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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Luka Modric deserved to be crowned Fifa Player of the Year. Here's why

Never has a player who rarely scores or provides so few killer final passes been more deserving of being crowned the world's best

Real Madrid and Croatian midfielder Luka Modric was named player of the year at the Fifa Awards 2018 in London. EPA
Real Madrid and Croatian midfielder Luka Modric was named player of the year at the Fifa Awards 2018 in London. EPA

For the first time in 10 years the engraver hired by Fifa had to carve out a new name on the player-of-the-year gong, and fittingly so.

Luka Modric, talismanic captain for Croatia, creative fulcrum for Real Madrid, was rightly recognised for his contribution to both at the Fifa Awards on Monday, beating Cristiano Ronaldo and Mohamed Salah in the process.

While the Puskas award for best goal of 2018 was somehow awarded to Salah over more spectacular strikes, the national team coaches, players and journalists who voted for Modric as the best player on the planet at least made sure the main award was not a contentious one.

And how refreshing to see a name not Lionel Messi or Ronaldo engraved on the trophy. No denying those two have deserved to make this award their own private battle ground for a decade, but it is fitting a player of Modric's class is included in the annuls of history, the first time a new name has been etched on the trophy since Kaka, the Brazilian maestro, won the prize in 2007.

It is only fitting that, at 33, Modric has been recognised as the world's best for what by any standards, including his, has been a stellar year. Modric dragged an underdog Croatia side to a first World Cup final in the summer, where they lost to France, just a few weeks after securing a third successive Uefa Champions League trophy with Madrid. He will never score the goals of Ronaldo, or Messi, or Salah for that matter, but what he brings to both club and country is no less vital.

Modric's part for both cannot be overstated; Madrid stalwarts Sergio Ramos and Marcelo personify the Spanish club's heart and soul, but Modric is the brain that makes all other parts function. In a less star-studded Croatia side, Modric is the Rolls Royce in a showroom full of used cars.

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Read more:

Salah wins Fifa Puskas Award for best goal - but was it really better than Ronaldo and Bale's overhead kicks?

Luka Modric ends Ronaldo-Messi dominance to win Fifa player of the year

Will Mohamed Salah be a one-season wonder?

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Modric is small in stature but huge in influence on how his teams play. A head-up player, one who rarely looks at the ball, safe in the knowledge it is always most comfortable when caressed at his feet. The brain is always ticking, always seeking an edge, a gap in which to release teammates into space. He may not top the charts for assists, but everything good about a team runs through Modric, any move to carve a team open, any passage of play which threatens an opposition's well-being goes through Modric first. Ronaldo may have topped the Champions League scoring charts while a teammate of Modric's last season, but the genesis of most moves that ended in each of those 15 goals will have invariably have started from Modric's ingenuity.

Croatia had to twice overcome penalty shoot-outs en route to the World Cup final. In the last 16 against Denmark, he missed the extra time spot kick that would have prevented a sudden death shoot-out, then picked himself up, dusted himself off and converted to help send his team through.

Against England in the semi-final, the usual poise on the ball was mirrored by a maniac desire to retrieve it when off it. He won the Golden Ball for the best player in Russia despite Croatia's 4-2 defeat in the final. He deserved that accolade too.

So take a bow, Luka. Never has a player who rarely scores or provides so few killer final passes been more deserving of being crowned the world's best.