Modric paints the right pic­ture for me. . .

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - SPORT - ROD­NEY REINERS rod­[email protected]

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.

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MAY Mahlangu dur­ing a train­ing ses­sion with the na­tional team|

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