“In his life, Luka Modric has seen the ups and downs, which have made him a warrior who is never willing to give up”
Luka Modric is a quick and creative playmaker, with great vision, who is able to change the course of the game with incredibly deft passes and solo, long-range efforts.
He plays with both feet in combination with his swift offensive positioning, off the ball.
He passes the ball accurately across long and short distances (passing range of perfection), even with the outside of his boot.
His ball control, first touches, positional play, ability to retain possession, and set the tempo of the game makes him a mesmerizing player to watch – A former attacking midfielder, he is also noted for his dribbling skills, set-pieces and is considered a master of the pre-assist!
He is referred to as the Midfield Maestro for his mastery of footballing fundamentals, tactical strategy, and precision in execution.
His tactical vision and strategic planning have had him compared to a conductor of an orchestra – a Puppet Master and a Midfield Magician.
Not so long ago, he was the heartbeat of the midfield of Los Blancos alongside Toni Kroos.
Real Madrid entered the transition phase as soon as Cristiano Ronaldo left for Turin.
Modric and others were given the task to prove, Real Madrid can move even without Cristiano, and in the season of 2018-19 everything fell apart – the Los Blancos were a shadow of the past and all of a sudden fingers were pointed to the experienced customers.
Modric came under pressure and his illustrious career with Real Madrid was coming to an end based on the continued links to Italian clubs, and his mixed form in 2019-20, yet he gave Zinedine Zidane a warning about how best to use him, and he has been proven right.
Real Madrid dragged themselves out of the mud in the Champions League with a comfortable home victory against Borussia Monchengladbach and Modric was the best player on the pitch.
Modric was facing a crossroads in his career before asking Zidane to simply play him for several matches in a row in order to help him build up his match rhythm.
Whilst initially skeptical, Zidane ran out of options and accepted the demands of Modric, and everyone has reaped the rewards.
Modric’s display against Marco Rose’s excellent team was a throwback to his best days in the Spanish capital, the days when he regularly ran matches from midfield and allowed Cristiano Ronaldo and others to enjoy the day.
His passing was flawless; he arrived in pockets of space when Los Blancos attacked, and he never lost possession of the ball.
Modric had 107 touches of the ball, completed 100% of his take-ons (4), and completed 94% of his passes, with 54 of those coming in Gladbach’s half.
In the most crucial week in the history of Real Madrid, Modric was crucial to saving the prestige of the club.
Modric takes incredibly good care of his body with fitness work, and there is no reason why he can’t play on for a few further seasons at the top level, and yet again, the Croatian proved, how tough he is!
It was never easy for him to become the player he is today.
The early days – war and football
Luka Modric was born on 9 September 1985 and was raised in the hamlet of Modrici which is a part of Zaton Obrovacki – a village situated on the southern slopes of the mountain Velebit, north of the city of Zadar in SR Croatia, then a republic within SFR Yugoslavia.
He is the oldest child of Stipe Modric from Modrici and Radojka Dopud from Krusevo near Obrovac, both of whom initially worked in a knitwear factory.
Modric mostly spent his early years in the stone house of his paternal grandfather after whom he was named, located on the road above the hamlet of Modrici, and was shepherding goats as a five-year-old.
However, his childhood coincided with the Croatian War of Independence—in 1991, when the war escalated, his family was forced to flee the area.
Modric’s grandfather Luka was executed by Serb rebels who were part of the police of SAO Krajina in December 1991 near his house in Modrici, and after the family fled the house was burned to the ground.
Modric became a refugee and lived with his family in the Hotel Kolovare for seven years; he later moved to the Hotel Iž, both in Zadar.
His father joined the Croatian Army as an aeromechanic.
In those years, thousands of bombs fell on the city and football was a way to escape the reality of war. He recalls it as a tough time for his family and something which shaped him as a person.
He also said he was mostly unaware of the war because he befriended many other children and their parents did not let it affect their childhood.
In these difficult circumstances, Modric began playing football, mostly at the hotel parking lot.
In 1992, he simultaneously entered the primary school and a sporting academy, the latter paid for with the little money the family had, sometimes helped by Modric’s uncle.
As a boy, he was inspired to play football by Zvonimir Boban and Francesco Totti.
Supported by his family, he participated in representative camps and trained in NK Zadar.
The days in Zadar were not easy because of the war.
The Croatian War of Independence from 1991-1995, during which Zadar and the surrounding regions were heavily shelled, also toughened Modric, according to those close to him.
“It happened a million times that we were going to training as the shells were falling and we were running to shelters,” said childhood friend Marijan Buljat, who played with Modric while growing up.
He was under the tutelage of Coach Domagoj Bacic and the head of the youth academy, Tomislav Basic. Basic, considered by Modric as his ‘sporting father’ said Modric’s father.
Due to being considered too young and light, he was not signed by Croatian powerhouse Hajduk Split, the most representative football club in the region of Dalmatia.
After displaying some talent, including at a youth tournament in Italy, Basic arranged Modric’s move to Dinamo Zagreb when Modric was a 16-year-old in late 2001.
A move to the Bosnian Premier League
After a season with Dinamo Zagreb’s youth side, Modric was loaned in 2003 to Zrinjski Mostar in the Bosnian Premier League.
During this period, he established his versatile style of play and became the Bosnian Premier League Player of the Year at only the age of 18.
Modric later said, “Someone who can play in the Bosnian Premier League can play anywhere,” referring to its physical nature.
The following year, he was loaned to Croatian side Inter Zapresic.
He spent one season there, helping the team to achieve the second position in the Prva HNL and a place in the preliminary round of the UEFA Cup. He also won the Croatian Football Hope of the Year award in 2004.
He returned to Dinamo Zagreb in 2005.
The days in Zagrev
In the 2005–06 season, Modrić signed a ten-year contract with Dinamo Zagreb.
With the contract’s earnings, he bought a flat in Zadar for his family.
He secured a place in Dinamo’s first team, contributing 7 goals in 31 matches to help win the league.
In the 2006–07 season, Dinamo again won the league, with Modric making a similar contribution.
He was the main provider for striker Eduardo, which helped Modric win the Prva HNL Player of the Year award.
The following season, Modric as a team captain, led Dinamo’s attempt to qualify for the 2007–08 UEFA Cup.
He finished his four-year tenure at Dinamo with a tally of over 31 goals and 29 assists in four league seasons, contributing most notably in the 2007–08 season when Dinamo won the second Croatian Cup and became champions by a 28-point margin.
His performance was regularly monitored by Barcelona, Arsenal, and Chelsea.
The journey in the English Premier League – Tottenham Hotspur
Modric agreed to transfer terms with Tottenham Hotspur on 26 April 2008. He was the first of many summer signings for manager Juande Ramos and was also the Premier League’s first summer transfer.
The Club chairman Daniel Levy promptly flew to Zagreb when Manchester City and Newcastle United became interested, and after signing a six-year contract, Tottenham confirmed the transfer fee paid was £16.5 million, equaling the club’s record fee set by Darren Bent’s move in 2007.
He got the number 14 jersey, later recalling that he wore it in honour of Johan Cruyff.
Modrić had a slow start at Tottenham. He suffered from a knee injury early in his tenure and was labeled as a light-weight for the Premier League by sections of the media, as well as Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.
Reflecting on that, Modric said, “Such critics push you forward to show people they are wrong. Maybe I look lightweight but I am a really strong person mentally and physically, and I never had any problems with my size.”
This coincided with his poor form, leading to concerns both for himself and Croatia national team head coach Slaven Bilic.
Modric spent his early days at a position of number 10, before being shifted to the left-wing to play alongside Wilson Palacios.
Spurs teammate Tom Huddlestone later said, “His versatility was probably a blessing and a curse, he was that good that he had to play out of position for a bit.”
After the appointment of manager Harry Redknapp, Modric was given a more familiar role as a central or left-sided midfielder, allowing him to have more influence on the team and use his footballing talent more productively – Modric flourished.
Before the 2009–10 season, Harry Redknapp said of Modric, “[He’s] a hell of a player and a manager’s dream, so I am told. He trains like a demon and never complains, will work with and without the ball on the field, and can beat a defender with a trick or with a pass. He could get into any team in the top four.”
On 30 May 2010, Modrić signed a new six-year contract that ran until 2016.
Upon signing, he said, “Tottenham Hotspur gave me my chance in the Premier League and I want to go on to achieve great success here with them. Yes, there have been inquiries from other big clubs, but I have no interest in going anywhere. Last season’s top-four finish was an indication of where we are as a club and I feel I can continue to improve and go on to achieve everything I want to at Spurs.”
The Chelsea move was blocked – Modric continues to grow
Luka Modric has revealed that Tottenham blocked his move to Chelsea in 2011 after he was invited for talks on Roman Abramovich’s superyacht.
The Blues came knocking for the Croatia international at the end of the 2010-11 campaign when he was named as Spurs’ player of the season.
But the chairman Daniel Levy stood firm by rejecting three bids from their London rivals, despite Modric being open to a move, and he stayed on for another season at White Hart Lane.
Modric was shining in Spurs during the 2010-11 season. After the draw against Manchester United at Hart lane in January 2011, Redknapp said “He was unbelievable. Magnificent. He’s an amazing footballer; the little man takes the ball in the tightest areas with people around him, wriggling out of situations. He could play in any team in the world.”
Modric helped Tottenham reach their first involvement in the UEFA Champions League.
In the first match, against Inter Milan at the San Siro, he exited the match early due to injury; Spurs lost 4–3, despite the tremendous efforts of Gareth Bale.
On the return match at home, Modric was given too much space to move and dictate the tempo of the match. He created and assisted for the first goal by Rafael van der Vaart in a 3–1 victory.
In the next match, against Werder Bremen, Modric scored the second goal.
After a scoreless draw against Milan, the Spurs were eliminated from the competition in the quarter-finals by Real Madrid.
Modric played 32 Premier League matches in the 2010–11 season, scoring three goals, recording two assists, and making the highest average number of passes per match for Spurs with 62.5 and an accuracy rate of 87.4%.
At the end of the season, Modric had been voted the Tottenham Hotspur Player of the Year. Then-Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson said he would have chosen Modric as his Player of the Year for that season.
Real Madrid noticed the brilliance of Modric and amid the heavy speculations of a move to Stamford Bridge, Florentino Perez never lost his sight on Modric.
On 27 August 2012, Real Madrid announced they had agreed on a deal with Tottenham for an approximate £30 million transfer fee.
Modric signed a five-year contract with the Spanish club.
Modric, speaking at a press conference in Madrid to announce his move, told a smattering of journalists: “I’m ready for everything. I’m going to work hard for the team, and hopefully, my qualities can bring success to the team.”
“I am proud and honoured to be here. I have trained and worked hard since Euro 2012. After a couple of games, I hope to be at my top-level form.”
“I believe I have what it takes to play here. I’ve got everything I need and I want to enjoy football and to learn.”
“It’s an honour to play for Real Madrid. It’s the best and the world’s greatest football club.”
Two days later, he made his Real Madrid debut against Barcelona in the second leg final of the 2012 Supercopa de Espana at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, replacing Mesut Ozil in the 83rd minute.
Madrid won the match, giving Modric his first trophy with the club 36 hours after his signing was announced.
The ups and down in Real Madrid
Despite his positive debut, Modric at first struggled to settle into the team under manager José Mourinho because of his lack of pre-season training, which he missed as a result of his ongoing transfer negotiations.
The presence of veteran midfielder Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira in defensive midfield, and Özil in offensive midfield, usually kept Modric out of the starting line-up, limiting him to substitute appearances. He mostly played out-of-position for his first few months at the club. He played his first UEFA Champions League match for Real Madrid in the group stage against Manchester City on 18 September, which Madrid won 3–2.
On November 3, 2012-13, Modric scored his first goal for Real Madrid in the last minute of their 4–0 victory over Real Zaragoza in La Liga.
Two weeks later, Modric assisted a Karim Benzema goal, which was eventually ruled an own goal by Jon Aurtenetxe, with a 50-meter cross-field pass. It was the first goal in a 5–1 victory over Athletic Bilbao.
His most notable match that year was in December when he assisted for the first two goals of Cristiano Ronaldo and Jose Callejon with cross-field passes in a 4–1 victory over Ajax in the group stage of the Champions League.
At the end of the year, he was voted as the worst signing of the season by Spanish newspaper Marca!
But Modric never gave up
In the El Clasico, 2013, from a corner kick, Modric assisted Sergio Ramos to score the winning goal in the 82nd minute, giving Real a victory.
Modric came on as a second-half substitute during the decisive Champions League knockout leg against ten-man Manchester United at Old Trafford. With Madrid behind by a goal, Modric equalized with a long-range shot from 25 yards out and played a key role in the rest of the match, which Real Madrid won 2–1, advancing them to the quarter-finals 3–2 on aggregate.
This match is often seen as the turning point in Modric’s career in Real Madrid.
Modric played as a starter in both Champions League semi-final matches against Borussia Dortmund. In the first leg, he played in the attacking midfield position where he did not influence the match and the team lost 4–1.
In the second leg 2–0 victory, Modric played as the deep-lying playmaker, making passes to the attackers and creating several chances; he was among the best-rated players that night.
From March 2013, Modric’s form and influence in the midfield continued to improve, distinguishing himself as a player with the most passes completed in his team.
The arrival of Carlo Ancelotti and La Decima
With the arrival of new manager Carlo Ancelotti, Modrić became one of the most frequent starters in the team, being partnered in midfield with Xabi Alonso to provide a balance of defence and attack.
He was consistently the team’s most efficient passer, averaging 90% accuracy in La Liga, and also having the most ball recoveries among the squad.
“He’s the head of midfield in a complicated environment. Every day in Madrid pressure is coming at you from all sides. Modrić not only withstands the pressure but has grown among it to be Madrid’s best player, with [Cristiano] Ronaldo,” Predrag Mijatovic praised Modric’s rising performance and significance for the team in January 2014.
He scored his first goal of the 2013–14 season in the last Champions League group match against Copenhagen, making it his fifth goal for the club, all five of which were scored from outside the penalty area.
Modric scored his first goal of the La Liga season in a 3–0 away win against Getafe, his sixth goal outside the penalty area.
Modric was on the pitch when Real Madrid won the 2013–14 Copa del Rey after defeating Barcelona 2–1 in the final.
In the first leg of the Champions League quarter-finals, Modric intercepted the ball and assisted Cristiano Ronaldo for the third goal in Real Madrid’s 3–0 home victory against Borussia Dortmund. The goal was ultimately decisive because Real went on to lose 2–0 in the second leg, but progressed with a marginal aggregate score of 3–2.
In his 100th appearance for the club, Modrić assisted for the first goal in the second leg 4–0 victory over Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-final, helping Real Madrid reach the final for the first time in 12 years.
He was included in UEFA’s Team of the Week for both legs of the semi-final.
In the final, Modric again assisted from a corner for teammate Sergio Ramos, who scored a 93rd-minute equalizer against local rivals Atletico Madrid. Real won 4–1 in extra time, marking the club’s tenth Champions League title, locally known as La Decima!
He was included in the UEFA Champions League Team of the Season and received the LFP award for the “Best Midfielder” of the Spanish first league of that season.
Becoming the best in the world
The World Cup campaign in Brazil was not good for Croatia and they were out of the competition from the group stages.
Changes came in Real Madrid as well.
For the 2015–16 season, Carlo Ancelotti was replaced by Rafael Benítez.
The arrival of Benitez was not welcomed by many and Real suffered, but Benitez never tweaked with the position of Modric and persisted with him in the central midfield.
Modric kept his form intact but Real were shrinking – Benitez was sacked and Zinedine Zidane arrived in the scene.
The relationship between them was noted in the media, with Modrić described as the “Master of the game” and the crucial “connector” of the defence and attack.
Zidane brought changes in the midfield – Casemiro joined at the defensive midfield area with Toni Kroos and Modric running the show from the central midfield positions.
With the departure of James Rodríguez to Bayern Munich, Modrić inherited the team’s coveted number 10 jersey for the new 2017–18 season, replacing his previous number 19 jersey.
Modric grew in stature and his vision, sharpness, and accuracy in passing and leadership qualities in the midfield benefited Real Madrid.
The Los Blancos won the Champions League three times in a row and the La Liga title once.
Modric elevated himself as one of the best midfielders in modern football.
Modrić was a regular in the starting line-up when the team won the 2015–16 Champions League final against Atletico Madrid. He was included in both Champions League, and La Liga’s team of the season. For the second time, he also received the LFP award for the “Best Midfielder” of the Spanish first league. He was for the second time included in the FIFA FIFPro World XI.
He won the 2016 FIFA Club World Cup with Real Madrid, receiving the Silver Ball for his performances during the tournament.
In January 2017, for the first time was included in the UEFA Team of the Year for 2016.
Modric was a regular starter when Real Madrid won the 2016–17 La Liga, as well as the 2016–17 UEFA Champions League, where he provided the assist for Cristiano Ronaldo’s second goal in the final against Juventus.
Modric was included in the Champions League team of the season and became the first Croatian to win the Champions League three times.
He also received the UEFA Club Football award for Best Midfielder of the Champions League season.
In the competition for the UEFA Men’s Player of the Year Award, he came fourth, while for the 2017 Ballon d’Or, fifth.
For the third time, he was also included in the FIFA FIFPro World XI.
In December 2017 FIFA Club World Cup with Real Madrid and received the Golden Ball award as the best player of the competition for his performance.
In the same month was for the second time included in the UEFA Team of the Year for 2017.
Modric was a regular starter when Real Madrid won the 2017–18 UEFA Champions League, starting in the final victory against Liverpool which saw Madrid win their third consecutive title.
For his performances throughout the campaign, Modrić was included in the Champions League team of the season for the third consecutive time.
He later received the UEFA Club Football Award for Best Midfielder of the Champions League season for the second consecutive time.
In July 2018, it was announced Modric’s Real Madrid jersey was the most requested jersey of the club after the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus.
The swan song in Russia
After the successful 2017-18 season with Real Madrid, it was time for Luka Modric to elevate his status as one of the best in the history of football and until and unless a player proves his worth in the FIFA World Cup, the ultimate accolades don’t come.
Croatia were placed in Group D along with the favourites Argentina and Lionel Messi and two tough nuts: Iceland and Nigeria.
Croatia started the tournament brightly with a victory against Nigeria and in the next match against Argentina; they thrashed Messi 3-0.
Modric scored a fantastic goal with his trademark long-range shot as Croatia advanced as the group leaders.
The Round of 16 and Quarterfinals were nail-biters but Croatia sustained.
They beat England in the semifinals, but could not get past France in the finals.
Modric was at his pristine best in Russia. He did everything except heading the ball.
He was quick, even at the age of 33. He ran all day and night. He had run 40 miles in the tournament before the final.
Under pressure, his composure was a gift – exploited his agility and quickness to get that yard of space he needed to make a pass, and he can did that over and over again, no matter who’s defending him.
But what’s always stood out and which was his decision-making on a field.
On the biggest stage, he showed how smart he could be and how people underrate his tackling abilities in crucial moments.
In Russia, Croatia needed someone who would take the flow of the game and unravel it. Who would steer the ship through the mass of bodies and would not only just make the correct decisions but, sometimes, make a decision that no one even thought of before – Modric was such!
He broke the deadlock, broke the passing lanes, and broke through all of a sudden while everyone was left thinking –the man is playing simple football.
Due to his club, and national team performance at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Modric received the Golden Ball, and in August and September Modric won the UEFA Men’s Player of the Year Award and The Best FIFA Men’s Player Award, while in December, he added the Ballon d’Or to his personal tally marking the first time since 2007 that the award was not won by Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.
“Not only is he a very hard worker, but he also has a good brain and he provided some calmness and composure to the midfield. His passing was neat and his contribution was outstanding. He was not only winning the ball, he was passing well. We thought that he was very influential. He did not just work hard, he made the other people play well around him,” Gerard Houllier said about Luka Modric.
In his life, he has seen the ups and downs, which have made him a warrior who is never willing to give up.
After the glorious journey in the World Cup 2018, the speculations over the career of the Croatian and Real Madrid midfielder – Luka Modric became a matter of concern, whereas, it was still too early to write-off one of the best central midfielders in the history of football.
He bounced back!
Whenever anyone would write him off, Modric would give them a fitting reply with scintillating performances.
Right now, Real Madrid can’t afford to lose him.
Note: Information gathered from Wikipedia