Eduardo Camavinga
Regardless of transfers next year, the current crop at Zidane’s disposal is impressive. Martin Ødegaard has the qualities to grow into Modric’s shoes, Federico Valverde looks set to be a mainstay in the side for years, whilst Casemiro continues to get better with each season. Toni Kroos appears to have plenty of fuel in the tank and should be spraying balls around Champions League arenas for seasons yet.
If there are incomings in Madrid of the midfield variety, Modric’s time at the Bernabeu could be up for debate with his importance to the side prompting question marks. With only three midfield spots available in a Zidane 4-3-3, it’s difficult to see the Croatian having as much of an input next campaign alongside fresh faces. Valverde’s current injury is providing room for Modric to have a sustained run in the side, and perhaps now he is unknowingly trialling for a place in Los Blancos’ squad next term. That sounds somewhat disrespectful for a player of his quality who has achieved so much for Real Madrid, but if he can prove just how key he is to the side with performances like the one in midweek, it will ensure his stay as a Galactico.
Madrid have had a stop-start season this campaign producing some shocking results by their standard, most notably with Sergio Ramos out injured. Raphaël Varane does not look the same player without his defensive partner, and that is a worry for Madrid. A resurgent Modric, performing as if he is ten years his junior should encourage Zidane to instead look at strengthening his back-line. Central defence is a concern without Ramos, something Leipzig’s Dayot Upamecano could solve quite easily, for example.
Real Madrid will have plans in place for the upcoming transfer windows and the delayed European Championships in June will be utilised to their advantage. With Modric on display in UEFA’s flagship European tournament, interest should intensify over a creative midfielder who has won it all. Still equipped with a hunger and skillset to play the game at a high level, Modric would be a welcome addition to a whole host of clubs.
Whether Zidane and the powers that be at Real Madrid will wish to sell him, however, is the only grey area. Modric has told Zidane he wants to retire at Madrid as he did himself in his playing days, a sight Madristas would undoubtedly relish.
Words and Graphics – @SamIngram_