Real Madrid Transfers: 5 Reasons Why Luka Modric Would Be a Success at Bernabeu
Despite—or perhaps because of—Modric’s undoubted quality, fans of both Spurs and Real are viewing this transfer with consternation.
Spurs are understandably anxious to keep their talismanic playmaker. He is their best player by quite some margin, and his influence on the field is undoubted.
The Croat made 41 first-team appearances for his team last season, and though his statistical contributions are less than glorious—four assists and five goals in all competitions—the assertiveness with which Modric commands the Tottenham midfield is nigh irreplaceable.
He understands Tottenham’s style of play and is imperative to the beautiful attacking football they have begun to cultivate over the past few seasons.
Also, speaking realistically, it is extremely unlikely that Spurs will be able to tempt a player of Modric’s quality to White Hart Lane to replace him, and his loss will be an almost-crippling blow to their chances of a top four finish—particularly with a menacing-looking Chelsea chomping at the bit to right the wrongs of last season’s sixth-place finish.
However, £35 million is an enormous sum of money, and the conspicuous lack of Champions League football that is hanging over Tottenham’s head is an all-too-familiar obstacle that a player of Modric’s quality should not really have to face.
Additionally, the club that has come knocking is Real Madrid, and unless you happen to speak fluent Catalan, an expression of interest from Real Madrid will sow seeds of ambition in any player’s mind.
Real, on the other hand, have a different objection to the transfer, in that it is as-yet unclear where Modric will fit into the Madrid team.
Los Merengues set up in an attacking 4-2-3-1 formation, with Mesut Özil sitting slightly behind the main striker and the conservative Sami Khedira staying back and knocking short, simple passes to the wealth of creativity ahead of him, with the defensively solid and creatively outstanding Xabi Alonso beside him. Then, the indubitable Cristiano Ronaldo plays high up on the left in something of an inside-forward/faux-striker role.
With Kaká and Nuri Sahin currently warming the bench as able backups to Özil and Alonso respectively—as well as the home-grown Esteban Granero and Lassana Diarra waiting in the wings should Real experience an injury crisis—it seems as though the plethora of talent in the midfield has the potential to dilute Modric’s playing time. And he needs playing time to influence the game in the way that Spurs fans are all-too-aware that he can.
Understandable as these concerns are, Modric would be a raging success at Real.
His arrival would almost certainly signal the departure of some of the above-mentioned players, many of whom have failed to fire thus far at Madrid, and I believe that his transfer would be of great benefit to the team.
Read on, read why and feel free to comment with your take on the matter!
1: His Role at Madrid
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One of the criticisms directed at Modric’s prospective transfer is that Real already has two arguably superior players in the positions in which he plays best, in Mesut Özil and Xabi Alonso.
It is unfair to Modric to compare him to these two players.
Özil is one of the best attacking players in the world—I would go so far to say I’d rather have Özil in my team than anyone other than Ronaldo and Messi.
His attacking prowess is reflected in his return of 17 assists from 35 appearances for Los Blancos in the La Liga last season.
Modric, conversely, managed only four assists for Spurs over his entire 41-game season.
What is clear from these statistics is that Jose Mourinho is not looking at Modric to play Özil’s role.
What Modric can offer Madrid is cover for Özil’s position, while he does what he does best in the midfield: distribute the ball.
Modric is a playmaker in the most traditional sense. He passes the ball; he keeps it moving. He is brilliant, with the potential for the spectacular and the dribbling ability to create space for himself from nowhere, but his game is focussed on distributing the ball—making the pass that leads to the final pass.
He lacks the defensive prowess of Alonso—though his defensive play is not to be sniffed at—but has a work ethic which compensates for this.
A great article I read recently drew parallels between Modric and Mikel Arteta, and I think this is probably the best comparison we can make.
Arteta only made one assist for Arsenal last year, but his influence on the team is undeniable: He missed nine Premier League matches last season, and Arsenal only won one of them.
Essentially, I think Modric will slot into a deep-lying playmaker role, slightly ahead of Xabi Alonso on attack, with the main duty of being the recycler of the ball from defense to attack, or attack back into midfield.
He will start ahead of Khedira, but Khedira will alternate with both Modric and Xabi Alonso, as the Spaniard is starting to get on in years and may struggle to cope with the physical demands that each new season brings.
Thus, Modric becomes something of a two-pronged threat: He has the touch, vision and technique to substitute for Özil in an advanced playmaker role, should it become necessary through injury or exhaustion.
But his main role will be staying deep and keeping the ball on a string, creating space for his teammates and, to put it bluntly, making everyone around him play better.
Modric completed an average of 2.7 key passes for Tottenham last year—the third most of anyone in the Premier League.
He had an 83-percent success rate for long balls—his passing range is obviously far superior to that of the dependable but one-dimensional Khedira.
And, importantly, he is creative, dependable and defensively sound—all those things that Nuri Sahin threatens to be, but isn’t quite, yet.
Modric’s role will likely not be spectacular—he is going from being the biggest fish in a moderately-sized pond to being a moderately-sized fish in Lake Superior—but it will be incredibly efficient, and I think we will definitely see a correlation between Modric’s presence on the field and Madrid’s sustained dominance of both the game and ball possession.
Real shouldn’t expect too many assists or goals, but to paraphrase Zidane, they’re updating the engine—the gold paint on the Bentley’s fine just as it is.
2: Jose Mourinho
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The only thing stopping Jose Mourinho from ruling the footballing world is chairmen.
Florentino Perez decided to shell out €65 million on Kaká the year before Mourinho took charge at the Bernabeu, and though this decision wasn’t the stubborn rejection of his manager’s wishes in the vein of Andriy Shevchenko’s transfer to Chelsea, Mourinho could certainly have put those Euros to better use.
Consider the purchases that the Portuguese has made since becoming Real manager: Mesut Özil, undoubtedly the jewel in Mourinho’s transfer crown, was brought to Madrid for just €15 million.
Sami Khedira was signed for the similarly low cost/benefit price of just €13 million, while Ricardo Carvalho—aging though he is—was a steal for Mourinho at just €8 million for his experience and knowledge of top-tier football.
While Angel Di Maria was bought for the comparatively extravagant price of around €35 million, the Argentine is still only 24 and has the potential to be a real force at Real, as his 15 assists and 5 goals in La Liga last year testify.
The point of this pre-ramble is, Mourinho—though not the frugal scouter that Arsene Wenger is—rarely makes a purchase that doesn’t work out.
Even going back to his days at the helm of Chelsea, the Special One brought Didier Drogba and Michael Essien to the Blues—and though they may have been expensive signings, they have been integral and effective players ever since.
Mourinho wants Modric, and from the looks of things, he is prepared to pay through the nose for him.
This in itself suggests that Mourinho sees Modric as capable of being a huge part of Real’s success in the future. The transfer would possibly be the highest amount Mourinho has ever paid for a player, and when you think of the wealth of footballing talent that Jose has nurtured, the prospect of Mourinho having an idea in place for Luka Modric that justifies his spending that amount of money on the Croat is intimidating, to say the least.
Say what you will about Mourinho. The Portuguese maestro is undoubtedly one of the finest managers in the world today. The players that Mourinho buys very rarely fail to deliver, and though Modric’s role may seem ambiguous, it would be foolish to assume that Mourinho is buying him simply because he can.
If there is any manager under whom the already-brilliant Modric flourish, it is Jose Mourinho. He is capable of maintaining balance and focus in a team jam-packed with egos, and—assuming Modric settles quickly—he will have enough time with the Croat to develop his game to blend in with Madrid’s perfectly.
Watch this space—Mourinho may be unpredictable, but if there’s one thing we know about him it’s that few, if any, are as adept at getting the best from the best as this enigmatic manager. Under Mourinho, Modric could easily become one of the most dominant midfielders in world football.
3: He'll Kill Two Birds with One Stone—and That Means He’ll Get Playing Time
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At the moment, Real possess two squad players who already cover the positions that Modric, if he were brought in, would presumably cover: Kaká cover Özil in the CAM position, and Nuri Sahin is seemingly being groomed to replace Xabi Alonso as a creative defensive midfielder in the middle.
However, despite Kaká’s undoubted ability and Sahin’s undoubted potential, if there’s one thing Real Madrid doesn’t do, it’s patience.
The club gives a player a chance, but if they don’t grab that chance, that’s too bad. There’s no waiting around for the fulfilling of inherent potential—not unless that potential is obvious and outstanding.
And with the funds at Madrid’s disposal, they can’t really be blamed for this. Why would you sit around waiting for someone to live up to their hype when you can quite easily shift them along, cut-price and buy the next big thing? This may sound ungenerous to Madrid, but it’s true.
Sahin and Kaká have proven themselves injury-prone and past their best, respectively.
What Luka Modric will offer is to fulfil the roles of these two—and probably to a higher standard than they have done over the past two seasons—for about half the weekly wage cost.
One of Modric’s strengths is his versatility. His defensive skills have been championed by Gerard Houllier, and you don’t need me to tell you about his composure, his playmaking ability and his ability to create space for his teammates.
It’s not like Madrid will be in terribly bad trouble if they experience a proper injury crisis and lose two of their three central players.
They still have Diarra, who is an extremely good defensive utility to have.
And Esteban Granero is still a burgeoning youngster who has been at Real his entire career. I can’t see the Madrid club letting him go, and he will be a perennial, quality backup for the more attacking central roles.
What Modric’s transfer in and Kaká’s and Sahin’s out will mean is that Modric can expect to play a large number of games. He will likely be the first-choice central midfielder ahead of Khedira, but should anything happen to either Özil or Alonso, Modric can adjust his game and adapt to Madrid’s needs.
Therefore, the depth of the midfield is such that any first-choice midfielder could be injured or exhausted, and the midfield loses absolutely nothing in its potency.
It doesn’t really matter where Modric plays—he has been employed in a multitude of roles, from left wing to advanced midfielder, from trequartista to deep-lying playmaker—his composure and exceptional passing make him a valuable commodity anywhere on the football field, and his skills lend themselves to ostensibly any position.
I do feel bad for Kaká and especially Sahin, but this is how things work in the Game of Galacticos: You perform, or you go. It’s looking likelier by the day that Los Blancos' patience with them has run out, and, should they depart the Bernebau, Modric will certainly be the chief benefactor.
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In order for Los Merengues to maintain the tentative advantage they have opened up over their Catalan rivals Barcelona, they need to have every player in every position playing at the very top of their game.
The amount of money and the quality of players that Real have at their disposal is almost unprecedented, but it means that the team can occasionally lapse into something of a dog-eat-dog transfer mentality.
With the exception of Sergio Ramos and Marcelo, who were brought into the club at a youthful age and have developed in accordance with their first-team positions, and of course the immutable, ageless Iker Casillas, the bulk of Madrid’s first team has been bought.
This is because a club with the resources that Real has must shoot for the stars every season, and the stars are unattainable without real stars—Galactico stars.
The two players who would jeopardise Modric’s move to Real are, as I said before, Sahin and Kaká.
Kaká is 30 now, and though he possesses a fabulous touch, dribbling, passing and finishing, the facet of his play that led to him becoming one of the best players in the world—his acceleration and rabbit-like agility—are, inevitably, being eroded by old father time.
Sahin is 23 and should be entering the prime of his career. However, he has shown himself to be injury-prone, and when he has played, he hasn’t shown any semblance of consistent, underlying quality.
Modric, to the contrary, is 26 years old now. He has carried Tottenham on his back for three years and has earned his stripes the hard way: by being the shining light in a team which could never realistically live up to his individual ability, difficult though it may be for Spurs fans to acknowledge.
If Modric were transposed into a team of contemporaries, all of whom are also entering or are well into the prime of their respective careers, one shudders to think of the dominance that team could have.
Cristiano Ronaldo is 27. Özil is just 23 but has been an established star since the 2010 World Cup. Higuain and Benzema are both 24, Khedira is 25, and the evergreen Xabi Alonso, though 30, focuses on passing, tackling, touch and vision—attributes which only increase with age and experience.
I can see nothing but good coming to Madrid by removing those players who are dangerously close to becoming dead weight and adding a player who is world-class, entering the prime of his career and hungry for success on the world stage.
This Madrid side will age well. The attacking players are fit, the defense is youthful and invigorating and the blending of different cultural styles of football means that any major attribute is valued—there is no overwhelming emphasis on pace or passing or muscle or dribbling.
And Modric himself will age well. Like Xavi, his diminutive build is secondary to his technical brilliance. He will remain a force in world football until well into his thirties.
What he needs now—what will allow him to grow into one of the best players in the world—is a team that matches his ambition and his ability.
And with a Real Madrid team of this age, at this time in world football, I cannot see a better place anywhere for the Croat to go and make an indelible mark.
5: The Supporting Cast
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This one’s short and sweet.
Any player of Modric’s style, I would argue, would succeed at Real.
Theirs is a team of utmost skill, intelligence and variety. They have taken players from all sorts of stylistic upbringings and meshed them together seamlessly to create a many-headed footballing Hydra.
Also, it doesn’t hurt that they have Cristiano Ronaldo banging in 60-plus goals a season.
Of course Luka Modric would be a success at Real Madrid. Real Madrid is already a success. They scored 120 goals in La Liga last season, obliterating the former record. They comprehensively beat Barcelona to the title, a team which has been heralded from more than one angle as one of the greatest of all time.
Luka Modric would serve as an improvement to a side that, for all intents and purposes, needs no improvement. The addition of yet another world-class player to their ranks will benefit them, of course.
You never hear a club complaining that they have too many world-class players.
But he's not worth £35 million. That's silly money. That's irresponsible spending. Madrid are such a strong team now that very few signings will have any significant effect on them on the whole, and to pay a sum of money like that on a speculative transfer in an area that doesn't really need to be tinkered with, seems to be tempting fate. It feels like Real are making an obligatory big-name transfer.
Regardless, it'll be interesting to watch this unfold in the next couple of days.