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How strong is Luka Modric’s case for the prestigious individual trophies this season?

Luka Modric has recently won UEFA Player of The Year award and is now leading the race for FIFA The Best and France Football’s Ballon d’Or. How well does he fare against the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Mohammed Salah, and Lionel Messi? 

Published By: Dalipinder Singh Sandhu (Bliss)

Even though football is a team sport. The fans are very much engaged in the individual honors, rivalries, and performances of some of the biggest names in the sport. The celebrity players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Mohammed Salah, etc. are treated as bigger than the sport in many aspects. In such a scenario, it is difficult for a humble player like Luka Modric to get into the hype without the overwhelming support of fans. However, this season surprisingly the tides are on a turn.

Luka Modric was born in Zadar and spent his early days as a child refugee in a war-torn Croatia. He started playing for Dynamo Zagreb and later moved to the English club Tottenham Hotspurs. He then signed for Real Madrid in 2012 but was voted as the worst transfer of the season. Now after winning: 4 UEFA Champions Leagues, 1 La Liga, 1 Copa Del Rey, 2 Spanish Super Cups, 3 UEFA Super Cups, 3 FIFA Club World Cups, and after taking his national side to the Final of FIFA World Cup 2018. Luka Modric has reformed his reputation to be regarded as one of the best ever midfielders in the world.

Now, Luka Modric leads the race against the veteran winners of individual trophies. He recently won the UEFA Player of The Year award which was controversial to many fans of Cristiano Ronaldo. Who believed the newly recruited Juventus forward was more deserving for the stats he produced. This has been the topic of debate with no end, just like the argument of ‘hen and the egg’. The statistics of the striker are more valued in the game which shadows the work rate of the rest of the players which is equally important. The team needs to control the game in order to create chances and convert them into goals. They need to defend their goal. They need to win possession in order to create a chance. They need to work off-the-ball to press opponents and create space. They need to cover more distance to keep up with the game depending on the style of play. All these statistics are ignored and the main attention is grabbed by the prolific goalscorer in the end. This usually prompts one to think who is more important for the team? A goalkeeper or a striker? Practically, as per the rules of the game, you can play with 10 men without a striker but you can’t play without a goalkeeper. Though, this doesn’t matter much for the recognition of the best player as strikers usually have the slant in favor of their goalscoring statistics.

It’s not just the reader or the fans who don’t get the concept of how the best player is evaluated, even the professional players are as much confused. Before the FIFA World Cup 2018 commenced, the Brazillian full-back Marcelo Vierro was asked about his chances of winning the Ballon d’Or which is now awarded by France Football. Here is what the Real Madrid man had to say:

“To this day, I still don’t understand how they choose the Ballon d’Or or the 11 best players of FIFA, whether it is for titles, for how you played during the season, for the face with which you are born with…If anyone knows please tell me.”

Another famous opinion was of the former World Cup winner and captain of Germany, Phillip Lahm. He wrote in his column for Goal.com in 2016 that the competition between the different positions needs to be scrapped and players shall be judged by their position:

“Of course, the moment when the ball hits the net, that’s fascinating for kids playing the game and motivates them to join a club. Our sport needs lethal strikers, goalscorers, heroes. But football is much more than the moment of triumph. Football is teamwork, unity, defence, assists, sacrifice. I believe that when FIFA hands out an award, it should not be a marketing prize that solely honours the protagonists of a media-crazy sport. Maybe there shouldn’t be an individual award in a team sport but (in addition to the world XI) four single awards for best goalkeeper, best defender, best midfielder and best striker instead.”

The debate has finally taken other positions of football into serious consideration. After Andres Iniesta who was the favorite to win the Ballon d’Or in 2010, this is the first time a midfielder has been ahead of the strikers. Iniesta eventually lost to his Barcelona teammate, Lionel Messi in 2010 and it has been controversial ever since. Can Luka Modric end the incontestable dominance of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi who have won the Ballon d’Or 5 times each in the past decade?

The Canadian sports journalist and a Real Madrid fan, Kiyan Sobhani recently addressed this issue in his podcast of 8th July 2018:

“We have to deviate from our traditional picks for a sec. who are Ronaldo, Salah, Messi. We all have a bais towards recency and World Cup would sway it for the Ballon d’Or debate. But do they have the balls to give Ballon d’Or to someone like Modric? I guess it would take some balls to give to Modric over the three. It is not even a question he is a starting midfielder of Real Madrid’s all time XI. If there was a question if he’s on the level of Xavi or Pirlo, I don’t think that’s a question now at all.”

The FIFA World Cup was the crucial competition in which Modric performed well and won the player of the tournament; Golden Ball. The statistics recorded are phenomenal. The 32-year-old played the most minutes in the competition: 694. The data recorded till the semi-final shows the Croatian covered 63 km. or 39.1 miles, the most in the competition. It also states he took most number of accurate set pieces: 30, and was the 4th in the list of most chances created with 16.

Luka Modric also was seen defending all along the season while contributing in the build-up of the games. The fixture against Bayern Munchen in the second leg of UEFA Champions League was a prime example of his dynamic work rate. Modric played as a double right-back along with Lucas Vazquez as they compensated the absence of Dani Carvajal who had been injured. Modric carried out the duty of defending the right flank and also taking up the responsibility of playmaking when in possession.

Another such exemplary game was against Russia in the FIFA World Cup quarterfinals. Modric was seen everywhere on the pitch against the underdogs who knocked out former world champions Spain in the round of 16.

The statistics of a striker cannot be compared to those of a midfielder as they have different responsibilities. As you wouldn’t judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree. Similarly, you wouldn’t compare the statistics of a striker’s goals with that of a goalkeeper/defender/midfielder. The striker will have less number of passes completed successfully and would have a limited amount of work done in defense. Whereas the midfielder would be trying to clear threats, win possession, create chances, open a passing option, and distribute the ball around the field to gain control of the game. A striker, on the other hand, would be responsible for finishing off the chances created.

Here are the statistics of how Luka Modric contributed to attack and defense while helping his side control the game in the midfield. The three major competitions of the year have been taken as the sample size to record the work rate of the Croatian midfielder.

Area of

Performance

FIFA WORLD CUP 2018 (Russia)

La Liga

Santander

(2017/18)

UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE (2017/18)

Games Started

7

23

11

Substitution (on)

 –

3

Minutes Played

694

1,976

958

Goals

2 1 1
Assists 1 6

1

Successful Pass %

87%

90%

90%

Passes

69.3 59.5 62.9

Key Passes

2.6

1.5

0.8

Crosses

1.3

0.1

0.2

Through Balls

0.3

0.3

0.1

Long Balls

6.4

4.8

5

Tackles

1.6

1.3

1.4

Interceptions

1.3

1.2

1.3

Clearances

0.3

0.3

0.4

Dribbles

0.9

1

1.2

Blocks

0.2

0.2

Fouled (against) 1.7 1.2

1.3

Rating 7.48 7.29

7.02

(All the statistics are based on average per game)

As Georg W.F. Hegel once stated ‘Whatever is reasonable is true, and whatever is true is reasonable’. There is no doubt that Modric rightly deserved the spot in the FIFA The Best’s final 3 nominees announced on Monday. The same panel of 3 finalists which chosen by UEFA: Modric, Ronaldo, and Salah.

Though he won the UEFA POTY, the past record doesn’t guarantee the other prestigious awards for the same season. In 2012 Andres Iniesta was best according to UEFA but FIFA and France Football chose Lionel Messi. In 2013, Frank Ribbery was regarded as the best player of the season by UEFA but Cristiano Ronaldo was the one named as the best by the other two elite organizations.

Luka Modric did his extra bit with Croatia in FIFA World Cup 2018. This gives him the edge over the others. Another factor in his favor is the ‘voting fatigue’ which has journalists all over the world excited for choosing a different name after 10 years of voting for Ronaldo and Messi. This season the competition has been tight as the other names haven’t produced stats that extraordinary which they used to and were not consistent throughout in all competitions. Cristiano Ronaldo had a poor La Liga campaign. Lionel Messi had a poor World Cup and UEFA Champions League. Mohammed Salah had a poor World Cup due to injury and though his personal season was at par even if he couldn’t win anything with his Liverpool side. Luka Modric, on the other hand, had a decent LaLiga personally, was the best midfielder in UEFA Champions League and also was the Player of the Tournament for FIFA World Cup.

2 years ago, the idea of Luka Modric ending the dominance of ‘the best player of the season’ would have been ridiculed. Now it stands the best chance with everything in favor of the humble ‘Lukita’. His teammate Sergio Ramos has already started the campaign by rooting for Modric to win the Ballon d’Or. The fans also voiced their opinion in Estadio Santiago Bernabeu which is the home stadium of Real Madrid CF. Luka Modric was presented with his UEFA POTY trophy before the game against CD Leganes on Saturday, the fans echoed the chants of ‘Lukita, Balon De Oro!’.

The fans of celebrity players may call it unfair but many of the neutral fans who’ve shed the bias have appreciated Modric’s achievements and have labeled it worthy. ‘The learner always begins by finding fault, but the scholar sees the positive merit in everything’ – Georg W.F. Hegel. Will Modric go on to win the award ahead of the regular picks will have to be seen. Though he has the best shot and is the clear favorite as the organizations start to appreciate playmakers. Maybe 10 years later defenders and goalkeepers will also be regarded with more recognition. As of today the only goalkeeper who won Ballon d’Or was Lev Yashin in 1963. Franz Beckenbauer (1972 &1976), Matthias Sammer (1996), and Fabio Cannavaro (2006) have been the only defenders to have won Ballon d’Or.

 

 

 

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