Modric paints the right picture for me. . .
FOOTBALL is a simple sport with strands of complexity. On the surface, it’s about 11 players passing a ball in order to pierce the opposition’s net. But, beneath it all, there’s a beautiful intricacy, a subtle menace, a deeper mystery, a demand for industry and selfless commitment – and, as such, the sport is always premised on opinion.
Luka Modric’s Ballon d’Or success appears to have elicited many different points of view. Nothing wrong with that, I guess. It’s why we love football – it’s a game of opinion and we are all entitled to our own. So here’s my five cents worth.
Is football just a numbers game, all about statistics? Is it about feints and dribbles and goals and spectacular overhead kicks? Of course, it is – it’s why we are drawn to the sport in the first place. But, in the same breath, is football not primarily a team game? And, by definition, isn’t an individual’s role within the team psychology more important when assessing the best player in the world?
When you have answered those questions, then you know in which camp you are with regard to Modric’s success. In essence, do you watch football for the wonder, mesmerised by individual feats of match-defining moments? Or are you a purist, watching the game with a discerning eye, capturing the bigger, deeper picture of what transpires over the course of the 90 minutes?
If you are of the latter variety – like me – then, no doubt, Modric deserves his Ballon d’Or. In doing so, the indefatigable Real Madrid and Croatia midfielder became the first player to win the award other than Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo since 2007. The 33-year-old’s contribution to Real’s astounding recent Champions League winning run and Croatia’s relentless march to the Fifa World Cup final need no debate, no discussion; it speaks for itself. We all saw it with our own eyes.
Ronaldo finished second, followed by Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe and Messi. In keeping with the theme of opinion: Messi fifth? Really? For me, Modric is a deserved winner, but Messi not in the top three is just unfathomable.
But let’s get back to the man of the moment. They always say “if you want to know the artist or the painter, look at the art”. Modric is an absolute technician, with superb touch and control and an unswerving passing range. He’s a leader and a driving presence in any team in which he finds himself. He doesn’t know when to quit – and his unwavering support play and inspirational presence have been critical to both Real and Croatia.
Modric’s victory is not only about the changing of the guard, but it’s a shift in thinking. It’s a victory for the game’s unsung heroes; it’s the triumph of sweat over flash; it’s an acknowledgement of the team ethic at the heart of the sport; and it’s a return to the history and tradition that underscore the popularity of the game. Modric’s victory pays homage to the dynamic yet “in the background” talents who failed to win this award in the past, like Paolo Maldini, Frank Rijkaard, Franco Baresi, Gianluigi Buffon, Andres Iniesta and Xavi.
In the past, craftsmen and leaders like Johan Cruyff, Franz Beckenbauer Michel Platini, Lothar Matthäus and Fabio Cannavaro have won this award. Modric’s victory is a sign that football is now ready to go that way again – his achievement proves that football goes beyond the flicker of individual fluorescence.
In looking at art, or a painting, would you describe the person who applied the brushstrokes as a painter or an artist? In the end, the answer would depend on your point of view, what you see in the painting and, of course, how the painting moves you. For me, Modric’s Ballon d’Or is a victory for the sport’s painters – not the artists. Long may it continue.
MAY Mahlangu during a training session with the national team|