Luka Modric: The Only Other Ballon d’Or Winner of the Decade

Luka Modric is number 3 in 90min’s Top 20 Greatest Footballers of the Decade series. Follow the rest of the series over the course of the next week.


One second.

100 milliseconds.

The blink of an eye.

These are the temporal metrics within which the greatest football players of all time become, well, the greatest football players of all time.

The time within which headlines are written, trophies are won, and legends are born.

As in just one second, a player can shimmy the ball onto his left foot and curl it into the top corner of the net. In just 100 milliseconds, a player can rise highest from a corner kick to head the ball past a hapless goalkeeper. And in the blink of an eye, a player can rifle a free kick from the edge of the box, over a wall, and into the top corner. 

FBL-ITA-SERIEA-INTER-JUVENTUS

So, in other simpler words, in just one second, 100 milliseconds, the blink of an eye (whichever metric you prefer), a goal can be scored. And goals are important, because, you know, goals win games and winning games means you win trophies…and you know all of this already so I’ll just move on.

The players who excel in these seconds, milliseconds, blinks of eyes are, therefore, the most valuable in world football. They populate every ‘greatest footballers of the [insert timeframe here]’ list written by every sad sod that’s sad enough to write one of those types of articles (e.g. me). They are the most fondly remembered footballers of all time.

But, perhaps rather than being the ‘most fondly remembered footballers of all time’, they are just the easiest to remember…? 

For the players that have historically excelled in the aforementioned seconds, milliseconds and blinks of the eye are the players with their names strewn across every football related Wikipedia page – having broken a million and one goalscoring records by scoring (roughly) a million and one goals. 

They are the players with their best bits collated for YouTube compilations, with the ‘drops’ in David Guetta’s ‘songs’ accentuating every ball being cannoned into the net. 

Lionel Messi

They are the players who have a new stat tweeted by OptaJoe every time they score a goal. 

‘Enumerate’ (‘f*** off’). 

They’re pretty much inescapable. 

On every Twitter feed. On every Facebook homepage (if anyone still uses that?). In every football boot advertisement that Nike and adidas have ever made. 

For this reason, Luka Modric is somewhat of an anomaly in any list of the greatest footballers of the year, or decade, ever. 

Luka Modric

As, unlike Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, ​Luis Suarez or even ​Sergio Ramos – a player whose defining career moment is scoring a last minute equaliser in the 2014 UEFA Champions League final – Modric hasn’t made a career out of popping up at the most opportune moment to score the most important goal.

The Croatian midfielder isn’t one of the ‘easiest’ footballers to remember; for he does all of his best work in the more forgettable passages of games. 

Rather than being the protagonist in the only fleeting unforgettable moment of a game, Modric is usually the protagonist of the other, forgettable, 92 minutes and 59 seconds. 

At Tottenham Hotspur, Real Madrid and Croatia, the diminutive midfielder left the headline grabbing moments for the Gareth Bale’s, Cristiano Ronaldo’s and even Mario Mandzukic’s of the world, instead doing everything in his power to ensure that moment – that one game-defining moment – falls to his team, and not the opposition. 

Koke,David Villa,Luka Modric

It was exactly what he did in the 2014 Champions League final, in which Sergio Ramos and Gareth Bale scored the decisive goals, and Modric did literally everything else. 

Out-muscling, out-working, out-maneuvering a four-man Atletico Madrid midfield basically on his own (he played alongside Angel Di Maria – a winger – and a not-fully fit Sami Khedira on that day), the Croatian laid the foundations upon which Real Madrid mounted the attacks which would subsequently lead to the four goals which would win La Decima (and breathe). 

He did the same, albeit with a lot more help, in the 2016, 2017, 2018 Champions League finals. All finals after which Ronaldo and Bale were lauded for their goals, while Modric’s vital contributions somewhat faded into the background – vaguely mentioned in a sidebar column in a national newspaper once the Bale and Ronaldo well had dried up. 

Indeed for most of the decade, that’s what Modric did. 

He faded into the background, forever in the shadow of the supposedly superior talents that scored more goals than he ever could. 

FIFA World Cup 2018 Russia"France v Croatia"

It would take a quite astonishing turn at the 2018 FIFA World Cup for Luka Modric to finally be receive the plaudits he had long deserved.

In June and July of 2018, Modric would drag an unfancied Croatia side to the final of the tournament, putting in man of the match performance after man of the match performance along the way – even scoring the odd goal too. 

While the Croatian captain would still shy away from the limelight slightly, with Mario Mandzukic scoring the famous winner in the semi final, and Ivan Rakitic scoring the decisive penalties in the previous two rounds, it would be Modric who would finally get the credit. 

Perhaps due to the fact that football was not hidden behind a paywall for two months (has been back behind the paywall since) and people were able to watch full games as opposed to illegal YouTube highlight reels, the world was finally able to sit up and take notice of Modric’s talents. 

Millions around the world were finally able to see, not just the second, 100 milliseconds or blink of the eye moments in which CR7 and Messi shine in, but the other 92 minutes and 59 seconds in which Modric shines. 

And as such, Modric was finally – rightfully – heralded as the best in the world. 

The long overdue accolades would follow. 

Luka Modric

The former Tottenham man would win the FIFA World Cup Golden Ball, UEFA Men’s Player of the Year and become the only player other than Messi and Ronaldo to win the Ballon d’Or this decade. 

Indeed, Modric was more than deserving of these awards. As after a decade in the shadow of goalscorers, the little Croatian midfielder had finally stolen the limelight, and proved that he is one of the very best of all time. 


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Number 20 – Arjen Robben: The Flying Dutchman Who Became a Modern Legend at Bayern Munich

Number 19 – Mohamed Salah: The Humble King Who Conquered Rome and Took Liverpool By Storm

Number 18 – Sergio Aguero: The Man Who Painted Manchester Blue With One Kick of a Football

Number 17 – Manuel Neuer: The Bayern Munich & Germany Legend Who Revolutionised Goalkeeping

Number 16 – Eden Hazard: The Brilliant Belgian Who Mesmerised Fans Across the World

Number 15 – Zlatan Ibrahimovic: The Man Who Needs No Introduction

Number 14 – Toni Kroos: The Underrated Jahrhunderttalent Who Was There for the Biggest Occasions

Number 13 – Giorgio Chiellini: The Juventus Legend Who Has Always Found a Way to Win

Number 12 – Marcelo: From Favela Kickabouts Under Grandad’s Watch to 4 Champions League Wins

Number 11 – Robert Lewandowski: Bayern Munich’s Best Foreign Player & Europe’s Most Underrated Star in History

Number 10 – Neymar Jr: Brazil’s Generational Talent Who Dictated the Greatest Champions League Night in History

Number 9 – Gareth Bale: The Cursed Talent Who Went on to Conquer Europe Four Times

Number 8 – Dani Alves: The Maverick Who’s Just Too Good to Be Copied

Number 7 – Franck Ribery: The Serial Entertainer Who Was Born to Win

Number 6 – Luis Suarez: The Uruguayan Heel Who Never Bit Off More Than He Could Chew

Number 5 – Andrés Iniesta: The Enigmatic Architect Behind the Best Barcelona Team in Modern History

​Number 4 – Sergio Ramos: Football’s Big Bad Who Has Dominated the Sport Like No Other


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