Farewell to the best midfielder of the last decade. De Bruyne isn’t even close…

Editor F365
Luka Modric reacts after Croatia are beaten by Argentina in the World Cup semi-final.

The Mailbox lauds Luka Modric for setting the standard Kevin De Bruyne and co are struggling to match. Also: if Gareth Southgate were French; and can someone please explain Declan Rice…

Get your views in to theeditor@football365.com


Modric and a midfield legacy
I was watching Modric leave the pitch the other day pondering what a remarkable player he has been. He is the best midfielder of at least the last decade isn’t he. Who else seriously lays claim to being close? Who else has really done it for this long, this consistently, on the domestic, European, International stage, and performed when it mattered in the biggest games? It’s a surprisingly – or unsurprisingly due to the standards set – small pool. N’Golo Kante and Toni Kroos are possibly the only ones that are in the conversation. But even they have faded over the last couple of years.

There are obviously lots of fabulous players but they all fall away compared to Luka when scrutinised. The one that probably comes to mind for many of us who watch the Premier League is Kevin De Bruyne. But when you consider Modric’s legacy, and compare all of the criteria listed above, it’s not even close.

Croatia are a remarkable footballing nation who deserve everyone’s admiration for creating players of such a high standard. And players like De Bruyne still have work to do to secure their seat at the top table of world football.


Overdone Rice
I don’t get it. I genuinely do not understand how anyone watches him play and comes to the conclusion that he’s even close to a functional footballer. I understand the importance a defensive screen, and I get that is supposed to be Rice’s thing but I’d argue he isn’t actually very good at that even. He’s a bit slow off the mark, turns like a camel, and seems to get lost when the play isn’t in front of him. He’s not an awful player, I’m not saying he’s incompetent, but surely I can’t be the only person who doesn’t think he’s anywhere near the level of a club in the Champions League for instance.
But my problem with him mainly, is that he doesn’t seem to understand how to recieve the ball and move it forward. He never finds space, when there is space he doesn’t seem to acknowledge it. I die a little bit inside when I see a defender with the ball, him move toward then, and run square on to it so that can’t do anything other than pass it straight back to where it came. For England he seems to actively try and avoid getting the ball from a defender, turning and passing the ball forward.
He’s top of the F365 ladder, which while I know is based on the what is thought of the managers thinking, it’s a terrifying thought for me. A team can’t function with a centre midfielder who offers nothing in possession. It’s honestly like playing with 10 men.
I don’t expect him to be Bellingham, but at least try and play some football lad.
Proof of the pudding, England v France, Griezmann needs looking after, I’d rather Henderson marked him, the thing Rice is supposedly best at I don’t trust him with. I asked this question to the 10 or so people I watched the France game with, all of them Rice lovers, most of them said Henderson.
I’m writing because I honestly think I’m losing my mind. Please don’t take offense you Rice lovers, I am genuinely asking for some mails on what people see in him. And does anyone think Kalvin Phillips offered more when we saw him?
Inquisitively frustrated,


Convenient boycotts
As the WC nears an end, I just wanted to check how everyone’s boycotts and outrage are holding up?
At the start of the tournament, we couldn’t move in the mailbox with people supporting #OneLove armbands and being outraged that another country, under a different legal system, didn’t have the same laws as those of us Western Europe.
Thankfully that has all been replaced by the feelgood story of Morocco.
BTW, here is a quick snippet from the” LGBT rights in Morocco” Wikipedia page

Same-sex sexual activity is illegal in Morocco and can be punished with anything from three to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of 1,200 dirhams. The Moroccan government uses the law as a way to police members of the LGBT+ community.
When one is arrested in Morocco for a suspected homosexual act, their name becomes publicized outing the individual regardless as to whether they are homosexual or not.
The legal status of LGBT people living in Morocco stems largely from traditional Islamic morality, which views homosexuality and cross-dressing as signs of immorality.

Ah, that’s a bit awkward…

Now I understand there is a difference between hosting a WC and just being one of the teams in it. But the willingness of many ‘progressives’ to overlook certain aspects of some cultures because those are deemed to always be ‘victims’ is a bit hypocritical.
It is clear that the F365 editorial line is very much that “Stick to the football” is wrong. But that is exactly what you’ve done by not continuing to raise the same issues consistently.


Messi’s tears
Maybe it’s because I’ve boycotted this World Cup and haven’t been exposed to any of the guff around Messi or Ronaldo – but I really want Messi to win the thing.

I’ve always found hatred of the little magician pretty weird. It’s kind of like hating Harry Kane. I’m a gooner so I’m supposed to hate Kane – but I can’t as he strikes me as a nice enough bloke.

Sneering at a guy for crying after leaving the only club he’s ever known seems weird.

And crying after leaving a club isn’t unusual either. The story goes that David Rocastle was in tears after George Graham told him he was being sold to Leeds. Footballers are people – not machines – if you’re leaving a place you’ve been at since you were a teenager, you’re going to miss everyone who has been part of your daily routine for years.
Graham Simons, Gooner, Norf London


…Agree with Matt, London, the media hype over Messi gets unbearable at times. I have genuinely read the phrase “there is a feeling that football owes Messi a World Cup” a bunch of times. Yes, more than once. I’m sorry what? If you are someone who shares this feeling you really need to give your head a shake.
Is it just me? I don’t think I’ve ever heard a more annoying phrase (in a football context ofc). “Football” doesn’t owe anything to anyone, it should go without saying. As good as Messi is, he is just a player, part of a team.
I don’t actually even resent him personally, I actually prefer his personality to Ronaldo’s (who I also don’t resent), he seems more humble. He does have a nasty side, like he showed vs the Netherlands, but it rarely comes out. But (similarly to Ronaldo) he is difficult to like thanks to the media and the “fans” who aren’t fans of a team but of a player.
So, I hope Argentina don’t win, the attitude of some of the other players (Otamendi, Paredes) makes the team so unlikable for me.
The idea of France winning back-to-back isn’t exactly appealing either.
After many upsets, it seems like one of the favourites is boringly going to win the WC after all. It’s been a fun ride though.


The new Van Gaal
I just had an epiphany: Southgate is the English van Gaal. In the 2 tournaments before this World Cup, Southgate didn’t really trust his team/squad so went for the safety first approach. It was successful in the sense that England went a long way, but unsuccessful because we didn’t win anything. Generally speaking, a safety first approach doesn’t get you very far in life. Van Gaal did exactly the same with his Dutch team in this tournament. Because he knew they were lacking in midfield and up front, he decided to bore everybody to death and reach the final playing on the counter attack. We now know how that ended (thank God).
Luckily, England hammered Iran and Southgate suddenly realised that 4 at the back and a much more attacking style, instead of 7 at the back, WAS an option in tournament football. In that sense, Southgate has redeemed himself and can leave his current job knowing that his successor is on to a winner. Over to you Bielsa…
Van Gaal, however, failed miserably at Man U and has now failed with the Dutch team. Would Belgium be stupid enough to approach him?
On a final note, if van Gaal is a tactical genius what does that make the Moroccan coach?
G Thomas, Breda


If Southgate was French
After that joke of a performance Deschamps out. France into the final without playing a decent team. Luck of the draw. Deschamps is a joke of a manager. Hasn’t played a decent side. If we win the world cup it will be in spite of him not because of him.

Two nil against Morocco is a joke. Negative tactics. Mbappe is a world class player and is wasted on the left. This is two straight games he hasn’t scored in now. He needs to moved central. As for Greisman, this is a goal machine and he’s playing in midfield. Negative tactics from a substandard manager.

First goal, it rattles around and luckily falls to Hendandez. Could have gone anywhere. Luckily escape for a negative manager. Then spends the next hour backs to the wall. Konate having to actually defend like it is role on the pitch. Can you imagine if he was up against Richarliason? Well he’s been saved from that thankfully.

The second goal Mbappe comes in centrally and gets in the box like I said in my previous dozen mails which I expect you all to remember because my uninformed opinions are important and not just a bit of entertainment. The ball rattles around it falls to a player which I had never heard of but I would have told you should have been starting. Manager saved by a reactive not proactive substitution (do let us know what you think that means Rio). Through to the final despite him, not because of him.

Hernandez at left back isn’t good enough. Should never be in the squad. Morocco targeted him all game which proves that he is not good enough at this level. He is not international standard at all. He was isolated all game. The goal and a clean sheet hides how rubbish he is. And don’t tell me its because Mbappe doesn’t track back. A proper manager would be able to tell a player like Mbappe to follow his instructions.

Its clear this negative manager with weak tactics doesn’t know what he’s doing. If we have any hope of winning the final, which is the minimum that we expect with this group of players, then its clear Deschamps needs to drop all the midfield and play more strikers, he needs to move Griesman up top into the centre, he needs to tell Giroud to stay in the centre and move Mbappe into the centre. 4 – 1 f*cking 5 like how I play on fifa on amateur level.
MerdeWolf aka Matthieu sh ITFC aka Alex, South London (Not meant to be a diss track personally, but this is what the Southgate haters sound like)

Doubling down on #SouthgateOut
I’ve taken a bit of a kicking in the last couple of mailboxes for my opinions on the England manager, so I would welcome the chance to respond, especially to Marc and Dave and I will use Marc’s criteria to explain my “bare minimum” comment.


2000 Group stage – in Dec 1999 England were ranked 12th in the World, QF a possibilty then
2004 QF – started the year8th – QF spotto be expected
2008 DNQ – 12th – McLaren sacked
2012 QF – 5th , QF expected, but we were not outplayed and lost to Italy, we went out on penalties! Marc says we only lost a close game on Saturday and missed an 86th minute penalty, you can’t have your cake etc Marc
2016 L16,ranked 9th, lost to Iceland, awful , but this was under Roy, possibly the worst appointment ever!
2020/21 R/up – ranked 4th, but perhaps a fairer comparison would be to 1996 as that was our other home Euros, we started the year ranked 22nd and lost in the semi-final, that’s an achievement!

World Cups
2018 SF – started 16th so was a really good tournament for us, we did however lose to the team ranked 15th, the only team ranked above us that we played.
2022 QF – ranked 4th so a semi-final was “par”, except we came up against a team ranked higher than us early and lost!

So it seems bar Venables and McLaren, most England teams achieve “bare minimum”, is that what we want? Is that what we must learn to expect? Yes we’ve risen the ranks under him but we’ve not made that final step and we have regressed in the last few years despite having the best resources ever made available. Didn’t someone at the FA say that he’d been appointed to win the World Cup in 2022? He hasn’t and it’s time to go.

My view on him hasn’t changed, I’ve always felt this way.
Howard (he’s not better than Venables Dave) Jones


Class dismissed
Fat Man’s definition of world class “one of the best in their position in the world”

Fat Man’s justification for why Rio Ferdinand wasn’t world class “I can name just one player who retired from top-class football five years before Ferdiand, so was at his peak significantly earlier who I think was better.”

“World class” means sod all anyway, so who cares, but you can’t fix your own rule for what it means and blithely ignore it when giving your example and say you’ve proven your point. Your rule was “one of the best” and your proof was “not the single best” – then the “proof” wasn’t all that compelling anyway…

Ferdinand was a bloody good player. Was he world class? Dunno, don’t really care, don’t think it means anything. In 2008 he was in the FifPro team of the year, nominated by his peers as one of the two best centre backs on the planet. One might argue he was world class at his peak in the 07-08 season…

On second thought John Terry was his centre back partner in that team of the year, so it was clearly a load of rubbish…
Andy (MUFC)


…We all love a debate on what constitutes world-class.

First, let’s establish a solid basis. In terms of order, it has to be Legend > World-class > International-class > top league class. I don’t think that is disputable.

I think a nice fully-subjective measure for world-class is “would you put them in a world XI at their peak, and there be a reasonable case to defend it”.

There are many easy ones, but it’s the fine lines that are more delicious. Di Maria, international; Beckham, world-class. Rio, world-class, Stones, international. Shearer, international; Kane… ooh, that I’m not sure. Torres? (For me he was briefly world-class, but then maybe to be that you have to maintain it?) De Bruyne? Well, that asks a question about them delivering at the highest level, doesn’t it…

How about, “being sought after by the top teams in the world” as a measure? Mbappe then will be, if not already (frankly I think he’s overrated so far, but he will get there.) Same with Haaland. Neymar? Rashford? Certainly not yet, but maybe in time (with a following wind, and a few years more with an actual coach).

Also, what qualifies as a Legend? Someone who transcends time, and would go into a legend team? There are obvious names here, but does Romario fit as a legend? Cantona (he is a club legend, for sure, and was definitely international-class but at his peak, not world-class)? Bergkamp?

Turning to our current England squad with the world-class focus, I’d say Bellingham will be, Rice and Foden might well get there… possibly Kane and maybe Rashford as mentioned above. No one else ticks the subjective boxes for me. Sterling? Don’t make me laugh.


…Not sure how old FatMan is, so it might be a bit unfair to challenge him to name a better centre-forward at the time than Gary Lineker. But regardless, he won’t find one.
Mark Lewis, SWFC (yes, I’ve checked against Van Basten, so don’t waste your time)


World Cup numbers
Based on the historical record, here are some actual World Cup stats highlighting the most dominant teams in the tournament:

Won It:
Brazil – 5
(W.) Germany – 4
Italy – 4
Argentina – 2
France – 2
Uruguay – 2
England – 1
Spain – 1

(this year’s final is a little exciting for the “mid-table”, isn’t it?)

Multiple Podium Finishes (i.e. made the Top Three more than once)
(W.) Germany – 12 (4 gold, 4 silver, 4 bronze)
Brazil – 9 (5g, 2s, 2b)
Italy – 7 (2g, 4s, 1b)
Argentina – 5 (2g, 3s, 0b)
France – 5 (2g, 1s, 2b)
Netherlands – 4 (0g, 3s, 1b)
Sweden – 3 (0g, 1s, 2b)
Uruguay – 2 (2g, 0s, 0b)
Hungary – 2 (0g, 2s, 0b)
Czech(oslavakia) – 2 (0g, 2s, 0b)
Croatia – 2 (0g, 1s, 1b)
Poland – 2 (0g, 0s, 2b)

(…and will Croatia tie Sweden’s record of three podium finishes this year?)

Single Podium Finishes (eight teams have finished in the top-three only once):
England(gold), Spain(gold), Portugal(bronze), Belgium(bronze), Austria(bronze), Chile(bronze), Turkey(bronze) and USA(bronze)

(…or will Morocco join the Singles Club!?)

And, yes, Fourth Place is the First Loser.
Ebrahim [tempted to keep throwing out more stats (fun fact: the Netherlands is second to only Brazil and Germany in their “points-per-game” performance in the “aggregate World Cup league table” over the years! But now that I’ve settled all disputes and debates about World Cup dominance, I believe my work here is done], MUFC, Seattle

Read more: World Cup: A totally unscientific ranking of every 2022 WC team based on their vibes