This week kicked off with cautiously exciting new word regarding the possibility of Real Madrid magic man Luka Modric coming somewhat soon to a Major League Soccer venue near you.
The Athletic reported on Monday that D.C. United have engaged in talks with the Croatia talisman's agent. Modric, who is set to run out of contract at the Bernabeu in summer 2021, has also been linked with interest from Atlanta United and Inter Miami.
It will be easy for some to slag off such a potential signing with a "over-30 retirement league" jest, but such utterings should only come from people who haven't seen Modric motor around recently. Though he's suddenly become a platoon guy for Real this season, his performance level hasn't dropped. Heck, his World Cup, Golden Ball and Ballon d'Or sweep was less than two years ago. That came directly on the heels of a fourth Champions League Team of the Season nod in the last five years, each appropriately wrapped in a bow complete with the title.
An MLS club landing Modric at this time would be a highly significant event, not a desperate splash for a big name that's past it. He'd be just the fourth Ballon d'Or winner to grace the league, following Kaká, Hristo Stoichkov and Lothar Matthaus (who were seven, six and 10 years removed from taking the prize when they came to America).
Of course, any reasonable observer might feels pangs of disbelief that Modric would head over this way, what with his on-field mojo still soaring at altitude (not to mention a salary expectation that would likely put him among the league's top few earners). The article linked above mentions that he probably wouldn't become available before summer, which precedes the midfield spark plug's 35th birthday by a matter of weeks.
Adding up all the math (including what surely must be other suitors in other leagues), it would seem that the time for plucking a still ripe Modric is now. For someone to splurge, they'll want him before significant decline sets in, as it eventually does for everyone. D.C. or Atlanta or Miami (or whomever) would want at least a couple seasons of all-world Luka to make the cost worth it.
Exactly what might a new MLS employer expect from the veteran on the pitch? Well, since you asked, any new club would get pretty much the same Modric we've all watched in awe since he starred at Euro 2008.
Modric will still complete about 90% of his passes, making an outsized portion of the decisions regarding how his team gets from midfield to the opponent's box as he goes. He will still come up with moments of magic around the box, often in the crunchiest moments and the biggest games. He's never been a defensive force, but battles well for his size, makes the obvious stops and hoovers up loose balls.
While I can only envision him immediately becoming one of the top stars in MLS, there will be minor detectable points of difference from the days of Modric's prime. Even if his foot speed going through and away from traffic has held up, he doesn't take off on quite so many epic 40-yard dribbling slaloms anymore. His average contribution of central park defensive stops per game has dropped by around one from what it was five years ago. He's a bit less likely to work all 90 on a given day, especially during fixture crunches.
It shouldn't all be slightly bad news, though. With the deadliness of his vision finding new victims and presumably much less superstar competition for dead balls, one could easily see his counting stats climb. I'm thinking a half-dozen should be the new over/under for Modric goal output per season, with his assist numbers surging into double figures (something he hasn't actually done in a single club campaign since his Tottenham days, believe it or not).
Of course, signing Modric would also come with plenty of club culture benefits, and we're not just talking a boost to ticket and shirt sales. He'd be a fiery, accountable leader. He'd bring style and chutzpah to the team's play, and thus enjoyment to spectators, if not also an increase in the number of them tuning in on television.
In short, he'd almost certainly be a proper franchise/league face. Gosh... I really hope one of these MLS teams is able to swing the deal. You should, too.