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Luka Modric is playing better than ever before for Real Madrid

At 36, Luka Modric is still a leading figure at Real Madrid. Sergio Perez/EPA.

When Luka Modric won the Ballon d’Or in 2018, he broke a duopoly on soccer’s most prestigious individual prize dating back to 2008. The Croatian enjoyed an exceptional year, winning the Champions League with Real Madrid and making the final of the 2018 World Cup with Croatia, but at 36 years old he is now setting a new standard for himself.

Paris Saint-Germain found that out for themselves as Modric inspired a comeback victory over the French side in the Champions League round of 16. Karim Benzema scored all three goals as Real Madrid won the second leg 3-1, but Modric was the driving force behind the French striker. He was irrepressible.

This wasn’t an isolated case either. Benzema and Vinicius Junior, who share 49 goals between them in all competitions this season, may have headlined Real Madrid’s 2021/22 campaign to date, but Modric has found something within himself that has allowed him to be more influential than ever for the capital club.

The performances he has produced this season almost defy logic. At 36, Modric should be well into the twilight of his career. There was speculation last summer that the Croatian could leave the Santiago Bernabeu with Real Madrid reportedly keen on signing Paul Pogba from Manchester United to be their next great central midfielder. Eduardo Camavinga arrived instead.

Many predicted Modric would be phased out of the Real Madrid starting lineup for Camavinga, widely considered one of the best young midfielders in European soccer right now. Yet Camavinga has largely been a peripheral figure. When he has featured, it has been as a rotational option or off the bench, as was the case against PSG.

Modric, however, is still one of the first names on the team sheet. Carlo Ancelotti recognises just how important the Croatian is to Real Madrid and has done all he can to keep him on the pitch for as many minutes as possible. This has helped Los Blancos rise to the top of La Liga and make the final eight of the Champions League.

Only Benzema (11) and Vinicius (six) have registered more assists in La Liga than Modric (five) this season. He is the creative hub of Ancelotti’s team and is supported by Toni Kroos and Casemiro. Without that support system, Modric might struggle, but with the protection of Casemiro and the control of Kroos Real Madrid have the perfect formula in the centre of the pitch.

Of course, it’s not all that unusual for elite level players to still be performing into their 30s. Cristiano Ronaldo is the joint-second top scorer in the Premier League this season at the age of 37. Thiago Silva won the Champions League for Chelsea last season, also at the age of 37. At 34, Lionel Messi is the current Ballon d’Or holder.

However, all these players have adapted their game to achieve longevity. Modric, meanwhile, is as energetic and dynamic as ever. He might require a rest every so often, but the Croatian is the same player he’s always been. If anything, he is now covering more ground for Real Madrid as their chief creator in the attacking third.

Replenishment will be needed at some point. Modric’s contract is up at the end of the season and Real Madrid must weigh up the financial commitment they are willing to make to a player edging closer and closer to his 40th birthday. All conventional logic suggests Real Madrid should be devising a succession plan.

Pogba could be Modric’s natural successor. The French midfielder is a long-term target for Real Madrid and will be a free agent this summer after the expiration of his contract at Manchester United. It wouldn’t be surprising if Florentino Perez sanctions the signing of a player he has long desired.

Real Madrid could move into a new era this summer with Kylian Mbappe expected to arrive in the Spanish capital. The World Cup winner will be the club’s biggest signing since the capture of Ronaldo all the way back in 2009 and Real Madrid will look to build around him. A generation of the Santiago Bernabeu could unfold before our eyes.

With Modric in such exceptional form, though, they should be wary of starting from scratch for the sake of it. He has more than earned a contract extension, even if it’s a short-term one. The Croatian might not finish 2022 with the Ballon d’Or in his hands, but Real Madrid have never seen better of Modric than they are right now. 

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