With Luka Modric seeming set to leave Tottenham in search of Champions League glory with Real Madrid, there has been plenty of discussion amongst Tottenham fans as to how important a player he is. I have been surprised to see that there are some people that seem to think that Modric is easily replaceable. He is a player that has divided opinion but I for one think he is one of the best players that I have seen pull on the famous white shirt.
One of the major criticisms of Modric is that he doesn’t contribute enough in terms of goals and assists – two of the key attributes that attacking players should be judged on. However, to base the impact of Modric on these statistics alone is to neglect what he brings to the team.
Modric is the man who makes Spurs tick, always looking for the ball from his defenders and looking to dictate the play. Essentially he is the heartbeat of the midfield, the playmaker – albeit from a deeper role.
For the purpose of this article I have looked at the midfielders of last season’s top five teams that make their team tick. This is to understand the importance of each to their respective teams. I have included Luka Modric, David Silva, Juan Mata, Michael Carrick and Mikel Arteta. It is important to point out that although these are the main playmakers for their teams there is a distinctive difference in terms of their positioning and this will have a reflection on their stats. Mata and Silva are more attacking playmakers, involved higher up the field and creating in more advanced positions. Modric, Carrick and Arteta on the other hand are deep lying playmakers. They retain the ball and look to make things happen from deeper positions. Andrea Pirlo gave England a master class in ball retention and creativity from a deep lying role and this is what the deeper lying play makers bring to their team.
Modric managed to play in almost all of Tottenham’s games. He was left out of the team that played Manchester United as ‘his head wasn’t right’ but featured in pretty much every game after that. He did so with great professionalism and watching him week in, week out, you wouldn’t have been able to tell that he was a player desperately seeking a move elsewhere. Of all the players analysed, he spent the greatest amount of time on the pitch for one reason or another.
With each of these players being the main playmaker for their respective teams, keeping the ball moving is of paramount importance. Modric certainly did that, playing the most passes of each of the 5 (although in part, this is due to spending more time on the pitch). Of the deep lying playmakers though he had the lowest pass completion with 87% (although more passes were attempted).
As well as looking at passing accuracy as a whole, it is important to gain an understanding as to the areas of the pitch each player was operating. As deep lying playmakers it is no surprise that Modric, Carrick and Arteta had a considerably higher number of passes in their own half compared to Silva and Mata. It is maybe more surprising that Modric completed more passes than anyone else in the opposition half and with a passing accuracy of 82%. Additionally he was heavily involved in the action when Tottenham were in the final 3rd. He was 2nd to only Silva in the number of passes (and accurate passes) in the most advanced positions on the pitch. His passing accuracy in the final 3rd was impressive too with 81%. Modric was controlled in possession and brought others into the game. Despite being a deep lying playmaker, he was also heavily involved in the final 3rd.
Modric is also very comfortable when dribbling with the ball. His low centre of gravity gives him exceptional balance, and despite his childlike frame – he is very difficult to brush off the ball. Of all the players examined, he had the greatest dribbling success. It is maybe not surprising when comparing him against the other deep lying midfielders in this comparison, but more so when you consider he had a better success rate than players with the attacking quality of Silva and Mata you can begin to see this as more impressive. Furthermore, Modric had a superior crossing accuracy to each of the other players I have compared.
In terms of assists, Silva and Mata are the standout players with 15 and 13 respectively. This is hardly surprising though with their more advanced roles. I find the assist stat quite misleading however and it is one of the reasons that Spurs fans criticise Modric. The assist stat is fundamentally flawed. I recall the game against Bolton where Modric played a defence splitting ball through to Lennon, Lennon unselfishly squared it to Adebayor and Adebayor tapped the ball home. Arguably it was Modric that made the goal yet the assist stat and the acclaim that comes with it went to Lennon. A more representative way to look at it could be in terms of chances created. If we look at this as well as assists, Modric created a chance every 34 minutes. This wasn’t as regularly as Silva or Mata from their advanced positions but it was more regularly than the other deep lying playmakers with 81 mins (Carrick) and 41 mins (Arteta).
Another area of criticism of Modric is that he doesn’t score enough goals. For me, although it would be nice to see him chip in with a few more, this is not a major issue. We have more advanced playing midfielders like Van Der Vaart and Bale who weigh in with their fair share of goals. Luka Modric does his best work with the ball in our approach play. I can forgive him a lack of goals for everything else he brings to the team.
As I mentioned earlier, Modric is one of the best players that I have seen in a Spurs shirt. He has everything (ok maybe not goals) and will be extremely difficult to replace. He will fit perfectly into the Madrid side and if he goes which is inevitable, I wish him all the best and thank him for the memories.
Maybe the naysayers won’t realise what we’ve got until it’s gone….