In December 2012, Marca named Luka Modric the worst signing of the season, ahead of Barcelona's Alex Song, in a vote carried out among its readers.
Considering he'd hardly had time to unpack his bags after a summer move to Real Madrid from Tottenham, let alone acclimatise to a new league, language and country, the tag seemed a little bit unfair. It seems even more unfair now, as Modric continues to make those who voted look very silly with each passing game.
On Sunday night, away at Espanyol, he was absolutely everywhere as Los Blancos cut the gap between them and the league's top two—Barca and Atletico Madrid—to just three points.
The Croatian led a counter-attack that should have led to the first goal just before half-time. Only Angel di Maria, who passed instead of shooting, can tell us why it didn't.
Modric was able to eventually supply the blow that ended Espanyol’s stubborn resilience, though. Dani Carvajal had theatrically earned a free-kick on the right flank, and Modric's wicked delivery was a gift that Pepe headed past the busy Kiko Casilla.
Moments later, the 28-year-old was doing his bit at the other end of the pitch too. Gabriel Torje carried the ball forward dangerously for the hosts, who were seeking an immediate equaliser, only to be stopped in his tracks by Modric.
He's so light on his feet and delightful on the ball that you can easily forget that side of his game, a side that Carlo Ancelotti will certainly appreciate.
On the ball and off of it, he was brilliant.
You can't look beyond the importance of Cristiano Ronaldo when analysing Madrid, and Xabi Alonso's return to the team in October has clearly improved it as well. His new contract was a big boost for the club this week. It's also hoped that Gareth Bale's role within the team will become more significant.
But for now, it's the Welshman's old Tottenham teammate who's making a name for himself.
Modric spent the last calendar year on an upward trajectory, noticeably after his goal against Manchester United. He's scored goals, made important passes, worked hard and, perhaps most importantly, won over the Bernabeu fans.
WhoScored.com statistics show that he made over 70 passes against Espanyol, three of which were considered key, such as the one for the goal. Just as importantly, they also reveal he contributed two tackles and three interceptions as well.
In front of Cornella-El Prat's largest attendance of the season, Modric was the player who stood out. And it won't be the last time that happens in 2014.
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