On August 27, 2012, he unveiled Luka Modric in front of Real Madrid fans after a move that was always doomed.
It was clear from his performances with Tottenham and Croatia that Modric had the potential to play for an elite team, a team capable of competing for the biggest trophies in Europe.
He played a starring role for his country as he led England to qualification for Euro 2008 before playing a key role in lifting Tottenham into the Champions League for the first time in the Premier League era.
Twenty-six years old and at the height of his power, the time was right. Daniel Levy struggled brilliantly to keep him, ignoring Chelsea’s interest in eventually allowing the midfielder to move abroad for a fee of £30m.
The Tottenham boss has spoken of his hope that the move will lead to a “long and fruitful partnership” with the La Liga giants. Whether that feeling is mutual in the Spanish capital or not, Florentino Perez and Jose Mourinho have had a man.
“I pressured Real Madrid hard to sign Modric because he had everything we needed for the team – technique, vision and good reading of the game, quality when making decisions, speed of thinking, he could play the ball for long or short time, score from outside the area, he knew how to press. “He is clever in his positioning and strength. We needed all that at Real Madrid,” Mourinho later recalled in an interview with Croatian outlet Sportske Novosti.
12 years ago today, Luka Modric agreed to join Tottenham.
Will time prove itpic.twitter.com/iGdlEteOnU
goal April 26, 2020
Everything seemed ready to dominate Madrid for years to come.
Mourinho had knocked Barcelona out of position, and somehow. Real Madrid won the 2011-12 league title with 100 points and scored 121 goals. They were arguably the most effective counter-attack side in the game’s history.
Exhausted Pep Guardiola fled to New York to take a vacation. Barcelona lost the coach who defined an era.
Spain won Euro 2012, an unprecedented third major tournament in a row, with a squad that included Los Blancos quintet Iker Casillas, Raul Albiol, Sergio Ramos, Alvaro Arbeloa and Xabi Alonso.
Real Madrid was a team full of winners and elusive decimal Tenth Champions League title and first since 2002 – now the main target. Mourinho had already won with two different teams.
No player of significant importance has been sold, while Modric has arrived alongside Michael Essien and Diego Lopez to support the squad. Promising stars Alvaro Morata and Nacho Fernandez from La Fabrica have been promoted to the first team squad.
It all started to plan. Modric was signed between the two legs of the Spanish Super Cup against Barcelona. He made his debut on the bench at the Bernabeu to help see Real Madrid win away goals (2-1 on the night; 4-4 on aggregate) over their top rivals.
The 2012-2013 campaign started with silver trophies, but the Super Cup will be the only trophy they lift this season. It was a campaign that Antonio Conte would later call “Mourinho’s season” – a season we’ve seen repeated at Chelsea and Manchester United.
Divided, frustrated, filled with infighting and paranoid, which inevitably leads to little success on the field. In other words, a nightmare environment for any new signature to enter.
Mourinho’s men scored only four points from their first four matches. Barcelona seized the opportunity and built an irreplaceable lead.
Looked refreshed by appointing Guardiola’s right-back Tito Vilanova, the Catalan club lost only two points after 19 games, having defeated every team in the division except Madrid, with whom they drew 2-2 at home.
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Read: Tribute to Mesut Ozil at Real Madrid: King of the “Fred” assistant
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Modric barely made it to that costly, disastrous start. Signed after a draw with Valencia and a defeat away to Getafe, he made his debut in his first league win of the season – 3-0 at home to Granada – and was given in the first half while Real Madrid were trailing in the final 1.0 defeat against Sevilla.
The Croatian began integrating into the squad as Madrid’s season got back on track, earning 22 points out of the next 24 available. The only match they failed to win that round was at the Camp Nou, where they fought for a respectable draw, although Modric was left as an unused substitute.
At the time, he most often played as the number 10 in Mourinho’s favored 4-2-3-1 scheme, but failed to make the normal goal contributions expected in such a role.
In the previous season, Mesut Ozil scored 28 assists and seven goals. This kind of bling effect is required in a club famous for the Galacticos.
The worst deal in the Spanish league
By Christmas, Modric had mustered just one goal and one pass, and found himself on the edge of Mourinho’s favourite. Real Madrid had an 18-point lead over La Liga leaders Barcelona, and the blame lay somewhere.
At that point, the Madrid-based sports daily Marca conducted the infamous “worst signing of the season” poll. Modric topped the list – at least ahead of Barcelona’s Alex Song – with 32% of the vote.
This is Real Madrid. Modric replied in the Croatian press: “I understand that there is a lot of pressure on new signings to succeed here.
“I don’t make excuses, I’m not that kind of person, but it’s very difficult to adapt to life at a big club like Madrid. I’ve put in some good performances, if not in every game, but I think I can prove that I have something to give.”
Obviously, Modric did. Was he underperforming, or was he just criminally misunderstood? It would be an exaggeration to say that time has justified the young playmaker at the Bernabéu.
He won four Champions Leagues and a Ballon d’Or and was their standout player on many European evenings, right up until his thirties.
Modric was never the number 10. He is not Ozil. He scored five assists and an average of two goals each season during his glittering decade in La Liga – numbers, for what they deserve, more comparable to Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez.
However, it took time for this to become clear in the Spanish capital.
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Read: Six Real Madrid players discredited by the Spanish press: Bale and Owen…
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The stark difference between what Modric was and what he wasn’t in the Champions League semi-finals that first season appeared to be forgotten.
He was used in the 10th round of the first leg in Dortmund, and ripped from the bowels of Madrid 4-1. The midfield couldn’t handle the intensity of the pressure on Jurgen Klopp’s part, and Robert Lewandowski scored all four goals. Borussia Dortmund may have scored more than that.
Real Madrid completely lost control in the first leg, but returned when Mourinho made a tactical adjustment at the Bernabeu. Modric went further into dealing with Xabi Alonso at the base of the midfield and led the match.
He completed 70 passes, more than twice as much as in the first leg and more than any player on the field by distance. Real Madrid won 2-0, by one goal from winning away goals, and it is famous Remontada.
This was the midfielder we’ve been used to seeing over the past decade. He never looked back.
Then Carlo Ancelotti came and Ozil and Kaka came out. Another year later, Toni Kroos arrived and Casemiro started to break through.
Real Madrid adapted away from the 4-2-3-1 method and more towards 4-3-3, a system that allowed them to dominate matches in a role between one deep playmaker and one. Triquarista. Just like Xavi and Iniesta.
“I said at the beginning of the season that he wouldn’t be at his best until the end of February,” Croatia coach Igor Stimak told Marca in February 2013.
“That was to be expected when you consider that he should have had the best physique, which he didn’t have, without a previous season.”
His club-wide manager was less concerned about how he would progress.
Mourinho told Sportske in 2021: “He has adapted very calmly to life at Real Madrid.
“Despite all the daily demands, the fans put pressure. Luca is a very balanced person who is very confident. He learned what Real Madrid is all about very quickly, and he understood the huge size of the club and its goals.”
The feeling is mutual.
“I can only speak well of Mourinho,” Modric told Marca after their year together. “He is a great coach, it was a pleasure to work with him.
“He taught me how to play more aggressively. He always tries to get the most out of the best from every player. If you give 100% he demands 110%. If you don’t play to your best, someone will come and take your place.”
This season, the Portuguese coach chose battles from the left, right and center. He brought down captain Iker Casillas and reportedly quarreled with key dressing room figures Sergio Ramos and Cristiano Ronaldo and left at the end of this untitled season, returning to Chelsea after burning his bridges at the Bernabeu.
But Mourinho has nothing but kind words for Modric, the player who has endured the worst year of his career with Real Madrid under his wing and has been a scapegoat in the Madrid press. He tried and failed to bring him to Chelsea in 2014.
“When someone can make history in what they do they become immortal. Luka Modric won the Ballon d’Or, he is like no other.”
“Luka, in Spain, plays for Real Madrid and is a player that everyone respects,” he told TalkSPORT during Euro 2020.
“I am very happy that I was the one who took him to Madrid.”
by Nestor Wattach
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