Real Madrid’s midfield will look different this season than it did last. Casemiro has departed the Santiago Bernabeu for Manchester United with Aurelien Tchouameni arriving from Monaco. This represents a changing of the guard for Carlo Ancelotti’s team in the centre of the pitch, but one figure remains as influential as ever.
Luka Modric has never been more important to Real Madrid than he is right now. The Croatian will be 37 next month, but he is at the peak of powers, demonstrated by the stunning goal scored in the recent 4-1 demolition of Celta Vigo. There was nothing the opposition could do to stop Modric as he curled a finish into the top corner from 25 yards out.
“He is immortal. He is always prepared, he always plays very well,” said Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti when asked to explain the profound impact made by Modric in the recent La Liga victory over Celta Vigo. “His goal has changed the game, until then it was an even and competitive game.”
Few midfielders are able to offer as much as Modric. The 36-year-old is technically able, he can pick a pass through for a teammate – as demonstrated by his excellent through ball for Vinicius Junior’s goal against Celta Vigo – and has one of the best long-distance shots of any player in the European game right now.
For someone of his vintage, Modric also brings a surprising level of intensity. The Croatian can no longer play every minute of every match for Real Madrid, and Ancelotti has been careful not to exhaust one of his most important players, but at his best Modric supercharges his team’s play through the middle.
Without Modric, Karim Benzema wouldn’t be the same player. The French striker is Real Madrid’s frontman and the player whose goals propelled Los Blancos to a Champions League and La Liga double last season, but Modric is his primary supply line. Their understanding is central to the team Ancelotti has moulded.
The midfield trio of Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Modric will be remembered as one of the best, most effective midfield units in the history of European football and Modric is the most valuable of the three. This has been the core of a team that has delivered countless trophies, including four Champions League titles, for Real Madrid.
Casemiro is gone, but Real Madrid already have a succession plan in place to replace the Brazilian international. Tchouameni has been signed for a reported fee of €100m from Monaco one year after Eduardo Camavinga arrived in the Spanish capital from France. Both players are expected to be key figures for Real Madrid for a long time to come.
“The Casemiro thing is a shame, we have made history with him, he has been a fundamental piece for us and we are going to miss him a lot, as a player and a person,” Modric said after his former Brazilian teammate signed for Manchester United. “This is part of football, I am sad to see him go but we have to keep going without him and each player has to give even more in terms of the things he did.”
Modric will be more difficult to replace in the long-term. There aren’t many players with the skill set of the Croatian. Jude Bellingham is believed to be a target for Real Madrid, but the England international doesn’t play with the same guile and creativity of Modric. Pedri is comparable in profile, but he’s at Barcelona – and hasn’t yet refined his shooting ability from outside the box.
There’s a good reason Real Madrid continue to sign Modric to a new contract every summer, even if their policy as a club prevents them from handing the Croatian more than a year-long deal at a time. Even at this late stage of his career, Modric is the best at what he does. There’s a strong argument that he might even be the best midfielder of all-time, both in terms of his quality and his achievements in the sport.
Real Madrid is a club defined by great players and Modric ranks among them. There will come a time when the Spanish giants have to replace the Croatian, but he continues to be a player they can build around. Real Madrid revolve around Modric, which suits his game. Modric isn’t ready to stand aside, and neither should he be.