Luka Modric is 37 years old and the best Croatian player of all time, probably one of the all-time greats of our sport. If you get a chance, watch him play someday. Don’t watch the game, just him. See how he moves into space to cut out options when the opposition is in possession, then watch him take over, making spaces for himself and others when his team recovers the ball and inevitably searches him out to begin his team’s attack.
Notice too, what passion, commitment, and dedication personified look like—once on the pitch he never stops playing the game. Even when he stands still for a moment watch Modric’s neck swivel to take in the panorama of the action around him or keep an eye out for his hand gestures directing play, then count how many seconds pass from when he seems immobile to when he darts into action at precisely the right time and in the exact location he was needed.
His movement is the key to his game—he seems to have an internal rhythm, at rare times, when the situation requires it, he moves in a staccato, most times his movement is so smooth you would think he was gliding on grass. But Modric is always flowing with purpose and always finding the simple, obvious, seemingly easy fix to the conundrum which has just materialized before him.
Modric’s goals, assists, dribbles, passes, blocks, recoveries, tackles, headers, and escapes from the tightest of real estate in any part of the field, are poetry in motion to coin a phrase. He is the quintessential midfielder but also the perfect all-around soccer player. Not the fastest, but fast enough; not the quickest but always able to maintain control under duress. He rarely allows an opponent by when stopping him is essential and almost never loses the ball once he has gained or regained its possession.
They say that Wayne Gretzky always looked for where the puck was going to be not where it was, and that Muhammad Ali could nearly intuit where an opponent’s next punch would come from, evading it before it was thrown. Watch Modric assess a situation and then react to it—no, really, rewind the tape and see what he did. There were very few options as elegant and effective as the one he chose in that trivela pass or shot…and did he hesitate? Nope.
In the video linked above, watch the third, slowed replay, when Modric receives the pass toward the corner of the box, marked by two defenders (at the 2:31-32- minute mark), and follow his movements—watch him look up, assess the situation and his options, and act. The ball is in the net at the 2:34-minute mark. And yet you saw him take the time to ensure he had ascertained what needed to be done and which option was best. Modric is not a striker, but that was a striker’s goal.
Look at how open he is when he gets a ball from a teammate, it is as if no one had seen the oasis of space he is standing in to get the ball, so there is no one to contest his reception. Watch him take that first move or touch in traffic and look at the space he has created, a space within which anyone could then take the time necessary to make the right next pass. Similarly, watch him dribble, he is no Lionel Messi conjuring unthinkable moves in thin air, Modric is simply able to find the one area into which, again, he will have control of the ball for enough time to ascertain his best options and unhurriedly make the best pass.
That is the way football was meant to be played by the Gods, so take a gander this winter, the 2022 World Cup in Qatar may well be your last chance to see Modric weave his magic against the best in the world when the stakes are the highest—and that is a lifetime treat you simply cannot miss.
Photo: Luka Modric, Dreamstime.com ID: 120018456 © Vladyslav Moskovenko
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