Equal Time: Why Luka Modric is a worthy winner of FIFA's Best
As Luka Modric tucked himself into bed last night, he will have been reflecting on an impressive year. Being named as FIFA’s Best Player was the latest achievement in a season filled with success.
While he will not have been thinking about the veracity of the award, the rest of us will. After all, as the evening unfurled, it became harder and harder to accept the FIFA Best awards as a serious entity.
How can it when Mohamed Salah wins the best goal despite the fact it was not even his best strike from last season? Never mind the best football has seen that year... That’s impossible in a season that Gareth Bale’s wondrous overhead kick in a Champions League final, coupled with several outrageous goals being scored at the World Cup...
It's also difficult to take the award seriously when Thibaut Courtois wins the best goalkeeper but does not make the best XI. Or, as another example, Salah's nomination for the best player award but failed to make the XI. Farcical is a justifiable description.
Modric’s success, however, does not fall into that category. While many around him holding awards could consider themselves fortunate to be there, his place as the best was fully justified.
First, allow us to look at the season he had. If another Champions League success was not enough, a World Cup final place with Croatia ensured his worthiness. It is not only the fact he made it to both, though. It is the role he played in getting both Real Madrid and Croatia there.
Last season Modric had as big an impact for club and country as any one player has managed in many years. No player was as vital to his team’s successes as he was.
At club level, he dragged Madrid through the Champions League. When Cristiano Ronaldo was missing, Modric was the man who stepped up. The Spanish giants were not at their best for much of the campaign but he was and that was enough. It was the Croatian midfielders' influence in the middle of the park that dragged them through round after round. A Galactico in every sense.
His ability to dominate possession and dictate the tempo turned the final in Kiev in Madrid’s favour. At times, Liverpool had threatened to run away with the meeting, their pace and power worrying the reigning champions. Then, Modric took control of the ball and Madrid were back to their best. Bale’s brilliance and Karius’ meltdown were the main talking points but those who were watching knew Modric was key.
Then came his performances in Russia. For Modric and Croatia, a place in the final of the World Cup was unforeseen. They are a team filled with talent, undoubtedly, but with a history of failure on the biggest stage. Euro 2016 was fresh in the memories of many. 2018 would not be a repeat of that tournament, though. Modric was the reason why.
Like with Madrid, he stepped up. It was he who scored the superb solo strike that saw them to a famous victory over Argentina and first place in Group D. It was he who scored vital penalties in the shootouts against Denmark and Russia. It was also the 33-year-old who turned the semi-final in his side’s favour.
As was the case in the Champions League final, Modric’s brilliance turned it around. England had taken an early lead but the Croat's control of the midfield ensured their happiness was short lived and his nation progressed to the final.. Modric's composure and star quality only further exposed how England are in desperate need of a player like him.
It is for these reasons that Modric is a deserving winner. Without him, Real Madrid would not have won the Champions League and Croatia would not have achieved their best ever finish in a major tournament.
Other players scored more goals, produced more assists or were awarded more man of the match awards that is undeniable.
Yet, none performed as consistently as the Croatian. None had as big an impact on the football landscape as him. Nor did they use their ability to influence events as much as he did. He was football’s MVP in 2017/18 and for that reason alone, he was FIFA’s best. Here’s hoping his victory has set a precedent.