Luka Modrić: The Best Player of the Year?
What a year it was that Luka Modric had - he played an integral part of Real Madrid’s Champions League-winning campaign, single-handedly led Croatia to their first ever World Cup final, and overall had a year full of brilliant individual performances...right? Well not quite. The Modric media hype will have you believe these things to be true, and will even lead you to believe that he, in fact, has been the best player and deserves to be showered with all the individual awards world football has to offer.
This, however, is far from the truth. So far, Modric has won the UEFA Men’s Player of Year award, as well as The Best FIFA Men's Player award, both rewarding the player who is considered the best in the previous season of both club and national team competition (considering this player always plays for a European club, they are practically the same award). However, Modric is far from being the best player of the 2017/18 season. Who else could have won these awards?
Mohamed Salah: A Historic Year
Mohamed Salah broke the premier league goal scoring record (32), a record not broken by some of the greatest goalscorers in the modern game such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Suarez, Wayne Rooney, and many others. He also led Liverpool to their first Champions League final in 11 years, scoring 10 goals including goals in each of the Round of 16, Quarter Final, and Semi-Final ties, as well as providing 4 assists. All in all, Mohamed Salah played a historic season where he scored an incredible 44 goals in as many games while achieving some incredible feats on individual and team levels.
Lionel Messi: Individual Brilliance Once Again
Lionel Messi (who was not even shortlisted for either award) was by far the best player in a domestic double winning campaign for FC Barcelona, where he won the European Golden Boot scoring an incredible 34 goals in 36 games as well as assisting a further 12 in the league alone, more than any other player. In all competitions, he recorded an impressive 45 goals and 18 assists for FC Barcelona.
Cristiano Ronaldo: The Man for the Big Occasions
Last but certainly not least is Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese started the season very strongly, coming on as a sub to score a stunning winning goal against FC Barcelona in the first half of the Spanish Super Cup. He played a huge role in Real Madrid winning the Club World Cup scoring the equalizer in the Semi-Final before Bale went on to score the winning goal, and won Real Madrid the final by scoring the only goal of the game with a brilliant free kick. In the league, Ronaldo was in stunning goalscoring form as he went on to score 26 goals in only 27 matches, the best ratio in Europe alongside Robert Lewandowski, not to forget that he also had a period of extraordinary form where he managed to score in 10 consecutive league matches.
However, it was the UEFA Champions League where Ronaldo really showed his brilliance. The undisputed star man as he led Real Madrid to a historic third consecutive Champions League title, scoring 15 goals and providing 3 assists while becoming the first player to score in 14 consecutive Champions League matches and the first player to score in every single group stage game.
How Did Luka Modrić Play in the League?
Sensational seasons from three sensational players! Surely Modric had to have had an exceptional, unbelievable, near impossible season to win these awards and be considered the best player of 2017/18. Well, he didn’t. His season, in reality, was below par. In the league, he was relatively poor throughout the whole season, scoring only 1 goal and providing 5 assists, that’s fewer goals than the entire Real Madrid starting midfield and second last in assists ahead of only the defensive-minded Casemiro.
When you think of a midfielder's contributions to a team you often think of pass completion, chances created, key passes, successful take ons, and so on - things Modric is often thought to be the best in the world at doing. Well, he actually doesn’t lead Real Madrid in ANY of them, often overshadowed by Kroos and Isco, while he is certainly no match of Casemiro in terms of defensive contribution. Modric isn’t even second best as Kroos also has better defensive statistics than Modric in almost all aspects.
The Architect behind Real Madrid's Champions League title?
In the Champions League, one could argue that Modric was even more embarrassing. While it is often thought that he was a key player in Real Madrid’s Champions League triumph, he was actually quite unimpressive. He scored only 1 goal and provided only 1 assist in the entire campaign, both coming in the group stage. He created only 8 chances in the entire campaign, a third of Toni Kroos’ 24, 10 less than Isco, and even less than substitute players such as Asensio and Vazquez who play half the minutes. He recorded the least key passes than all of those aforementioned midfielders, tied for last with Casemiro, the defensive midfielder. Modric is often lauded for his dribbling. However, he completed fewer dribbles per 90 mins than all of Isco, Asensio, and Vazquez, while his completion 66.7% completion rate pales when compared to Isco’s 76.2% and Vazquez’s 81.8%.
The argument you’ll often hear for Modric is that sure, Ronaldo is scoring all the goals, but it is Modric who is the genius creating all his chances for him. However, upon closer review we can see that it is true that there many players creating chances for Real Madrid’s goal scorers, Modric has been at the bottom of the list of contributors this season.
A Brilliant World Cup for Modrić...and Croatia.
There is, however, one thing that gives Modric the edge over the others- The FIFA World Cup. Modric did indeed have a great World Cup where he helped Croatia to their first ever World Cup final. However, being the big player he is and wearing the captain’s armband may have boosted this narrative of Croatia’s road to the final being mostly a one-man effort.
In reality, Croatia’s World Cup saw many players star. Mandzukic, Rakitic, Perisic, Vida, Lovren and the heroics of Subasic were also all crucial to reaching the final. As a matter of fact, Croatia's two biggest games in the semifinals and finals against England and France respectively, Modric did not play a big role and it was Mandzukic and Perisic who stepped up and led a comeback against England and they are also the ones who scored the only goals in a Final against a much stronger French side.
In the Round of 16, Modric missed a penalty in the dying minutes of the game against Denmark. It was a weak and rather central penalty, which could have cost Croatia the game had it not been for the Heroics of Subasic in goal saving 3 penalties to help take them progress. Subasic was again a hero against Russia in the Quarter Final, making a series of important saves late in the game despite an apparent injury, and again proving the difference in a tense penalty shootout. Modric was a key player for Russia this World Cup, however, to say that he carried them would undermine the efforts of many players in that team. Overall, there were a few players that could be deemed worthy of The Golden Ball that tournament. However, it was Modric who ultimately won it, and rightfully so.
Has Modrić Been the Best Player Throughout the Entire Year?
Before the World Cup there were only 3 players on people’s minds as the best player of this past season, Ronaldo, Messi, and Salah. Suddenly, during the World Cup, the narrative changes, the media hype switches to Modric, who indeed had a good World Cup. However, it was the hype that blinded people to how good Modric really was throughout the entire year. Unfortunately, this led to Modric winning awards that he didn’t really deserve. Sure, he had a good World Cup, which is why he deserved to win the World Cup Golden Ball, but the individual accolades should stop there as individually, he didn’t do much more than that this past year. To award him the UEFA Men’s Player of Year award, as well as The Best FIFA Men's Player award is to say he was the best player across the entire year when, in reality, there were players far more deserving.
There is still the Ballon d'Or to be won
Hopefully, this hype calms down by the time the Ballon d'Or rolls around. The Ballon d'Or is the most prestigious individual award in football, and one that really should go to the best player of the past calendar year. There is only one name in mind, and it is certainly not Luka Modric, not even close, especially after not being able to contribute anything to a horrendous start of the season for Real Madrid. He has been very poor all around considering he is “the best in the world”. Some may argue that football is not just about statistics, and I would agree that there are a lot of ways players contribute and are important that stats can't show.
However, statistics are numbers that allow us to measure a player’s contribution on the pitch. They are important because while they don’t tell the whole story, they surely give us a great idea of who has been performing well and who hasn’t. Sure, Modric does contribute more than his stats show, but so do a lot of other midfielders. And if someone is to be considered the “Best In the World” then they must also put up numbers, they must show their decisive contributions on the pitch, which for the most part Modric didn’t do last season.
Anyways, voter fatigue and media hype shouldn’t be a reason to deny someone like Cristiano Ronaldo a well-deserved award. His hunger, hard work and dedication is something not many players, if any, can match. He works harder than anyone else to ensure he stays the best player and this is something that should be admired and rewarded. Denying him this Ballon d'Or with the only reason being “We want to see someone new win it” or not thinking critically enough about who is truly deserving and hopping on the hype bandwagon are both ludacris reasons, and if Luka Modric does end up winning the Ballon d'Or, it will be the epitome of footballing injustice.