It isn’t too tough to see when Luka Modric began declining at Real Madrid. Age is catching up with the Croat. It isn’t his fault that Real aren’t as good as they used to be too. But the process is rather natural. It is similar to the leadership arc that Carlo Ancelotti talks about in his autobiography.
It was inevitable, to say the least. Not everyone can be at his best when they have won the Ballon D’or at the age of 33. It will be easy to question Florentino Perez’s decision to keep the former Tottenham man when Inter were keen on signing him. But when the club lost Cristiano Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane, losing another icon would have been tough.
Now, it has come to a time when Modric often looks replaceable. And names are being thrown around- many of them. But the names are so many that Real are almost spoilt for choice.
Paul Pogba was a name that was heavily linked in the summer. The Frenchman had openly revealed that it was a good time to leave Manchester United. His agent Mino Raiola too, had confirmed talks with clubs. Real were keen.
Having Paul Pogba in the side comes with the burden of giving him the freedom. Manchester United have struggled with that. The Red Devils have failed to give the Frenchman the basis to win games for them on a consistent basis. Their lack of planning in transfers means Pogba has had to play in an average side with an average midfield.
Pogba is a different player, as compared to Modric. In his best season overall (2017-18 under Jose Mourinho) in a United shirt (not in terms of goals), the Frenchman was involved in more goals than Modric. He completed more dribbles than the Croat, scored more, assisted more. But he doesn’t graft as much as Modric, when the need arises.
Pogba’s inability to track back and work hard has been criticised in the Premier League. That season, Modric made more tackles per game (1.3) than Pogba and made more interceptions than the former Juventus man (1.2), as per Whoscored. But it comes down to giving Pogba the foundation to be free in attacking midfield areas.
Another name is Christian Eriksen. The Tottenham man has become one of the world’s best playmakers over the last 2-3 years. He played a role in taking Spurs to the UEFA Champions League final last season.
One quality of his that stood out last season was his ability to play in a variety of midfield positions. When Spurs were dealing with a raft of injuries, Eriksen did a sound job even in defensive midfield. Despite playing deeper sometimes, Eriksen still played 2.1 key passes per game- more than Modric did in the 2017-18 season.
Eriksen also scored eight times, assisting 12 times. He did take some criticism for often showing a lack of flair from corners, but he kept Spurs ticking. He made their attack look cohesive with his incisive passing and vision.
Another name which was linked is Donny van de Beek. The Dutchman was hailed for his playmaking and workrate in midfield during Ajax’s dream run to the Champions League semi-final last season.
He scored twice, assisting four times in the Eredivisie last season. But his intelligence and ability knock defenses by making runs from midfield proved to be immense. This caught defenses off-guard in the Champions League. This included sides like Real, Juventus and even Tottenham.
He may not be as technical as Modric but his immense workrate makes up for everything. He is almost as involved in goals as the former Dinamo Zagreb man and doesn’t need the people behind him to be as good as Pogba would need.
Like Eriksen, Van de Beek can play a variety of roles in the heart of the park too. But the biggest advantage that comes in the Eriksen deal is the cost.
Van de Beek and Eriksen are easily more complete players than Pogba, but the Dutchman’s downside does exist too. Dani Ceballos has been loaned out to Arsenal and has been doing well too. There would be little sense in signing another player of a similar age group.
Eriksen is refusing to sign a new deal at Spurs, with his current deal expiring next summer. He will be free to discuss terms with other clubs in January. Real have to try and sign him, no matter what. They will strike gold with him. Gold can prove to be diamond if it comes at a low cost.