So often in the modern era of football, it can be hard for there to be any kind of real bond to form between players and fans. With transfers ever-looming, managers quick to send a player to the bench in a run of poor form, and so many other potential issues, getting too attached to a player so often leads to nothing but heartache for fans.
But every now and then, a player comes up who, even with all the risk, can't help but pull at the heartstrings of fans everywhere, even fans of other clubs. If you want an example of such a player, look no further than Real Madrid's Luka Modric, who showed why he's such a popular player on Saturday against Osasuna.
In the midst of Real's 5-2 drubbing on the newly-promoted club, with Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo rampaging forward, Danilo of all people scoring a goal, and Osasuna finding new and creative ways to concede goals, it was the diminutive Croatian who stole the spotlight on the day. Modric's silky skills both in and out of possession were on full display all match long, pulling the strings and using his almost-unequaled vision and passing talent to allow Real's attack to stampede all over the pitch just about unchecked.
And what kind of skill on the ball are we talking about? Plenty of moments just like this:
Sorry, Oier and Tano Bonnin, but you have to retire now. That's just the rules when you get worked like that. At least Bonnin had the decency to get himself sent off later in the match.
Modric was in such wonderful form that the goal he scored in the 62nd minute, right before being subbed out of a long-won match to rest, was far from his best moment of the match. That's not to take anything away from Modric's goal -- it was a very pretty finish -- but everything else in his performance on Saturday just exceeded it. Other players got the assists on Real's first four goals, but Modric was at the heart of every one of them, using his passes or his movement to turn Osasuna's defense inside-out and spin their midfield around in circles.
It was one of those maestro-level displays, with Modric working the pitch that it was his orchestra, conducting his way to glory. Sure, Osasuna were poor on the day, but a big, big part of that was down to Modric's performance and sheer quality on the day. Real probably would have won regardless, but their task was made infinitely easier by Modric's display.
And if you want any bigger sign about how important Modric can be for Real Madrid, you need no more evidence than this: only a minute after being subbed off, Real gave up a soft, soft goal in a fit of disorganization.
It's performances like this that make Modric easy to love no matter who you root for. When you see him play, you can't take your eye off him -- everything the silky Croatian does on the pitch just demands attention. Not because of huge, flashy moves like a Ronaldo or Bale, but because he's just so damn good at everything he does on the pitch. Need a defense-splitting pass? Easy. Cutting off a counter? Done. Making fools of defenders with a flip of the hips? Yawn.
For much of last season, we rarely got to see Modric at his best, asked to play roles that ill-suited him. We saw signs that he was coming back around late in the campaign, though, and now Modric is looking like he could be better than ever. If that turns out to be the case, it's going to be nearly impossible to stop Real Madrid.