Every week at The Center Circle, we are highlighting a different player in a feature we call “On the Spot”. We’ll take a look at superstars, underrated gems, aging veterans, and young unknowns who should be known. We’ll peruse their club and international careers, taking note of their teams, statistics, and highlight reels. We’ll illuminate their strengths and weaknesses and comment on their personalities and reputations. It will be some fun. If there is anyone you want to see “On the Spot”, feel free to comment below.
Luka Modrić has established himself as one of today’s premier playmakers. The Real Madrid midfielder has been able to show his class in the Premier League as well as La Liga. At 29 years of age, the Croatian midfielder has only gotten better after each season.
Early Days in Europe
Before the glitz and glamor of top European competition, Luka Modrić found himself growing up in the middle of a Croatian War. Even with the war going on around him, Modrić’s parents were able to provide their son with a seemingly normal childhood. While playing for a local soccer club, the young player was able to impress Dinamo Zagreb enough to bring him into their youth system at 16 years old.
Within a year of signing his first professional contract, Modrić was loaned out to Zrinjski of the Bosnian League and Inter Zaprešić of Croatia in back-to-back seasons. During his time out on loan, the creative midfielder was able to further develop his style of play and was even able to earn Player of the Year honors during his time in Bosnia.
After two years on loan, the 20-year-old player returned to Dinamo Zagreb and signed a 10-year contract with the Croatian giants. In his first senior season, Modrić began to establish himself as a consistent starter in the side. After going goalless in his debut season, Modrić was able to make an exponentially larger impact scoring seven goals in the season and securing a league title for the club. In his final two seasons with the club, Modrić was a cornerstone of Dinamo securing two more league titles and two Croatian Cups.
Moving to London
The impressive form in the Croatian top-flight paired with an increase in international exposure for the national team attracted the attention of some of the top leagues in Europe. Tottenham Hotspur won the race for the midfielder’s signature and tied their transfer record in the deal with a £16.5 million fee for the player. The first season in the Premier League came with a learning curve not just for Modrić, but for Spurs as well. The team was unsure of where to place the Croatian in their midfield, but after a brief stint in a more defensive role, Modrić finally found his niche playing behind the forwards as a more attack-minded creator.
With the new position came an increase in form and confidence for the midfielder. His linkup play with the forwards showed the White Hart Lane supporters why the club had splashed the big bucks to bring him into the club. Sadly, the rise in form suffered a delay in Modrić’s second year with the club when he fractured his leg against Birmingham City early in the season. This horrific injury kept the star player off the field until he made his return as a second-half substitute after a three and half month absence. After his return, Modrić was able to notch three goals for Spurs as well as six assists in all competitions.
After proving himself on the Premier League stage in his first two years with Tottenham, the London club signed the midfielder to a six-year contract extension that tied him to the club until 2016. The emergence of Gareth Bale as another superstar in the club’s midfield gave Modrić more space to operate in the middle of the park. During the team’s 2010-11 Champions League run, Modrić was able to notch a goal and an assist in the competition, including a key assist against AC Milan in the Round of 16, before getting knocked out by his future employers, Real Madrid, in the quarterfinals. This impressive campaign earned the Croatian the honor of being named Tottenham’s Player of the Year.
The following summer, Modrić was involved in a dramatic transfer saga with London rivals Chelsea. Despite the midfielder’s clear interest in leaving the club and Chelsea submitting several bids, the club’s chairman Daniel Levy kept his superstar at White Hart Lane. The 2011-12 campaign was statistically Modrić’s most productive year in England since his debut season in 2008 with four goals and four assists in 36 appearances.
After failing to force a move to Chelsea the previous summer, Modrić’s future at White Hart Lane was put into question again in 2012. This time, however, Daniel Levy finally accepted a transfer offer from Real Madrid for a reported £30 million. After initially struggling to find his fit in the Spanish capital, Modrić found the form that made him one of the Premier League’s best at Tottenham. In the season’s second edition of El Clásico, Madrid’s new signing was able to register the assist on Sergio Ramos’ winning goal. Perhaps his most important contribution came against an old Premier League foe when they faced off against Manchester United in the Champions League knockout rounds. Modrić took the ball past his defender on the edge of the area and then curled his effort into the side netting. The goal equalized the score line and paved the way for Madrid to win 2-1. The season ended with Modrić notching four goals and four assists in all competitions for his new club.
In his sophomore Real Madrid season, Modrić continued to force his way into new manager, Carlo Ancelloti’s, starting eleven. His budding partnership with former Liverpool man Xabi Alonso in the midfield played a pivotal role in securing Madrid’s famous Champions League title that secured La Décima. In the riveting final against crosstown rival Atlético Madrid, it was Modrić’s corner that rescued Real. Trailing 1-0 in the final minutes of the match, the Croatian was able to locate Sergio Ramos once again to force the match into extra time where Los Blancos would win 4-1.
Luka Modrić has been unlucky this season when it comes to injuries. After being named to the Champions League Team of the Tournament and also earning the Best Midfielder title for La Liga last year, the stage seemed to be set for another landmark year in an already storied career. However, a leg injury suffered in November kept the creative midfielder out for nearly four months of the season until March. Since his return, Modrić has started six out of seven matches and recorded an assist in Madrid’s 9-1 thumping of Granada.
Style of Play
Luka Modrić may not always look impressive on the stat sheet, but the midfielder is a key man in whatever squad he plays for. The Croatian sits in the center of the park and wows audiences with his efficient and creative passing play. Usually sitting behind the two forwards, Modrić is able to survey the field and create constant movement to provide passing options. He may not be the fastest player on the field but his soccer IQ sets him a class above most other players.