Luka Modric: Madrid mae­stro

Not our words (though we agree), but Zine­dine Zi­dane’s – and the Croa­t­ian’s im­por­tance to 2017’s Cham­pi­ons League win­ners sim­ply can­not be over­stated

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Your What­sapp sta­tus says quite a lot about you. “Up­dat­ing my What­sapp sta­tus,” for the ban­ter mer­chants, “Ter­ri­ble chat guar­an­teed,” for peo­ple keen to im­press and “Hey! I’m us­ing What­sapp,” for those of us too bored, busy or tech­no­log­i­cally in­com­pe­tent to change it. Luka Modric, how­ever, has got some­thing al­to­gether dif­fer­ent on his – a mis­sion state­ment.

“We are what we re­peat­edly do,” reads the Real Madrid mid­fielder’s bio. “Ex­cel­lence then, is not an act, but a habit.”

First coined by Amer­i­can philoso­pher Will Du­rant in 1926, the phrase epit­o­mises the metic­u­lous way in which Modric can con­trol a foot­ball match. Sim­ple, un­fussy, yet rou­tinely bril­liant. Cris­tiano Ron­aldo may pro­vide the killer in­stinct, or Isco a sprin­kle of play­mak­ing star­dust, but it is the pint-sized Croa­t­ian who gets the Euro­pean cham­pi­ons go­ing.

May’s Cham­pi­ons League semi-fi­nal sec­ond leg against neigh­bours Atletico Madrid was a case in point. Play­ing on the right of a mid­field di­a­mond, Modric was su­perb, like King Canute hold­ing back the seas of Ro­ji­blanco at­tacks in a thrilling 20-minute spell at the Vicente Calderon. Ex­cept he suc­ceeded.

Over 90 min­utes Modric had 103 touches, more than any­one else on the pitch. He had the most drib­bles. He made the most in­ter­cep­tions. Dur­ing his four-sea­son spell at Tot­ten­ham from 2008-12, the gen­eral con­sen­sus had been that he needed a de­stroyer to hold his hand. Even Arsene Wenger once dis­missed Luka as be­ing “too light­weight”, but the 2017 Modric is an­other beast en­tirely.

He is stronger and dic­tates the pace of a game, whether along­side Casemiro and Toni Kroos or just next to the lat­ter as a more cre­ative mid­field pair for Los Blan­cos.

Come the fi­nal, Modric was no less ef­fec­tive. The week be­fore fac­ing Ju­ven­tus, Zine­dine Zi­dane had re­peat­edly worked on his team cut­ting the ball back from the by­line to cir­cum­vent the Old Lady’s back three. The third goal in Madrid’s 4-1 win in Cardiff owed ev­ery­thing to Modric.

“I won the ball back, gave it to Carva [Dani Car­va­jal] and he put the ball into space, and I knew that some­thing good was go­ing to hap­pen from that sit­u­a­tion so I gave it ev­ery­thing I’d got,” Modric ex­plained. “Cris­tiano was there and we all know what hap­pened next.”

They be­came the first side to re­tain the Cham­pi­ons League since its change of for­mat in 1992, that’s what.

“What if Modric gets a cold?” one colum­nist said ear­lier this year. It all makes the fact that he topped a Marca vote of the worst sum­mer sign­ings shortly af­ter mov­ing to Real Madrid in Au­gust 2012 seem all the more ridicu­lous.

“The way he plays the ball with the out­side of his foot… Pffff,” coach Zi­dane has said about his mid­field metronome. “When they ap­plaud you, es­pe­cially the ri­val sup­port­ers, it is not usual. We know that Luka is fun­da­men­tal for us. He han­dles game sit­u­a­tions very well and, off the pitch, he’s a sight to be­hold be­cause of his pro­fes­sion­al­ism. I don’t of­ten say it, but his team-mates love him very much.”

No one more than cap­tain Ser­gio Ramos. The duo are the heart­beat of the Real dress­ing room as well as pro­vid­ing the bal­last which sealed Los Blan­cos’ first La Liga and Cham­pi­ons League dou­ble since 1958. They are uña y carne say the Span­ish – lit­er­ally like toe­nail and meat but mean­ing as thick as thieves. They are al­ways the last to leave the train­ing ground ev­ery day. Their fam­i­lies so­cialise, they of­ten hol­i­day to­gether and have vis­ited each other’s home­towns.

It all started be­cause of a trait in­her­ent in Modric’s per­son­al­ity. Yes, he is quiet, but also direct. Un­happy with Ramos’ ten­dency to per­form any un­der­hand trick in the book to get ahead, Modric told his skip­per what he thought, face to face. In an in­stant, he had Ramos’ re­spect. “What Luka brings to the game is a must,” Ramos has said about his team-mate. “He’s never marked out that much but he’s the back­bone of this team.”

They also share an un­wa­ver­ing de­sire to lift tro­phies. “When you win some­thing once, twice, three times and you have that feel­ing … that pushes you for­ward,” Modric said in the af­ter­math of May’s Euro­pean tri­umph. “You want to win more, more and more and you never tire of win­ning. We are at a club which al­ways wants to be the best – to win ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble.”

He was able to do that thanks to the ro­ta­tion pol­icy which en­sured Ron­aldo ar­rived at the cam­paign’s de­noue­ment in tip-top con­di­tion, de­spite a trou­ble­some groin prob­lem, which pre­ceded a knee in­jury. “It’s nor­mal when you have an in­jury that an­other fol­lows soon af­ter, but I knew I’d get my form back,” said Modric. “I spoke to the gaffer, the staff and the fit­ness coaches to im­prove my fit­ness. I didn’t doubt that I’d get my form back be­cause I knew they’d help me get there.”

If ex­cel­lence is a habit, then Luka Modric has turned the ev­ery­day into an art form.

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