Luka Modric is on the wrong side of 30.
Now, everyone take a deep breath.
While it’s true he’s 31, Modric (when healthy) is the best midfielder in the world. Don’t worry, he’s not going to be passing the torch anytime soon. But when the time comes, fellow countryman Mateo Kovacic will be there to pick up that torch.
The 22 year-old Austrian born Croatian is as tough as they come, with silky passes that you could watch over and over again. Let’s take a look at the road that brought him to Los Blancos where his playing time has increased (after many a rumor of a loan deal sending him back to Inter Milan) due to injuries to other players.
At the age of 13 he was a big target for European clubs. They were drawn to the young midfielder who could play in the center of the pitch or as a deep lying playmaker (this is where I think he excels with with Real Madrid). His parents would make the choice of club and Kovacic ended up at Dinamo Zagreb, where he would also adopt the Croatian nationality.
After a scare with a broken leg in 2009, he would recover and make his debut for Dinamo Zagreb at the age of 16 under former Paris Saint-Germain manager Vahid Halilhodzic. He would go on to score in his debut match and become the youngest goal scorer in the league’s history at 16 years and 198 days.
In 2012, as a full time senior team regular, he would have another scare and break his foot in a Champion’s League qualifier, though this was just a minor setback. In his first two seasons with the Croatian side, he would win two league titles, and two Croatian Cups. He would end up scoring seven goals in 43 appearances with the club.
As a 19 year-old he would be sold to Inter Milan in Serie A for €15 million. Inter were so high on the youngster that the gave him the #10 jersey that had been vacated by Wesley Sneijder, hoping that Mateo would fill the hole that the Dutchman left behind.
He was a regular at Inter for two seasons.
In his second year Kovacic would net a hat trick in a Europa League match and would net his first Serie A goals as well. Inter Milan were poised to build around the midfield starlet but due to FIFA’s Financial Fair Play rules, the club was forced to sell Kovacic to Real Madrid in the summer of 2015 for €30 million (twice what Inter had bought him for in the first place). In doing so, Kovacic was set to become the 5th Croatian to play in the Spanish capital for Los Blancos.
He would make his debut just four days after his presentation, with a substution in the 70th minute against Sporting Gijon. He would come on for Isco in the scoreless draw.
Legendary Croatian Zvonimir Boban once described Kovacic as “not a born regista, but a youngster that could achieve even more than himself.” That’s not the only comparison, as former Italy and Inter manager Giovanni Trapattoni once claimed that Kovacic is “a mixture of Kaka and Clarence Seedorf.” He’s really good at getting the ball real deep and can drive up the pitch like a raging bull.
Here’s what former Croatian National Team Captain Darijo Srna had to say about the young midfield starlet:
"I am sure that [Kovacic] will succeed Modric as he has incredible talent," Srna said. "I adore him. Although he has improved a lot, we have not yet seen all he can give. But we will. He is the future of Madrid. He needs time as just three years ago he left Dinamo Zagreb to play at Inter and then Real."
He also had this to say about Kovacic’s teammate Luka Modric.
"Although he is my friend, [Modric] is the best midfielder in the world at the moment," he said. "I have no doubt, I do not say he is one of the best, I am sure that he is the best. Luka is improving with the years, I believe he is at his best now. Since he arrived he has been improving with the team. Madrid are having a great run of results, but without Luka they would have problems."
And at times the team has had problems without their midfield maestro, but Kovacic has been able to step in to fill the gap. Kovacic still has time on his side to be Modric’s understudy. He’s only 22 and the skill he’s shown at times can be off the charts.
While the holding role isn’t his best role, if anyone has to cover for Casemiro it would be Mateo. While Zizou is do or die with Casemiro - it’s Mateo Kovacic that can be a rock holding the midfield and distributing the ball up the pitch. Not only that, he’s also got great finishing ability and, given the opportunity, is dangerous going forward. His versatility is what makes him such a fantastic asset to the Royal Whites.
So far this season Kovacic has played over a thousand minutes, scoring one goal and creating one assist. He’s sitting on a 91% pass completion percentage and is averaging just about a shot a match(0.9). It should be noted that his pass percentage goes up in the Champion’s League to a 95.3%. This season, Kovacic has about 200 more minutes that his fellow countryman at this point. Though to be fair Modric has had his share of injuries, which leads to Mateo gaining more minutes as the season progresses.
It’s hard to believe that over the summer there was a slight chance he was going to get loaned back to Inter Milan. I don’t know about you, but I’m glad that didn’t happen, especially with the way the injury bug has hit the club. I’d have to agree with Darijo Srna and say that Mateo Kovacic is the future of Real Madrid.
And at age 22 he has nowhere to go but up!