After his move from Tottenham to the Spanish capital, Modric quickly played his way into the ranks of the world’s best, but he has since gone above and beyond to join the ranks of the greats. In total, he has helped Atletico Madrid to two La Liga titles, a Copa Del Rey, four Champions League titles, and a string of Super Cup and Club World Cup titles; he won the Football World Cup Golden Ball and FIFA’s Best of the Best award in 2018.
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Inter midfielder Marcelo Brozovic is included in this list, as is Brozovic’s club teammate Nicolas Barella. Leicester City’s Yuri Tillermanns is mentioned, as is Marco Verratti, while Ajax youngster Ryan Gravenbergi appears in almost every article. Then there are the Galacticos’ options. Paul Pogba. Many of the old lists featured Martin Odegaard, but Odegaard has moved on, and, let’s face it, he was never a natural fit for Modric’s role.
Fede Valverde was on the list of some potential replacements, of course, but far from all. And when he does emerge, Valverde is usually relegated to the back seats as the fifth of five potential candidates, an afterthought. But while there has been endless speculation about other players from all directions, Real Madrid has been careful in developing a player they signed from Penarol in 2016.
Valverde may only be 23 years old, but he has already played over 100 games for the club since returning from a loan spell at Real Sociedad in the 2017/18 season, including some important ones. He has already scored one goal in the El Clasico. Most infamously, however, he scored in the 2020 Spanish Super Cup final against Atletico Madrid, where he was outstanding for 115 minutes, bringing down Alvaro Morata in a one-on-one situation between the Spanish striker and Thibaut Courtois.
As Gustavo Poyet said in a recent interview with World Football, every team can benefit from the Uruguayan player because we don’t accept defeat as part of our lives. The same could be said of Atletico Madrid’s demanding supporters. Valverde won’t be Modric or any other replacement, but being different isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and the Uruguayan’s competitive edge puts Valverde in a good position on the road to becoming a permanent fixture at Madrid.
Valverde is a bit more defensive than his Croatian teammate, doing more pressing, more attacks on goal, and more blocking. Valverde’s added mobility in transition could protect Casemiro and the new back four in the long run, especially as the Brazilian approaches thirty. The main area in which the Uruguayan lags is, naturally, the capacity and quality of his passes.
In the 2020-21 season, Modric played 66 passes per 90 minutes in La Liga, compared to just 46.8 per 90 minutes for Valverde. And according to FBref, Modric’s passes have made Atletico Madrid’s attack more potent. That’s what makes Modric so great, his ability to keep pushing his team forward with long and short balls, even when under pressure. Valverde isn’t at that level yet. Not yet. For more details about Football World Cup Tickets.
But in this international break, Valverde has been very busy and has proven that he can be a creative, assertive player. In Oscar Washington Tabarez’s side, Valverde has taken on the role of playmaker and ball distributor in central midfield, playing alongside Rodrigo Bentancur ahead of Matias Vecino. As Tabarez expects of his midfielders, Valverde covered every angle. But as he showed last week against Peru and especially against Bolivia, his quality was also there.
In the last match, he dominated the action and scored Uruguay’s second goal with a free-kick that he sent into the far corner of the goal from the left side of the box. He was also responsible for Uruguay’s third goal when he played a superb pass to Joaquín Pictures, whose cross was met by young striker Agustín Alvarez from close range.
It was clear that Bolivia is not the best team in the world. Valverde’s passing game, however, is there and can be developed. When he revolved 23, Luka Modric entered his second of four seasons at Tottenham and was not yet the player he finally became. Even in La Liga, against better teams, statistics show Valverde’s creative output compares favorably.
Uruguayan legend Diego Forlan told Radio Marca in 2020, I’m not surprised by what we’ve seen from him because we can already see it. He is gaining confidence, maturity, and experience, and Madrid fans will enjoy him for many, many years to come. I’d even go so far as to say he’s the midfield equivalent of Sergio Ramos in defence.
Whether Valverde can be that kind of talisman, we’ll see. But with the Uruguayan’s steady progress and the new seven-year contract he signed in August, the Real Madrid midfielder’s post-Modric future may look healthier than some have predicted.
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