Luka Modric: Made in Zagreb, Made for Madrid?
Finally, two years after the transfer speculation started in earnest, Croatian midfielder Luka Modric looks to be heading out through the White Hart Lane exit door. Last summer, a deal appeared imminent with both Chelsea and Manchester United leading the pack chasing the Tottenham star, who publicly expressed his desire for a move across London. Spurs Chairman Daniel Levy, though, had other ideas, and to the player’s obvious disgust, firmly rejected 22 million pounds of Roman Abramovich’s money, insisting his key man was going nowhere. Fast forward then to 2012, and with echoes of Cesc Fabregas’ long, drawn-out move to Barcelona, Modric seems likely to be the second north London star heading to a Spanish giant.
A brief and last minute cameo by newly-minted Paris Saint-Germain doesn’t seem to have thwarted Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez in his annual pre-season drive for a marquee signing, and a deal between Tottenham and the Primera champions is likely within days. Depending on who you believe, Spanish sports daily and Madrid mouthpiece Marca are reporting €40m, you can pick a number anywhere between 30 and 35 million pounds, include a few unspecified add-ons, and pretty soon Modric will be swapping one white shirt for another and starting Spanish lessons. Ironically, the man who last year fought so hard to sign Modric for Chelsea is about to oversee his departure, as recently appointed Spurs manager Andre Villas-Boas now has the difficult task of finding a replacement.
For Madrid, the problem is of an altogether different kind and one most clubs wouldn’t actually mind. There is no doubt whatsoever, even at thirty million quid, that Luka Modric, his poor end of season form for Tottenham notwithstanding, is a world class player as was proved at Euro 2012. The problem lies with the fact Real Madrid’s squad is full of players of that ilk, so where to play the newcomer? Santiago Bernabeu boss Jose Mourinho, a confirmed Modric admirer, already has a star studded midfield; therefore, in order to accommodate the latest acquisition, something has to give. Modric is principally a left sided or central midfielder, positions he has played for Tottenham with distinction. On record as preferring the former, the 26 year old has scored goals with both feet and is renowned as a play maker who can pick a pass. But what of those he’d be looking to dislodge from the Real starting XI?
One certain to feel a little heat from the competition for starting places may well be German international Mesut Özil, a practising Muslim of Turkish descent. Özil was the attack-minded midfielder top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo had most reason to be grateful for. During the season just passed, Özil topped the charts with seventeen assists and chipped in to the collective team effort with seven goals, four of them in La Liga matches. Volatile Portuguese coach Mourinho is a big fan and handed the 23 year-old 45 starts last term, and he didn’t disappoint. A very similar player to Modric, squad rotation shouldn’t restrict his chances, particularly with the Abramovich-like obsession Real Madrid have with winning the UEFA Champions League. A determined challenge from Barcelona for the Spanish league should also ensure plenty of game time as The Whites battle on two fronts.
Three summers ago, 66 million euros secured the services of Brazilian Kaká, but a stop-start Real Madrid career has since yielded less than one hundred appearances for the Merengues and only 24 goals in all competitions. Before the end of the approaching season, Kaká will have turned 31 and looks like being a probable casualty as Madrid evaluate their options in centre field. Likely to come into the side off the bench or as a starter when someone higher up the pecking order is rested, Madrid need to shift him from their wage bill. Turkish midfielder Nuri Sahin, once spoken of as a makeweight in any Modric deal endured a wretched, injury blighted first season in Madrid following his move from Borussia Dortmund and has vowed to stay and fight for his place. Despite being given a vote of confidence by Mourinho for the 2012/13 season, Inter Milan will continue to monitor his situation. Make or break for him.
As with the Cesc Fabregas return to Barcelona last year, one or two Madrid players haven’t been backward in coming forward with their views on the impending arrival of Luka Modric. Defenders Sergio Ramos and Alvaro Arbeloa, who played against the Croat in their recent Euro 2012 encounter, saw first-hand his ability on the ball and both have been effusive in their praise. For good measure, Portuguese centre-back Pepe added, “I know he’s a good player”. Rumour has it too that Modric has sounded out former Madrid men Rafael van der Vaart and Emmanuel Adebayor, each of whom played in the Spanish capital prior to transferring to Spurs, for their views on the city and its premier club.
On occasions, Jose Mourinho has been criticised by the demanding Madrid fans, who, whilst seeing their club winning, expect to do so in style. The arrival of Modric will change all that. For the most part, the special one plays with a five-man midfield supporting lone striker Karim Benzema, and with Cristiano Ronaldo and Xabi Alonso nailed on starters, there’s space for three more. With Kaká likely to become an even more peripheral figure, Ángel di María, a simultaneously excellent and excruciating Argentine, will also be looking over his shoulder anxiously and might have to settle for starts in the Champions League. Sami Khedira, a solid and reliable defensive type, can expect to play alongside Alonso in front of the back four as Modric, Ronaldo and Özil frighten the lives out of opposing goalkeepers.
In this side, Luka Modric can take on the role of star quarter-back, prompting and probing, a hub of creativity, the pivot around whom everything centres. Made for Madrid? Absolutely.