Manchester United: Why Luka Modric Is the Natural Replacement for Paul Scholes

Jared DublinAnalyst IIJune 2, 2011

Manchester United: Why Luka Modric Is the Natural Replacement for Paul Scholes

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    With Manchester United legend Paul Scholes announcing his retirement on Tuesday, the Red Devils will now begin a search for his natural replacement in midfield.

    Although the club's priority during the summer transfer window is to sign a No. 1 goalkeeper, most likely David De Gea, Ferguson must also look to find a successor for United's Ginger Prince.

    The club's loss to Barcelona in the Champions League Final revealed a lack of quality in the central midfield position. Giggs and Carrick were excellent in the EPL this season, but they were outclassed and outplayed by Barca's little magicians.

    While United would benefit from signing a player in the mold of a Michael Essien or Felipe Melo, Fletcher's return next season and Carrick's continued development as a holding midfielder will keep Ferguson from signing a marquee defensive midfielder.

    Ferguson will be looking to spend on a central midfield pass-master to fill the void left by Scholes, and to prepare for the eventual retirement of the ageless Giggs.

    Wesley Sneijder and Charlie Adam have been touted as strong candidates to replace the Englishman. However, they are slightly different to Scholes in favored position or style of play.

    Luka Modric is the natural replacement for Paul Scholes, and here are five reasons why.

Tenacious in Defense

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    Although Paul Scholes was renowned for his lack of tackling technique, his tenacity and willingness to get stuck in were key aspects of his game.

    The Englishman frequently made mistimed challenges, often receiving yellow cards for his late tackles. However, he was always a force in midfield due to the high pressure he put on opposing players.

    Scholes never gave midfielders and playmakers time on the ball. He would close down players to take the ball or the man, either would do, but both would be ideal.

    Modric shares a similar determination to pressure opponents and win the ball. The Tottenham midfielder may be small in stature, but he throws his weight around in the middle of the pitch.

    The Croatian has better timing with his tackling than the United midfielder, and is more comfortable using the slide tackle.

    Playing alongside Wilson Palacios and Sandro, Modric's defensive work-rate goes unnoticed. However, Modric has shown a tremendous amount of fight as a central midfielder.

    While the Croatian was expected to struggle with the physicality of the EPL, over the past few seasons with Tottenham, he has silenced all the doubters.

    Modric has excelled in the English game, using his work-rate to become a strong midfield presence for the North London club.

    Scholes and Modric share a similar defensive tenacity that complements their technical skills. Both players are willing to throw themselves into the tackle, which makes their lack of genuine size and strength insignificant.

Long-Range Shooting

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    The United midfielder was a serious threat from distance throughout his entire career. Scholes became known for arriving late at the edge of the area, ready to hit a thunderous strike on goal.

    The Englishman scored some memorable goals for the Red Devils. His power and precision when striking the ball made him a danger to score given any sight of goal.

    Whether it was on the full volley from a Beckham corner or from the run of play, teams feared Scholes' world-class shooting ability.

    For both club and country, Modric has shown his long-range shooting skill as well. The Croatian may not have Scholes' technique on the full volley, but from open play, the Tottenham midfielder is always a threat to work the opposition's goalkeeper.

    Given space and time around the box, Modric can hit the target with pace and accuracy. The Croatian midfielder strikes the ball with both feet, making a potent threat when he arrives in and around the box.

    Modric's comfort with either foot causes problems for opposing defenders. The midfielder's quickness allows him to create separation, and the opposition cannot show him to a weaker side because the Croatian has great technique shooting with both feet.

    During the latter stages of Scholes' career, the Englishman became less of a goal-scoring threat. His decreasing pace and stamina largely took away that dimension of his game going forward.

    Still only 25, Modric has the energy and determination to get into the final third in support of the strikers. Similar to the United legend, the Tottenham maestro also has the quality to hit the back of the net.

    Ferguson would love to bring in the Croatian midfielder to give United that goal-scoring threat from midfield once again.

Technical Ability

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    For 17 years, Scholes blessed United and Old Trafford with technical genius.

    The Ginger Prince boasted exceptional touch, passing and shooting ability. With the ball at his feet, Scholes was always a danger to orchestrate a United attack or finish it with a pile-driver from distance.

    The Englishman's cross-field diagonal ball became his trademark pass over years with United. Scholes could hit a 40- to 60-yard ball with absolute precision. His ability to spread the play became a fundamental aspect of United's style of play.

    In addition to his hallmark diagonal, the Englishman's technical ability was a large part of Ferguson's success with the 4-4-2.

    Scholes was able to combine with the likes of Nicky Butt and Roy Keane, often relieving pressure and dictating the tempo. His technical abilities were off the charts, as the United legend emerged as an outstanding central midfield talent.

    Although Modric does not have the same passing accuracy over distance, the Croatian's technique is world-class.

    The Tottenham midfielder has a soft touch on the ball and excellent close-control. He is comfortable on the ball, and has displayed a solid range of passing. Modric excels at playing intricate one-two's, but he can hit long passes as well.

    While Ferguson will miss Scholes' ability to pick out the likes of Valencia and Nani with his sweeping passes over distance, the little Croatian brings an extra dimension to the midfield.

    Unlike Scholes and the winger-turned-central midfielder Giggs, Modric can play with both feet. The Croatian's ability to pass with either foot underlines his outstanding technical ability.

    Modric's use of both feet will bring more composure to the United midfield. The Croatian can relieve pressure and keep the attacking rhythm, unlike one-footed players who are occasionally forced to play the ball all the way back to the keeper.

    Ferguson will see a similar level of Scholes' technical ability in the Tottenham midfielder. However, Modric's comfort playing with both feet makes him a special talent and a great replacement for the United legend.

Vision

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    The United stalwart was always a pass-master and midfield orchestrator. Towards the latter stages of his career, Scholes emerged as an exceptional deep-lying central midfield dictator.

    With his vision and range of passing, the Ginger Prince was the architect of United's attacking play for more than a decade.

    The Englishman's long-range passing became a trademark of his game, but Scholes was just as dangerous picking out a pass through a sea of midfielders and defenders.

    While the United legend was not a creative threat in midfield, his range of passing and vision made him an archetypal midfield metronome, similar in style to Barcelona's Xavi. Scholes always checked to the ball, spread the play, and found the incisive pass.

    In his time with Tottenham, Modric has shown an even better eye for a pass. With bags of creativity, the little Croatian can not only find, but create the killer through-ball.

    Tottenham's midfield maestro can play the clever pass with either foot, making him one of the most dangerous central midfield playmakers in the EPL.

    Although Van der Vaart has been deployed as a traditional No. 10 for Tottenham, Modric is still the biggest threat to unlock the defense.

    With his energy and endurance, the Croatian can sit and dictate play alongside Huddlestone or push forward into pockets of space.

    Wherever he is on the pitch, Modric has the vision and ability to pick out the dagger pass.

    While Carrick was brought in to be United's deep-lying orchestrator, he has failed to live up to the billing. Instead, the Englishman has become more of a holding midfield player.

    With Scholes' retirement, United are now thin at that position and do not have Scholes' natural successor in the current group of players.

    The Croatian's ability to pick out a pass makes him one of the top players at his position. Although the Tottenham maestro is a more creative player than Scholes, he shares the vision that distinguishes a world-class central midfielder from the rest.

    Ferguson will be looking to bring in a midfield pass-master to fill the void left by Scholes, and Modric would be the ideal candidate to assume that role.

True Central Midfielder

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    As Ferguson looks for Scholes' replacement this summer, there are only a few players that are true central midfielders and similar to him in style.

    Out of the current players in the United squad, Giggs, Fletcher, Carrick, Anderson and Gibson will be fighting for the two central midfield positions next season. However, none of them bring the technical ability, attacking qualities and defensive tenacity of the Ginger Prince.

    Giggs is the only true attacking threat out of the group, but at 37, he only has one or two years of top-flight football left. Although he was great down the stretch alongside Carrick, he clearly does not have the positional sense or awareness of a natural central midfielder.

    The rest of the group lack the technique, passing and vision to replace Scholes as United's main dictator and pass-master.

    Although some outstanding players have been linked with United, none of them fit the mold of the former England international.

    Inter's Wesley Sneijder has emerged as the most likely successor, but he does not even play the same position as Scholes. The Dutchman has developed into a world-class attacking midfielder, playing in the hold as a traditional No. 10.

    However, for Inter and his former club Real Madrid, Sneijder has never featured as a true central midfielder. In United's 4-4-2, Ferguson does not play with a diamond formation in the midfield, where a player like Sneijder would be a necessity.

    With United's flat midfield four, the manager needs more complete players in the center of the park. Sneijder would be an absolutely fantastic attacking option, but he is not the next Paul Scholes.

    Blackpool's Charlie Adam has also been linked with a move to Old Trafford. While the Scotsman has an exceptional range of passing that would suit United's style of attacking play, he lacks the positional awareness and tenacity of the United midfielder.

    On the ball, Adam has all the tools to be a good replacement for Scholes. However, off the ball and in defense, the Blackpool captain does not provide the same intensity that Ferguson needs in the heart of midfield.

    Unlike the aforementioned players, Modric is a true central midfielder.

    Over the past few seasons with Tottenham, his style of play has mirrored that of the Englishman in his prime. Modric comes deep to receive and distribute the ball, infusing tempo and rhythm into the play.

    The Croatian has proven to be a threat in the final third with his shooting, especially with his ability to strike with both feet. Although Modric is not a physical presence in the midfield, he closes down opponents and applies high pressure at all times.

    Tottenham's midfield maestro has excelled as a central midfielder, and he has all the tools to be a force for the Red Devils. Ferguson should be willing to pay the substantial fee that will be required to land the Croatian because he is the best fit for United.

    Although Roma's Daniele De Rossi may be a more defensive player than Scholes or Modric, he too would be an excellent replacement in United's midfield. The Italian is a much more complete player than the two, and has similar technique and skill on the ball.

    However, he would not be a successor to Scholes, but more of an all-around presence and possible replacement for Carrick as United's holding midfielder.

    Unlike the other options available to Ferguson, the Tottenham midfielder maestro has emerged as a true central midfielder.

    Over the past few seasons, Modric has shown why he is the natural replacement for Paul Scholes.