It’s almost impossible to comprehend the experience of being a child raised in conflict. As harrowing as the death toll appears and the destruction left behind, what’s often equally appalling but underappreciated is the volume of people displaced.
With regards to the Croatian War of Independence in the early ’90s, the figure of those displaced from their homes stood at around 400,000. One of the numerous families forced to flee were the Modric’s.
Luka Modric, named after his grandfather, was just six when the outbreak of war occurred. His modest parents worked tirelessly to earn a living before but were now forced to contribute to save their homeland and join the Croatian army. Once a tranquil town, Modrici became a desolate wasteland, ravaged by bombing campaigns and fires. Inevitably the Modric family faced little choice but to leave after their family home was incinerated and Serbian rebels mercilessly executed Luka Sr.
For the next seven of his formative years, Luka Modric lived in one of the largest hotels in Croatia, still amidst the thick of the violence, but it provided a roof over thousands of displaced heads. Such bleak conditions often require an activity to immerse yourself in and escape reality. For Modric, salvation was provided in the form of a nearby car park. On this small patch of concrete, he was free to forget the terror that surrounded his childhood and perform the almost innate act, that is playing football.
While lacking a sporting physique, Modric possessed an abundance of technical ability, and this was inherent to any observer. Such talent earned him a trial at his boyhood club Hajduk Split; although they were less than convinced by his slight frame. Despite this, Croatia’s most prestigious side, Dinamo Zagreb were not put off.
However, despite placing faith in Modric, Zagreb formulated a plan for Modric to prove he was tough enough. The 18-year old was loaned to Zrinjski Mostar of the Bosnian first division, regarded as the most physically demanding championship in Eastern Europe. Zagreb’s sink or swim mentality would have left most teenagers struggling to tread water by the wayside, but Modric flourished being voted the Player of the Season.
Upon his return, the playmaker could be forgiven for believing he’d earnt a chance to star for his parent club. Instead, they chose not to take such a risk, once more loaning him out to fellow Zagreb side, Inter Zapresic. In response, Modric provided Dinamo with all the proof they needed and his presence was impossible to ignore. The midfielder masterminded Inter’s second-place finish in the PRVA HNL, their highest ever finish, five places above his parent club.
Zdravko Mamic, Dinamo’s executive director at the time promptly attached Modric to a 10-year contract, and the playmaker was gracious enough to purchase his family a house 13 years after theirs had been destroyed. This alone was the ultimate symbol showing everyone’s sacrifices for Luka had been vindicated.
Further proof came via Modric’s relentless pursuit of perfection post reaching the pinnacle of the domestic game. Four years of scintillating football followed, racking up six pieces of silverware and a remarkable tally of 31 goals and 29 assists as an attacking midfielder.
Once overlooked within Croatia, in the summer of 2008 Modric was now acknowledged by an array of European giants, who frantically attempted to entice him their direction. Initially, Arsenal were perceived as the frontrunner, although Modric also paid a visit to Catalonia. Eventually, the Croatian would call North London home as Tottenham Hotspur equaled their transfer record to acquire the playmaker’s services.
Though, all did not go to plan; after ten fixtures Spurs were winless and manager Juande Ramos was gone. Understandably Modric’s form suffered during this terrible start, but once Harry Redknapp was appointed, he dropped the midfielder deeper to free space and rapidly tailored the system to allow the Croatian to dictate the path of possession.
Following Modric’s acquisition with the equally impressive but vastly more mercurial Rafael Van Der Vaart, this didn’t even stunt the Croat’s progress. Slotting two ball playing midfielders into the same starting eleven is rarely effective, however, the pair combined to give Spurs a plethora of forward-thinking options. If Van Der Vaart wasn’t available, then Gareth Bale could be found marauding the left touchline, while Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe complimented each other exquisitely in the attack.
The 2010/11 season was Tottenham’s first ever in the Champions League, and their squad ultimately laid the foundations for the fruitful period that has since followed. After missing the ‘Gareth Bale game’ against Inter Milan at the San Siro, Modric proved once more he was capable of competing at an elevated standard by dictating the tempo of the reverse fixture against the reigning European Champions during a 3-1 victory.
By the end of that season the notoriously difficult to impress Sir Alex Ferguson labelled Modric as his Player of the Year and London rivals Chelsea had three bids rejected by Daniel Levy, the last of which was in excess of £40million.
Modric required stern words from manager Redknapp to regain focus after revealing the move across London appealed to him but he remained professional to perform a cut above his teammates once more. Jose Mourinho then picked up the phone from Madrid the following summer and the rest will be consigned to history. Modric’s on-pitch contribution has become increasingly difficult to quantify, and he has progressively waned in the number of assists he’s recorded despite consistently elevating his influence at the Santiago Bernabeu.
However, it’s possible to quantify and impossible to overlook the fact he now has four Champions League winner’s medal’s, while throughout world football few partners would better suit the Croatian than Casemiro. The Brazilian enforcer is essentially a bodyguard, duly obliging to his defensive duties while allowing Modric the freedom to utilise his vision.
With regards to individual honours, it’s perhaps fitting of Modric’s humble character that he should be the player to end the Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi’s decade-long duopoly of the Ballon d’Or. Modric is a stark contrast to most who occupy an era where personas are rife throughout the elite football, occasionally considered a necessity for solo success.
2018 in itself has been far from straightforward though, the year began with a perjury trial but culminated in Croatia’s magnificent run to the World Cup Final – where they could be excused for feeling unfortunate to have lost. Without Modric’s tactical intelligence and range of passing it’s challenging to comprehend teammates such as Ivan Perisic flourishing as he did. Therefore Modric is unique relative to those who he contested the Ballon d’Or against. Not only is he an incredible player, but his talent is also improving those surrounding him while having the graciousness to allow others to believe they achieved such a feat independently.
Meaning there is now almost laughable irony in Neymar’s egotistical ambition to leave Spain in search of individual honours, while Ronaldo departed almost undoubtedly to prove further he is the greatest of all time, meanwhile the trophy these stars supposedly covet most has remained in Madrid, instead being awarded to arguably the most unassuming but equally befitting recipient.