By Shikharr Chandra
It wasn’t long ago that Luka Modric was voted 2012's worst signing by the readers of Spanish newspaper Marca. Modric didn’t have a great first season at the club and questions were being raised as to whether the former Tottenham star was fit enough to wear the famous white jersey of Real Madrid.
The Croatian moved to Madrid for a fee of £33 million from White Hart Lane in the summer of 2012. He soon came to terms with the pressure of joining one of the biggest sides in the world as he found chances hard to come by. Jose Mourinho, the boss of Real Madrid back then usually prefers a central midfield of a creative and a defensive player each. Sami Khedira and Xabi Alonso fitted the profile perfectly and Modric’s half decent performances made matters worse for him.
But that seems a distant memory as Modric has become a vital cog in Carlo Ancelotti’s plans. In the two legged semi-final against Atletico Madrid, it was the former Tottenham midfielder who shone the most.
In a tie where Diego Costa and Pepe had their own little battle going on, lighters were being thrown on Cristiano Ronaldo, tackles flying in, one player continued to dictate play from the middle of the park.
In the first leg, Modric had 96 touches on the ball, more than anyone else in the entire game and his passing percentage of 93 was second only to that of full back Fabio Coentrao. Not only this, he made four key passes in the game, two short of Angel Di Maria’s tally of six.
It was not only Modric's impressive work rate in attack but also his defensive contributions as he had the highest interceptions, tackles and shorts blocked in the game. Modric was withdrawn in the final ten minutes of the game and the Bernabeu chanted his name.
Carlo Ancelotti's presence has been a vital boost to Modric's impressive form at the club.
Under Mourinho, most of Modric's play and passes came through the wings. 16.1% of Modric's passes came from the right wing and 17% came through the otherwise. Only 14% of his key passes came through the center of the park.
Things have changed drastically this season as most of Modric’s game is centered around midfield - 40%. The sight of the player drifting wide is rare which is explained by the 0.69% statistic.
The signing of Gareth Bale and the rise of Jese Rodriguez has given Ancelotti more options in the wide areas. He has molded the formation to a 4-3-3 that has Xabi Alonso take the role of a defensive midfielder with Di Maria and Modric being allowed to pull the strings from the middle and take the ball forward.
When Madrid signed Assier Illaramendi, Casemiro and Isco, many believed that Modric’s future at the club was up in the air. However Ancelotti announced that the player was not for sale which dispelled the doubts soon.
With Sami Khedira injured for the rest of the season and Illaramendi still finding his feet at the club, Modric has taken over the mantle as being one of the key players at the club.
Only Pepe, Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Sergio Ramos have completed more minutes than the Croatian this season. Modric has the highest pass completion in the Madrid side and ranks sixth in the whole league. He also leads the rankings of players who have won back possession the most number of times which highlights his defensive contribution as well.
Back when Khedira got injured, assistant manager Paul Clement explained that Madrid could shift to a 4-2-3-1 that could see Isco coming in to the side. The change would have meant Modric losing his freedom in the park but Ancelotti's decision of not tinkering and playing to Modric's strength has allowed the Croatian to flourish this season.
"Luka is such a good player I think he could play in that Isco position too. I think he can play next to Alonso or next to Illaramendi in a two or he can play on the side of a three. I don't think his position is the pivot [the sole deep-lying midfielder] because he has got a lot of attacking creative quality," said Paul Clement
In the 3-0 victory against Getafe at the Alfonso Perez Stadium, Modric controlled the proceedings and ended the evening with a fantastic 25-yard strike. Certainly the extra hours spent under Zinedine Zidane, by his own admission are bringing rewards.
“We stay behind with him (Zidane) after training to practice our shooting,” said Modric earlier in the season.
Certainly Modric has been one of the most important players for Madrid under Ancelotti and shall soon ‘pass’ his way into the hearts of the Bernabeu faithful.