The Croatia midfielder’s performance this summer was a dream unfolding in reality: a brilliant player sprinkling the perfect blend of class, elegance, and genius on the world’s biggest stage to lead his side upon a glorious run to the final.
This tournament saw quite a few midfielders treat the world to displays of the utmost excellent, but no one did it quite like Modric, the man who tops our World Cup rankings for central midfielders. Have a look at our top five.
1. Luka Modric, Croatia
This was Luka Modric’s World Cup. That he ended up on the losing side in the final was equal parts heartbreaking and inconsequential – Croatia weren’t even supposed to be there. But they were, simply because, every time they played, Modric was everywhere, doing everything.
The Real Madrid midfielder delivered a masterclass in how one player can control a game. His passing, vision, and ability to keep hold of the ball were of a trademark high quality, and he added a stunning, signature goal against Argentina. But what was equally outstanding was that, at 32, he ran a greater distance than any other player. Winning the Golden Ball was just reward.
2. Paul Pogba, France
Here’s Paul Pogba‘s World Cup story: going from getting booed by his own fans at a pre-tournament friendly to grabbing a goal and an assist in the final. Along the way, Pogba grew into the player his talent had always promised, controlling France’s midfield and setting the tempo whether they were in attack or defence.
For a player who has been so criticised by the pundits and fans, this was a stunning riposte.
3. N’Golo Kante, France
That Pogba was able to be so effective and brilliant owed much to the player stationed alongside him. It’s been a remarkable rise for N’Golo Kante, going from France’s lower divisions to winning the World Cup in just five short years.
Kante was excellent in just about every game he played, but he’ll be remembered for his performance against Argentina in the round of 16, when he neutralised the threat of Lionel Messi. There aren’t many players who can say that.
4. Ivan Rakitic, Croatia
Modric took all the plaudits – including from Ivan Rakitic himself – but the Barcelona midfielder’s influence for Croatia cannot be understated. He was nearly as good as Modric, which, this summer, is the highest praise a player can get.
His goal against Argentina will live long in the memory, as will his contributions to Croatia’s two straight penalty shootout wins: it was Rakitic who scored the winner both times.
5. Kevin De Bruyne, Belgium
Fresh off leading Manchester City to a dominant Premier League title triumph, the World Cup was another stage for Kevin De Bruyne to strut his stuff. He wasn’t quite as spectacular as he’d been during the domestic season, and he was outshone by compatriots Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku, but he was nonetheless a classy presence in midfield.
And he did have his spectacular moment – the long-range strike against Brazil will go down as one of the biggest goals in Belgium’s history.
After displaying back-to-back solid performances for his national team, Raphael Varane has hit back at his critics.
Varane, who was a dominant force in France’s World Cup winning squad, alongside defensive partner Samuel Umtiti, believes he has answered criticism from those who think he is “too nice”.
“Since I was seven years old, they say ‘he’s nice, he’s nice’. Yes, I’m nice, but that’s not all I am,” said the Lille-born centre-back.
“You cannot have the career I’m having, staying at Real Madrid for seven years, without character.
At the age of just 25, the Real Madrid star has bagged 16 titles – Four Champions Leagues, three Club World Cups, three European Super Cups, two league titles, one Copa del Rey, two Spanish Super Cups and one World Cup; an achievement worth all the praise.
The Frenchman however believes that this World Cup, he made a point and sent out a message to those who had questioned his character and compared him to Los Blancos captain Sergio Ramos in the past.
“Sometimes, I was asked to play like [Sergio] Ramos, to play like any other, to be more aggressive, to be more this, more that.
“I have my style of play; it has not done too badly until now. People have wanted me to change and it annoys me.
“Do we ask Ramos to be someone else? We take him as he is; take me as I am. I’m proud that, at this World Cup, I have – in quotation marks – ‘accepted myself as I am’.”
Didier Deschamps‘ side was trailing 2-1 after goals from Angel Di Maria and Gabriel Mercado had put Argentina ahead.
France later bounced back in some fashion though with a stunning strike from from Benjamin Pavard and a brace from young sensation Kylian Mbappe.
Hear what the Lloris had to say about that game, and how the test against Argentina helped his team go all the way in the tournament.