Luka Modric will be remembered as one of the greatest players of his generation.
In 2018, he upset the Ballon d'Or monopoly enjoyed by Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo by becoming only the third different player in over a decade to receive the award. But his success is built upon more than sporting ability.
It has not been a vintage performance at the tournament from the 2018 World Cup finalists. But there is a desire deep within the group when it comes to representing their country, and Modric is the leader behind this cultural inspiration.
Success formed from a brutal past
Small in stature but a giant at heart, the spirit of Croatia burns deep within Modric, and the quiet characteristics of his personality should not be mistaken for any form of weakness. His deep voice may not match his physical appearance, but it offers a small window into his soul. A spirit shaped by the brutalities of war.
It is well-documented that Modric was raised during the Croatian War of Independence, and how the grandfather that he was named after and helped shape his work ethic and character was killed by Serbian rebels in cold daylight.
Only six years old, the young Modric had been exposed to more personal trauma than many experience in a lifetime as his family escaped and fled to Zadar as refugees.
While Modric was still too young to understand the brutalities of war, the emotional scars had been imprinted upon him. However, his response would not be to fight for his country as Croatia became an independent nation with bullets, but to define a sporting movement that would bring pride and hope to the millions of children born into families devastated by war.
Football was Modric's calling in life. From making his name with Dinamo Zagreb and Tottenham Hotspur to restoring Real Madrid's domestic and European greatness, Modric has maintained a calculated calmness and maturity throughout his club career that resonates with his character and style of play.
He understands his duty to achieve success for his family, especially grandfather Luka.
The spirit of Croatia
But it is in the colors of Croatia that a different passion and spirit is emitted from Modric.
Technical brilliance remains and will ultimately define him when his career is remembered long after his retirement. But what cannot be statistically quantified is how his dedication to his country inspires the performances that have taken them over and above the level of expectancy during his time.
Reaching the World Cup final in 2018 was the realization of a prophecy formed on the parking lots of the hotels where Modric and his fellow refugees would play small-sided games against the backdrop of war.
Their sporting dreams were their only distraction from the harsh realities of life. It was the hope of a better tomorrow that inspired this generation.
Luka Modric – The leader of a nation
When Modric walked out onto the field to face France as Croatia's captain at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on 15 July 2018, it was a moment that brought together all of the pain, suffering, hope and belief.
This was not a sporting contest, a match between two teams. This was a nation standing strong and proud against the adversity that Modric had witnessed from the very beginning.
From experiencing the trauma and devastation of war first-hand, Modric was leading a bright future. His nation looked to the national team as a collective source of celebration, an ideology that Croatia could experience glory that generations before had never thought possible. The entire nation looked to Modric.
As the captain of this Croatian team, Modric is the figure who can turn dreams into reality, when 30 years ago he was one of many young refugees dreaming of an escape to a better life.
It is a heavy weight for any individual to carry, but it is a status that Modric has embraced in the knowledge that this was a dream he shared with his people.
Modric will turn 36 later this year, and his time at the very top of the European game will soon come to an end.
There is a hurt associated with the 2018 World Cup final defeat that will inspire him to continue with the national team for another couple of years. However, Euro 2020 could be his final chance to perform at his very best on the biggest stage.
A unique hero
When Modric does make the decision to retire, it will mark the end of an era for the Croatian national team. His leadership, spirit and desire cannot be emulated, because it comes from a dark place in his personal past. But he can be replaced as Croatia continues its journey into a future no longer defined by war.
For now, we must appreciate the opportunity to witness Modric and what he brings not just to Croatia, but to the sport as a whole. A brilliant footballer, but with a dedication to his country forged through horrifying circumstances that continue to act as an inspiration.
With this spirit, Croatia can once again defy the odds this summer.