Emerging from a war-torn childhood, and on the heels of a career blighted by a criminal case, Luka Modric made his way to the World Cup final this summer. What’s more, he’s capped off a dream season first with the FIFA World Player of the Year award in September and now the Ballon d'Or in Paris on Monday, 3 December.
Nobody knows much about the Croatian star but one thing is for sure: His struggles have made him a key member of the Croatian football team that saw an inspirational run at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, losing eventually to France in the title match.
The Croatian War of Independence
It was in the early years of the Croatian war of independence when Modric and his teammates Ivan Rakitic, Mario Mandzukic and Dejan Lovren fled their homes. While the teammates had found shelter in central Europe, Modric and his family had to stay in the refugee hotels of Zadar – a small city on Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast where the player was born.
"“We were always afraid, that’s what I remember the most. Thousands of grenades, fired from the surrounding hills, fell on the training pitch in those years, and we were always racing to reach the shelter. Football was our escape from reality.”" - Tomislav Basic, Coach at club NK Zadar, as told to a Canal Plus documentary
When Modric was six years old, his grandfather was murdered by the militia that had captured their area in 1991.
"“I’ve seen a great deal of hardship in my life. What is the most important is never to give up, never to give in to circumstances, to trust yourself. This was my motive, this is what led me to this point in my life.”" - Luka Modric, Croatia CaptainHeight Was Never a Setback
At 1.72 metres (5 foot 8 inches), Modric’s abilities were doubted early in his career because of his height. But that never stopped his greatness.
"“You don’t have to be a strapping lad to play football.”" - Luka Modric, Croatia Captain
The then coach at the First Division club NK Zadar Josip Bajlo remembers the six-year-old Modric as "this boy who used to kick the ball around the hotel parking lot all day. He was skinny and really small for his age, but you could see right away that he had that something special in him."
The Perjury Case
Modric was charged with perjury in March this year. The Real Madrid midfielder was suspected of making false statements at a tax fraud trial. In June 2017, he made a false statement of joining Tottenham Hotspurs from Croatian club Dinamo Zagreb in 2008.
The perjury trial could have ended with the Croatian facing five years of imprisonment, however, Modric stayed strong enough to deliver on performance on the pitch in the summer.
But on Monday, 3 December 2018, a Zagreb court dropped the charges against Modric. According to a court spokesman, there wasn’t enough evidence that Modric committed the criminal offence of perjury.
With this ruling, the case has come to a close.
‘Worst Signing for Los Blancos in 2012’
Luka is mostly known for his exceptional performance at Real Madrid, where his flexible role has helped the Spanish giants to secure numerous titles. But the Real Madrid midfielder was criticised by the club’s fans on his arrival in Madrid. His transfer from Tottenham was named the worst signing by Real Madrid supporters in December 2012. With Samir Khedira and Xabi Alonso in top form, Modric didn’t stand a chance of making it to the team sheet.
Croatia’s World Cup Run
After overturning his fortunes at the club and having played an instrumental part in Real winning the Champions League title in the last four out of five seasons, Modric was the hero the Croatian team needed.
Croatia, which has a population of just 4.7 million, had pinned its hopes on Modric to win the country’s first-ever World Cup title. And he did everything he could. Modric scored two goals and was crucial to Croatia’s performance in the knockout stages, in which the team came from behind to win three games.
Croatia lost the final 4-2 to France.
The midfielder was awarded the Golden Ball after being voted as the best player at the FIFA World Cup 2018.
"“This is maybe one of the best periods for Luka. He is playing the best football of his life.”" - Croatia coach, Zlatko Dalic.
The FIFA Player of the Year
On 24 September 2018 in London, Luka Modric broke a decade of award dominance by Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi to be crowned the world footballer of the year by FIFA.
Modric was voted FIFA's best player in the 2017-18 season after winning the Champions League for a fourth time in five seasons with Real Madrid and leading Croatia to its first World Cup final.
Messi and Ronaldo were the only winners of world football's coveted award since 2008, with both winning five titles each.
After receiving the award, the 33-year-old had said that he was thankful to all his coaches for getting him to this stage in his career.
"This award is not just mine. It is my teammates from Real Madrid and Croatia. Without my coaches, I would not have won this and without my family, I would not be the player I am today," Modric had said.
Wins Ballon d’Or Too
Modric continued his supreme reign over the duopoly of Ronaldo and Messi as he claimed the 2018 Ballon d'Or in Paris on Monday, 3 December.
Modric beat Ronaldo, Frenchman Antoine Griezmann and another France World Cup winning member Kylian Mbappe in the vote. Messi finished fifth.
Founded in 1956 by France Football magazine, the Ballon d'Or honours the player with the best performance over the year based on voting by football journalists. It was merged with FIFA World Player of the Year into FIFA Ballon d'Or in 2010, before the two awards were separated again in 2016.
"As a kid, we all have dreams. My dream was to play for a big club and win important trophies," Modric said. "The Ballon d'Or was more than just a dream for me and it is really an honour and a privilege to hold this trophy,” Modric said in Paris.
Modric was also voted the UEFA Men's Player of the Year in 2018.
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