The Hard Tackle takes a look at three players that can replace Luka Modric at the Santiago Bernabeu as the Croatian enters the last juncture of his career.
Some players bring consistency over a long period to the table, e.g., Alex Sandro, Jerome Boateng, David Alaba, etc. And some players bring or have brought you their best, even if it’s for a short term, namely Samuel Umtiti, Kepa Arrizabalaga, Michu among others.
However, the players that combine consistency with the highest level of football are very few. You could probably count them on your hands. One of those players is Real Madrid’s Luka Modric.
After a stellar few seasons with Tottenham Hotspur, Modric switched them for Real Madrid who came calling with a €30 million bid in 2012. It was not all smooth sailing for the Croatian initially, who was voted the ‘Worst Signing of the Season’ in a poll conducted by readers of SPORT magazine in December 2012.
Life has only improved since that for Modric, who was one of their key players as Madrid clinched their 10th UEFA Champions League – an unprecedented feat in European football.
Since then, he has gone on to win three more UCLs, two league titles, one Copa del Rey, three UEFA Super Cups among other things on the club level. He is also the recipient of the Golden Ball award, given to the best player in a World Cup edition, a Ballon d’Or, and has been named The Best FIFA Men’s Player once as well. Fair to say he is not missing silverware from his collection.
As shiny his trophy room may be, Modric is not known for them. Over the decade, he has gained a reputation as one of the most eye-pleasing footballers in the world. This stems from his aesthetic dribbling, defence-splitting passes, and the ability to read the game like few others. He is the kind of player you would want to watch if you plan to fall in love with the sport as so many have.
Unfortunately, though, Modric is turning 35 in September, and it is safe to say he is entering the final phase of his starlit career. Florentino Perez and co. will surely be in the market looking for someone who can replace the Madrid legend and build a similar legacy.
Federico Valverde comes here as the apparent name after receiving his big breakthrough this season. Still, he is not capable of adding creativity in the final third, not quite like Modric, at least.
The Hard Tackle brings you three players who can take over from Modric at the Santiago Bernabeu. The criteria for these players is simple – they should fit the Modric profile, i.e. can play multiple positions, impressive passers and dribblers, aged 24 or younger.
The ‘It’s literally right there’ option: Martin Odegaard
Before this season, the last time you would have probably heard of the name Martin Odegaard was when all top clubs in Europe entered into a Royal Rumble chasing his signature in 2015. Real Madrid came out on top with the offer of nearly €3 million, a fee that seemed bizarre for a 16-year-old.
Obviously, at his age nobody really expected him to break into their first team or get minutes over the likes of Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Casemiro, etc. However, his name disappeared into the wind for about five years.
This half-decade may have proven to be extremely crucial to his future, though. It included some time playing for the Castilla, two loan spells in the Netherlands and one in Spain. He stacked up numbers and gained admirers everywhere he went, but finally got his huge breakthrough this season on loan to Real Sociedad.
The Norwegian fit into Imanol Alguacil’s team seamlessly, playing as the attacking midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 and has been the prime catalyst behind their incredible run to a possible Europa League finish. He has shared the burden of creativity with Mikel Oyarzabal throughout the season and is one of the most complete midfielders in the league.
In his 30 appearances, Odegaard has as many goal contributions as Luka Modric (10) in the form of four goals and six assists. He has 2.1 key passes per game – third only to Lionel Messi and Sergio Canales. He also ranks third for the number of chances created in the league this season, with 59. Moreover, he completes 2.1 successful dribbles per game, 0.3 more than Modric’s best tally in Spain.
The 21-year-old has primarily operated as an attacking midfielder but is more than capable of applying his trait in a deeper role. Moreover, he would cost the Los Blancos nothing in transfer fee, which will come in especially handy for them after Florentino Perez asked the fans not to expect a big-money signing this summer because of the financially struck market.
The ‘If we won’t, someone else will’ option: Donny van de Beek
Donny van de Beek first came to light during Ajax’s fairytale season in the 2018/19 UEFA Champions League as the Amsterdam outfit reached the semi-finals against all odds. He was on target three times during that run, once each against Real Madrid, Juventus and Tottenham Hotspur.
He was directly involved in 19 goals last season in the league, scoring ten times, and assisting nine in 34 games. He would have – in all probability – topped this tally this season, had it not been for the season being declared null and void; this includes eight goals and five assists.
Van de Beek has shown maturity beyond his years, especially in terms of decision making and creativity. He averaged 1.8 key passes per game and created 41 chances this season. Moreover, he can play in a variety of positions and roles, starting from regista to a second striker.
Donny van de Beek in the Eredivisie 2019/20:
82% pass accuracy
77 tackles + interceptions
44 shots (39 penalty area)
41 chances created
0.6 G/A (p90)
Excellent season. 🇳🇱🇳🇱🇳🇱 pic.twitter.com/rFRr5sOopv
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) June 7, 2020
The Dutchman was tipped to leave Ajax before this season but has stayed because no concrete offers came in. However, he has been linked to a move away from the Eredivisie, with Manchester United in the pole position to sign him. He was also linked to Madrid, and would not dare to say no if the biggest club in the world came calling.
The ‘Left-of-centre’ option: Houssem Aouar
Over the last half-a-decade, France has continually produced world-class talents, all of whom are trying to pave their way to a bigger team and eventually to the national team. Among these players is a certain 22-year-old Houssem Aouar.
The Frenchman came through Olympique Lyonnais’ youth academy and got his breakthrough in the 2016/17 campaign, making three cameo appearances after which he was promoted to the senior team. He went on to become a mainstay for Lyon starting the next season and started gaining the attention of big teams in the continent. Patience has turned out to be his friend, though.
In 2018/19, Aouar rose as one of their best players in a Lyon team that had the world watching. He ended the season with seven goals and seven assists, playing in several positions across the pitch including the left-wing.
He did not quite mirror his performances from last season, but has still come in strongly with three goals and four assists, but that is also because he has taken a more advanced role on the wing in the absence of Memphis Depay.
Even though his ability to progress the ball up the pitch has improved, his creativity has gone down several notches. He completed one key pass per game this term compared to last season’s 1.3. However, he has come up clutch on several occasions for Les Gones, most recently in the game against Juventus in the UCL, where he started on the left flank and assisted the only goal of the game.
Houssem Aouar against Juventus ⬇️
84% passing accuracy
3 chances created
7 duels won
5 ball recoveries
Bossed it 🤩 pic.twitter.com/6N0nIO3Ry2
— beIN SPORTS USA (@beINSPORTSUSA) February 26, 2020
We could also go back to the Coupe de France Quarter-final against Olympique de Marseille when he scored the winner in the 81st minute to cap off a top-notch performance.
Aouar has been linked with a move to Manchester City and Chelsea, but could and should be an option for Zinedine Zidane as they lookout to find the best possible replacement for one of their best.