Croatia’s Modric ready to remind Spain of his enduring class

MADRID (AFP) – Dejan Lovren was probably right in saying that if Luka Modric played for Spain or Germany he might have won a Ballon d’Or by now – nobody other than Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo has for 10 years – but he might well have been in the running.

He is this year, albeit for FIFA’s equivalent prize, the Best Men’s Player, and it validates Lovren’s theory that his first nomination comes after Croatia did at the World Cup what Spain or Germany had done at four of the last five major tournaments. They reached the final.

“Because we are a smaller country, he gets less attention than he deserves,” Lovren said.

Modric was not the only one to excel for Croatia in Russia but he was their inspiration.

His bending shot that nestled in the corner marked the second of a three-goal thrashing of Argentina.

His celebration shared with the fans, all floppy hair and clenched fists, became an enduring image of the tournament.

Success internationally has been as rare for Modric as it has been free-flowing for his club. One league title and four in the Champions League for Real Madrid hardly points to a player undersold by his achievements.

But there was something in what Sergio Ramos said. “Maybe there are players with more marketing, with a bigger name,” Ramos said. “But Modric deserves that award.”

Perhaps, but Ramos may also have been highlighting what fans at the Santiago Bernabeu witness every week. Modric is not a headline-maker like Gareth Bale, Isco or Ronaldo but he is often the most influential on the way the team plays.

Modric’s numbers, the goal-related ones at least, say very little. He has never scored more than three goals in a single league season for Madrid and has only twice reached six assists. In six seasons in Spain, he has finished with only one league goal to his name four times.

In the World Cup final, he played 72 passes, more than twice as many as any French player. The closest was Paul Pogba with 35.

When Croatia face Spain in Elche tomorrow (2.45AM Brunei time), they will meet a side still plugging the gap left by their own pass-master in the retired Andres Iniesta.

“It’s a great challenge to play against Luka in the Spanish league and it’s even better to play with him for our country,” Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic said. “Hopefully we will get to enjoy him a little bit more.”