Like many world cups before it, the 2022 World Cup in Qatar signified a changing of the guard in the world of soccer. Legends like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi participated in what is likely their last World Cup; however, they weren’t the only greats to bow out for their country.
Croatian midfielder Luka Modrić had an illustrious international career leading Croatia on an unprecedented run that concluded in a 3rd place finish in Qatar.
Luka Modrić, a refugee of the Balkan wars, had an upbringing fit for the big screen. When Croatia broke away from Yugoslavia, everything he knew quickly disappeared besides soccer. Modrić rose through the ranks of Croatian powerhouse Dinamo Zagreb before moving to England side Tottenham Hotspur and then, finally, Real Madrid.
Modrić might not be the household name of Messi or Ronaldo; however, he played a vital role in the golden age of El Clásico. For the better part of a decade, the Croatian maestro has performed at an exceptional level for Real Madrid. Modrić’s ability to adapt to the game in front of them sets them apart from many with whom he shared the field with the field. He was comfortable turning with a ball with players on his back, driving up field, and picking out the forward in space and was proficient in receiving the ball at the top of the box and providing a goal. Part of what made those Real Madrid squads work with guys like Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale on the wings was Modrić’s ability to move the ball from flank to flank.
You could sit here talking about his brilliance, but the facts do not lie: five Champions Leagues, six league titles, 24 club titles, and a Ballon d’Or. Modrić has reached every pinnacle of club football, and his accolades can only be compared to a select few.
His closest counterparts are Barcelona legends Xavi and Andres Iniesta, who are consistently ranked within the top 10 of this generation, and rightly so. The midfield pair share nine league titles, four Champions Leagues, two European Championships, and a World Cup.
The goal and assist per game are nearly identical between the three, and spending upon what parameters you set, one will hold an advantage and the Spanish duo has the edge in International trophies. However, what sets Modrić above his Spanish counterparts is his coveted Ballon D’or and the simple fact that Xavi and Iniesta shared the field together.
Xavi and Iniesta were both a part of the greatest national team ever. From 2008-2012 Spain won two Euros and the 2010 world cup. The Spanish lineup featured some of the best of all time in Carles Puyol, David Villa, Sergio Busquets, and the list goes on.
Where Xavi and Iniesta were important to those squads, they didn’t mean as much to Spain as Modrić has meant to Croatia. The 2010 Spanish World Cup team had 10 Ballon d’Or top tens in their careers (not including Iniesta or Xavi), whereas Modrić has Croatia’s only two top tens in history. Have Xavi and Iniesta reached greater heights in international football? Yes, but Modrić has carried his team to a world cup final in 2018 and a third-place medal in 2022. Even without the wins, how far a single man takes a nation has to mean something.
Does help really matter when judging players? That is up to interpretation. What is not is a Ballon D’or win. Luka Modrić’s 2018 campaign was one of the best in recent memory, with a Champions League with Real Madrid and a World Cup Final with Croatia just months apart. Until 2018 the last 10 Ballon d’Or winners were Messi or Ronaldo. Modrić’s season was so impressive that he could transcend two of the best of all time. A Ballon d’Or is a massive feat in itself, but to win it over the best and second-best players of all time just adds to the cake.
At the end of the day, you can go on and on about who had better composure, which is better at creating space, which is the best at driving at defenders in the final third, etc., seeing through all that. However, Luka Modrić should be in everyone’s top 10 of this generation and most certainly should earn the respect he deserves from soccer fans. Whether or not you believe that Luka Modrić is better than Xavi or Andrés Iniesta, just the fact that this conversation is being held speaks the truth that Luka Modrić is the most under-appreciated talent of this footballing generation.