Of all the glizt and glamor stars to have donned the white chain mail of Real Madrid, few have managed to match the grace and sense of touch of Luka Modric. Officially deemed a flop by a poll from Marca midway through the 2012/13 season, Modric has since become the best midfielder in the world, leading his side to two Champions League titles in four years. But when breezing through articles online or when watching Modric on TV, it is hard to pinpoint exactly what makes him so special. It is as if, in his dazzling brilliance, we are blinded in awe, unable to critically focus our gaze. Is it his glorious outside of the boot passes, or is it his game defining goals, like the most recent one vs. Granada, that separates him from the rest?
Both of these things are worthy assessments of Modric's technical quality and big game ability, but neither fully probe into the hard facts of what makes our magic man so special. Let's take a closer look.
To assess Luka Modric's uniqueness, I have compared all of his key statistics with seven other contemporary central midfielders that have roughly the same characteristics as our Croatian (all statistics are taken from each player's league only). The hope is that some statistical category will stand out and help us explain why we identify Modric as more special than the rest.
Basic Passing Statistics
Perhaps that is a surprise to some, but it must be noted that Modric is not the controller-in-chief of this team. That moniker goes to Toni Kroos, the man designated with dictating the tempo and flow of Real Madrid's game. Instead, Modric must progress play through off-the-ball running and on-the-ball running, something akin to a box-to-box midfielder. So why don't we classify him that way? Because he still manages to have the influence of a controlling midfielder.
This realization begins to get clearer when you look at Rakitic and Koke; the former, who's role is very similar to Modric's, makes 12.66 passes less p90, and the latter, who is the controller and chief of his team, makes 13.52 passes less p90 (though it is worth noting that Koke plays with a team that enjoys a more direct style of play at times).
Iniesta, like Modric, is not the dominant dictator of play in his team (with both having Busquets and Kroos play that role respectively), but he still manages 72.96 passes p90. With Iniesta being the defining talent of a controlling midfielder-advanced playmaker hybrid, it is a compliment to Modric that the Spaniard's passing statistic p90 is so close to the Croatian's. It is even a bigger compliment to Modric when considering that he bests Iniesta in passing accuracy and average passing length p90.
Ramsey is another who doesn't fit the typical description of a deep lying playmaker but manages close to the number of passes p90 as Iniesta and Modric. However, he manages a less impressive pass completion rate of 86% and has an average passing length that is inferior to Modric's and Iniesta's, perhaps suggesting that he doesn't advance play as well as the other two.
On the other hand, Ilkay Gundogan and Marco Verratti are the clear pass masters on their respective sides. Benefitting from Thomas Tuchel's possession-based scheme and his unrivaled duties, Gundogan manages a stellar 88.42 passes p90. Verratti's freakish 122.54 passes p90 similarly benefits from having unrivaled duties, but PSG's supreme league dominance and a small sample size of only 18 games played helps this ridiculous stat further. Both players also manage good pass completion rates as a result (still lower than Modric's however), but only Gundogan is able to pair this with an average passing length comparable to Modric's (it's actually better; second best in fact only to Toni Kroos).
So to sum up, it can be seen that Modric is clearly an accomplished passer. Without being the main controller of play, he manages to rack up the most impressive collective passing stats, but it doesn't set him far apart from the likes of Ramsey and Iniesta.
For creativity, Modric was only matched by Koke, who managed a marginally better chances created statistic but a worse shot creation statistic. When factoring in dribbling, Modric furthered himself from everyone as the most balanced across both categories.