As Real Madrid and Manchester City slugged out a high-quality 1-1 draw in Tuesday’s Champions League semi-final first leg, the best moment of quality was provided by the evergreen Luka Modric.
You know, the kind of moment where the only appropriate reaction is a puff of the cheeks, a shake of the head and an exclamation of disbelief.
Cast your mind back to the 2006 World Cup, where the world seemed brighter and more optimistic, you’ll be forgiven for overlooking a young midfielder making two substitute appearances during his country’s first-round exit.
If you’ve clicked on this piece and made it this far down, we won’t insult your intelligence by pointing out exactly who that was. More astonishingly, Modric is still producing moments of skill that warm the soul almost 17 years following his introduction to a global audience.
Despite the presence of Aurelian Tchouameni, and the imminent arrival of Jude Bellingham, the Croatian’s inclusion in the starting XI to face City was inevitable.
Dictating the play, like a wizened conductor helping to illicit one more tune from his orchestra, Modric spent 90 increasingly humid minutes probing the accomplished City midfield.
But, while Kevin de Bruyne scored a brilliant equaliser and Ilkay Gundogan marshalled his troops with all the nervous energy of a non-commissioned officer at the Somme, it was Modric whose aura shone above all others.
And no wonder; with the game deep into the second half, the 37-year-old flicked out a limb and killed one errant pass stone dead. We’re almost surprised both sets of players didn’t call a temporary halt to proceedings to applaud the sorcery they’d just witnessed.
As the enjoyable encounter zipped by, Modric continued to look like football’s Benjamin Button when gliding around the pitch.
His Madrid contract technically expires at the end of the current season. If someone can offer a good deal and act fast, there’s an elite, all-round midfielder available for less than a penny sweet.
But, in all likelihood, he’ll probably sign a one-year extension at the Bernabeu, as he did last year. With Madrid building the kind of midfield that makes you question the point of ever trying to compete with them, it’s heartening to know that Modric retains enough kudos to stick around on merit.
“We want to play a complete game, to give the best we have,” Carlo Ancelotti said before the match when confirming Modric would start.
“The decisive leg will be over there. We want to go with an advantage. We want to play well. It is not only about the result, but how we play and if we avoid problems. It will be very demanding.”
Ancelotti was as wise as ever; the pattern of the match suggested City will be marginal favourites when the two juggernauts meet in Manchester next Wednesday.
But, with Modric in the kind of divine form that truly takes the breath away and confirms the existence of God, Madrid will fancy their chances of yet another European crown.
By Michael Lee