Blog by: Shamir Reuben
“To a British eye at least, the way he (Juan Roman Riquelme) plays is astonishing. He is the creative fulcrum, rarely venturing back into his own half, despite Boca fielding two orthodox centre-forwards in Martin Palermo and Rodrigo Palacio. This is a position – the “enganche” (literally, the “hook”) – that simply no longer exists in western Europe. Perhaps in Argentina, where there is a self-conscious artistry to the football, the role will linger, but the comparison with Croatia, another nation where the No. 10 has historically been revered, is instructive. Evolution is never linear, so this is an over-simplification, but it could just be that while Riquelme is the last of the old-school playmakers, Luka Modric is the first of the new.” – Jonathan Wilson.
Much as Claude Makelele’s impact made the defensive midfield to be called the “Makelele position”, Riquelme’s all out attack mindset in the “enganche” position made the role synonymous with the Argentinean playmaker’s name.
An acute range of passing, entwined with the mind of an inventive genius, Riquelme sliced open defences with the ease of a knife going through semi-solid butter. But with the evident extinction of a complete playmaker without tactical restraints and discipline, rarely has a player been placed in the same mould as Riquelme.
Croatian playmaker Luka Modric though, proved otherwise.
In 2010, ex-Spurs captain Jamie Redknapp said: “He’s a hell of a player and a manager’s dream, so I am told. He trains like a demon and never complains, will work with and without the ball on the field and can beat a defender with a trick or with a pass. He could get into any team in the top four and he’ll be even better this season,” pretty much encapsulating what the Croatian is all about.
Deceptively diminutive, Modric made his way upwards from the relentlessly physical Bosnia and Herzegovina Premier League to give a new dimension to size and substance, before being eventually snapped up by Real Madrid and being praised by Mourinho for his “tactical awareness, influence and footballing artistry”.
But his admission in the Santiago Bernabeu roster hardly went according to plan, resulting in an unexpectedly disappointing endeavour. Factors ranging from missing pre-season training due to prolonged transfer negotiations with Spurs for his transfer, to competing with another playmaking maestro by the name of Xabi Alonso, Modric’s inconsistent displays relegated him to the bench. And with Madrid signing Asier Illarramendi, Modric might just need to look towards fresher pastures.
With long standing admirers Chelsea openly looking for a forward, the only other likely contenders for his signature are the Red Devils, who are still in the market for a midfielder following failed pursuits of Francesc Fabregas, Thiago Alcantara and Marouane Fellaini.
United’s depleted midfield looks like it needs a player of Modric’s calibre to lift it from the damage caused by the retirement of Paul Scholes, the prolonged absence of Darren Fletcher, the inexperience of Nick Powell and the inconsistency of Anderson. But does the Croatian playmaker fit into United’s scheme of things?
At first glance, David Moyes’ pursuit of Fellaini does seem to indicate he recognizes the gap left by Owen Hargreaves’ defensive masterclass and dogged running to allow Michael Carrick to control proceedings.
Luka Modric should then automatically become a viable option. Contrary to his frail looking frame and physical shortcoming, Modric has proved his credentials as being one of the most versatile midfielders around.
Although predominantly a central midfielder, it is automatically assumed that Modric likes playing in an advanced playmaker’s position. This isn’t necessarily true, as Modric played as a left sided winger consistently at Dinamo Zagreb.
He contributed 31 goals and 29 assists over four seasons at Zagreb, linking up excellently with Mario Mandzukic, another Croatian who now plies his trade at Bayern Munich.
Under Harry Redknapp at Spurs, Modric was pushed as far as up as the second striker’s position, where he flourished, before returning to a left sided midfield role. But what will interest Manchester United is his role in the international side and last year’s campaign with Madrid.
On the international stage, (before Igor Stimac took over) Slaven Bilic’s reign saw Croatia break away from the traditional 3-4-1-2 played earlier, replaced by a 4-1-3-2. Modric now moved away from playing in the hole to a deeper role in midfield, where he demonstrated his defensive abilities alongside Niko Kovac.
Modric put his footballing brains to good use, using his ability to skip away from challenges and his passing range to initiate counters, highlighted by his performance against England in the Euro 2008 qualifiers, where he came up against an English midfield comprising of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Gareth Barry.
Modric also dropped back to collect the ball and make tackles, underlining his tactical discipline. At Real Madrid too, Modric adapted yet again, as he played as a deep lying playmaker alongside Xabi Alonso.
In the few times that he did get a chance, Modric did show glimpses of his intuitive knack of playing the right pass, especially in games against Manchester United, where he scored the equalizer and put in a highly impressive performance, and then in the 2-0 win against Borussia Dortmund, where he again put in an eye-catching shift.
This proposition of playing a versatile Modric in the heart of United’s midfield might just pay dividends, by not only adding Modric’s unique skill set but also by freeing up Michael Carrick.
The switch from Madrid might also be just the thing that Modric needs to rejuvenate his career after a not so successful stint at Madrid.
On paper, it looks like a match made in heaven, but if the matchmaking does happen, United could just add a small (No offence, Modric) yet vital piece of the jigsaw to their ranks.