By Callum McCarthy
As a young Welshman dominates the back pages of every newspaper in the country, a young Croatian struggles to shine as before.
It wasn’t so long ago that Tottenham Hotspur was meant to be 25-year-old Luka Modric’s team. Touted as a possible Summer transfer target for Europe’s elite clubs, Modric was as close to indispensable as anyone in the Premier League, pulling the strings for a young and exciting Tottenham midfield quartet.
In fact, when Modric signed a new six-year deal at White Hart Lane — theoretically tying him up until 2016 — the contract was hailed as a huge step forward for Tottenham Hotspur and their future ambitions. It was thought that without Modric, Spurs would crumble.
Fast forward to the present day. The introduction of Rafael Van Der Vaart to the Spurs midfield has caged Modric inside the centre circle — a domain that doesn’t seem to suit the young Croat’s natural instincts and abilities. Famed for his dynamic movement on and off the ball, Modric has had the majority of his workload taken on by Spurs’ newest Dutch resident.
Playing in a free role, Van Der Vaart’s duties comprise mostly of Modric’s old ones — picking up possession in the opposing half and making things happen with clever distribution and direct running. While it may not necessarily be true that Van Der Vaart does a better job than Modric at these tasks, it can be said that the goalscoring touch that the Dutchman can provide is the main reason why Spurs manager Harry Redknapp has given him Spurs’ coveted free role.
Not a noted goalscorer, Modric has netted just 7 goals in 62 league appearances for Spurs, a tally Van Der Vaart is over halfway to equalling in just 7 games. With Jermain Defoe sidelined for at least another month, Spurs need as much goalscoring help as they can get — the lack of a cutting edge has already cost them dearly on a number of occasions this season, most notably against Wigan Athletic where all three points were haplessly relinquished.
However, there is hope for Modric yet. The 25 year old was deployed in a deeper, freer role against Inter Milan in midweek, enabling Spurs to distribute smartly from the get-go. Released from his circular cage, Modric had the time and space to do some serious damage, setting up Van Der Vaart’s clinical opener — a sign that the two may be able to find some lasting harmony down the road. With the Dutchman running the final third and the Croat finding the room to create a little magic of his own, Inter struggled to cope, time and again sucked narrower and narrower to give Gareth Bale the opportunity to repeatedly undress Maicon for the second game in succession.
Whether Harry Redknapp will continue to use Modric in such a capacity is yet to be seen, but one thing is for sure: if Modric continues to be incarcerated, swallowed up and muscled out in central midfield, hindsight will not be friendly to the six year deal he was offered just five months ago.