Real Madrid: Modric first Ballon d'Or holder to miss shortlist
The Real Madrid midfielder became the first Ballon d'Or holder not to make the shortlist after a miserable season collectively and individually.
Luka Modric is a player accustomed to making history but the Real Madrid midfielder’s efforts last summer for Croatia have taken their toll on the 34-year-old to the extent that he will now be remembered as the only holder of the Ballon d’Or not to at least make the shortlist for football’s greatest individual prize the following year.
Modric won the 2018 edition after leading Croatia to the World Cup final shortly after adding a third consecutive Champions League to his laurels with Madrid, with the diminutive string-puller at his crafty peak during much of the 2017-18 season under Zinedine Zidane. But since then the decline has been sharp, as much in terms of individual performances as collectively at the Bernabéu, in recruitment, form and results.
Madrid finished 19 points shy of Barcelona in the league last season and while expectations of a fourth European crown were tempered by the departures of Cristiano Ronaldo and Zidane, Ajax’s 4-1 crushing of the champions in the Bernabéu signaled the end of a dominant era.
In addition to the failed experiments of Julen Lopetegui and Santiago Solari, plus the loss of Ronaldo’s scoring rate, much of Real’s squad failed to reach the heights of previous seasons. The difference in Modric was brutally obvious, even if the reason was equally transparent. “Arriving back so late really affected my season, both physically and mentally,” the midfielder said in a recent interview. “You can get the physical side back, but mentally… I had a very inconsistent season. It was my last chance to do something amazing with Croatia and the physical effort was enormous.”
Modric won the Golden Ball at the 2018 World Cup as Croatia finished runners-up to France and went on to something no player had done since Kaká in 2007 – beat Ronaldo and Leo Messi to the Ballon d’Or.
Modric not the reason for Real's decline, but a symptom of it
Now Modric finds himself in the unusual position of being left off the shortlist for an award some feel he deserved before finally getting his hands on it last year for his influential performances in the Real midfield as Zidane’s side swept all before it in the Champions League.
However, the Croatian has carried over some of his issues from last season into the 2019-20 campaign, and Real’s performances have suffered again for the lack of their midfielder maestro. Sent off in Vigo against Celta – the first dismissal of his career – Modric was unable to play in the home draw against Valladolid and then picked up a muscle injury that ruled him out against Levante, Sevilla and Osasuna (all wins).
He returned for 22 minutes of the derby stalemate in the Metropolitano and scored a wonderful goal in the victory over Granada but returned from international duty with another niggle and was unable to prevent last weekend’s defeat in Mallorca. Modric was also absent when Madrid slumped to a 3-0 defeat in Paris but played the full 90 of the 2-2 comeback draw against Club Brugge. Madrid face a make-or-break game against Galatasaray in Istanbul on Tuesday night, where Zidane’s side will have to try and find an alternative to the cool head of the Croat in midfield with Modric again missing through injury.