Luka Modric: The man inheriting Xavi's midfield mantle
Luka Modric, the best midfielder in world football. An accolade that he is often not credited with, but nonetheless one he deserves.
Luka Modric simply continues to pass his way into the pantheons of recent midfield greats. The Croatian's standing used to be Xavi's mantle; now, he is the one who has inherited it.
Before Cristiano Ronaldo together with Lionel Messi were pervading the football stage, the gaping jaws and ogling eyes, centred on a slighter in stature, more reserved character. It wasn't silky skills that flattered the hardest of hearts. It wasn't blistering speed. It wasn't thunderous, rocketed goals. It was, in a word, guile.
For perhaps a three or four year period, the crown of the best midfielder in the world rested on the head of Xavier Hernandez Creus. Xavi, as he is more commonly known, pulled the proverbial strings of the Barcelona midfield very much like the heart-strings that he tugged at with every, perfectly-weighted, defence-splitting, joy-inspiring pass. He didn't possess great athleticism, nor was the Spaniard the surging midfielder in his generation. He was not especially quick, strong, or imposing. That didn't matter.
Xavi was a brilliant exploiter. His touch was soft yet subtle, deceptive with his movement, while his mind placed him a step ahead of everyone. His passing was dead-eye accurate, slicing open defences, slithering through the tightest of channels like a snake slaloming its way through the reeds. The now 37-year-old used to be a midfield master. The time of Xavi's mastery has come to an end; the time of Luka Modric has commenced.
Modric anchored the Real Madrid midfield with great expertise. The dual-pivot he forms alongside Toni Kroos, flanked by the steelier, hard-nosed, Casemiro, has been the cornerstone of Madrid's recent success. For all the focus that Cristiano Ronaldo draws, for all the furore and frenzy that engulfs Gareth Bale, for all the reverence and respect that is afforded Sergio Ramos, it is the midfield trio, Modric especially, that has been the driving force of the relentless, implacable, inexorably successful Madrid machine.
The former Tottenham Hotspur man offers control and creativity in equal measures, from a free-roaming central position unparalleled in world football. It's his decision-making, his distribution, that has propelled pure midfield artistry.
He sees the pitch with such wonderful vision. There is no aspect that slips by him. As he drifts, his head swivelling, meerkat-esque in its alertness and vigilance, Modric is able to influence the game with every caressed touch, gracefully floating his way from one pocket of space to another. Real Madrid's superstar orchestrates proceedings with a beautiful balance of safe, assured, controlled possession, and incisive, penetrating, purposeful passing.
Modric is an oft-overlooked, unspoken, unnoticeable character. He's not the brash modern footballer who adorns himself with the praise from others, driving the insecurities of his fragile and precious ego. He is quiet and unassuming. He is very easy to miss. But his influence is not. Madrid is the best team in the world, with Modric the best midfielder.