Luka Modric has enjoyed a legendary career at Real Madrid that has featured five Champions League titles, but he finds himself second-choice for the first time in over a decade. The impressive rise of England international wonderkid Jude Bellingham has seen the Croatian fail even more in the pecking order of Carlo Ancelotti. The Captain of the Croatian national team is now finding himself not only behind Bellingham, but also the likes of Federico Valverde, Aurelien Tchouameni, Toni Kroos and Eduardo Camavinga.
Despite being 38 years old, Modric remains an undisputed starter for Zlatko Dalic’s Croatia in midfield alongside Al-Nassr’s Marcelo Brozovic and Manchester City’s Matteo Kovacic. In the previous FIFA international break, Modric started both games in the European Championship qualifiers, playing every single minute possible. As for Real, though, he has accumulated just 647 minutes across all competitions, playing the full 90 just once since the start of October — a Champions League match against Union Berlin — and lasting over an hour in just three league matches this season.
If other players are comfortable with the idea of warming the bench, especially in their latter years, Modric is not. He has rarely been injured throughout his career, he is used to playing. While Carlo Ancelotti has calmed down rumors of sending his star player away from the Spanish capital in the winter transfer window, the player has not hidden his discontent about his current situation at the club, which has raised further questions about his future with the Madrid-based side.
This situation of Modric has aroused a strong interest from several clubs around the globe, most notably from the Saudi Professional League and Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami, who are both said to be very serious about acquiring his services. However, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia looks to be more of a potential destination for Modric, at least according to what has been reported by Marca journalist José Félix Diaz.
The latter has confirmed in an exclusive interview to Saudi TV program “Dawrina Gher”, that Modric will most likely join the SPL in the middle of the season. So who is the Saudi club that could secure the signature of such a world-class megastar, and who is the club that needs him the most? The big four: Al-Hilal, Al-Nassr, Al-Ittihad and Al-Ahli are most likely the only clubs who can afford Modric for now, as they are the clubs owned by the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF).
One of the biggest clubs in the country, Al-Nassr, which currently boasts several superstars in their respective ranks, most notably Cristiano Ronaldo, Sadio Mané and Aymeric Laporte, would actually be the Saudi giant club that is expected to sign Modric the LEAST. The Blue and Yellows already have their foreigner list of players sorted out, and according to the latest local reports, they are not willing to let go any of their outlanders in the mid-season.
Unless there is a change in the Saudi Professional League rule that only allows clubs to register 8 overseas players, the matter that has been discussed by the Saudi Arabian Football Federation recently, and agreed on by all the SPL sides, Al-Nassr would not be expected to even enter that transfer period, let alone get on the race for Modric. This does not mean that they do not need him. His fellow countryman Marcelo Brozovic is already there, but the presence of Seko Fofana and Otavio makes the middle of the park of Al-Nassr stacked with talent.
We have already spoken more than enough about the midfield situation of Al-Hilal. To sum it up, The Blues or more in need of a defensive midfielder rather than an orchestrator like Luka Modric. They already have their technical leader in Ruben Neves, they instead need someone to allow him and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic to focus more on the offensive duties.
The Saudi Royal team Al-Ahli can do with some valuable contributions and experience in their midfield. Franck Késsié has been their best player this season, Mohammed Al-Majhad has levelled up his game, most notably in the latest games. Both players have been crucial in the victory of The Greens in the previous Jeddah Derby against city rivals Al-Ittihad, 1-0, both providing Men of the Match performances.
As for the third midfield man of Al-Ahli, namely, Gabri Veiga, the Spanish sensation has seen his transfer create a lot of controversy throughout the world. But could also have opened the door for other young players to join in the SPL. Veiga has not been poor by any means in his start to life with the Saudi club, but you can see that he is still raw, he is still some kind of a hit-and-miss, but the talent is obvious, the technical gift is clear, and given his very young age, he will most probably only get better and better, and it would not make any sense to replace him, or even put him on the bench.
The midfield spot that probably be put up to debate, is that of Mohammed Al-Majhad. The latter plays a complicated role for Al-Ahli, as he is responsible in the creative aspect of the game, and also in covering defensively, most notably when playing next to a box-to-box like Késsié, who steps forward much to help score goals. Now, while Modric would surely take those offensive duties of Al-Majhad to a whole another level, it is unlikely that he can do any of his defensive responsibilities put on the shoulder of the former.
Modric needs to play a similar role to what the Argentine Ever Banega is playing for Al-Shabab. Modric needs to play on a three-man midfield and not on a double pivot like Al-Ahli are playing. Unless the club’s German coach Matthias Jaissle is considering a change, a transfer to Al-Ahli is unlikely. Even the change would be unlikely because that would put Veiga further from his major role, which is the attacking midfielder behind the striker, the role that he has played since getting promoted to the Celta Vigo first team.
The Tigers, or let me say, the perfect club for Luka Modric from a tactical point of view, but still there is a concern. From the first part, and despite also playing in a four-men midfield, Al-Ittihad are logically set for a tactical change following the sacking of Nuno Espirito Santo. A three-man midfield might be the closest for them, and as we mentioned earlier, it is the formula in which Modric thrives and plays his best football.
The Black and Yellows are hugely lacking creativity, and most notably passing qualities. N’Golo Kante is creative, but in his own way. He is a carrying midfielder. Thanks to his speed and agility, he succeeds in getting past opposing players and creating a difference in attack. But who can play the role of the orchestrator in Al-Ittihad? Does club center-forward Karim Benzema need to drop that much each time to dictate play? The Brazilian Igor Coronado is the closest to that role in the team, but only to a certain point and level.
Luka Modric would perfectly fit in a midfield trio with Kante and Fabinho. This is literally a midfield composed of one of the best box-to-box’s (Kanté), orchestrators (Modric) and ball-winning players (Fabinho) in the world, in the last decade, and in football modern. But that might be the problem…the last decade. The Al-Ittihad team is aging and Modric would not help this aspect of their squad, who have often looked fatigued during the end of matches, notably in the recent match which saw them dominate and look set to beat Al-Hilal, only to end up losing 4-3.
It remains to be seen whether Modric decides to head to the Middle East and cap off a career that has seen him play for Dinamo Zagreb, Tottenham Hotspur and Real Madrid, but one thing’s for sure: even at 38, he still has plenty to offer on the pitch.
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Chris Brunskill / Fantasista / Getty Images