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Luka Modric: From a Refugee to Europe's Best Player

ANALYST
Feature
700   //    31 Aug 2018, 14:00 IST

Luka Modric: UEFA Men's Player of the Year 2017-18
Luka Modric: UEFA Men's Player of the Year 2017-18

30th of August, 2018 - A ceremony attended by the footballing world's greats, gathered to watch the draw of the Champions League, saw a Croatian being crowned as Europe's Best Football Player of 2017-18. Just over a month ago, the same Croatian was inches away from a World Cup triumph, but not all miracles have happy endings.

It has been nothing less of a miracle for Luka Modric, captaining his country's national football team to the FIFA World Cup 2018 Final and to be declared UEFA Men's Player of the Year 2017-18. Luka's story is a story everyone deserves to hear. His story is one of rags to riches. From Hardships to Hala Madrid - this is a take on the story of Real Madrid's unsung hero, Luka Modric.


The Refugee

Zadar, Croatia - Modric's birthplace
Zadar, Croatia - Modric's birthplace

Modric was born in Zadar, a coastal city in the Yugoslavian Republic of Croatia. Both his parents were factory workers, and Luka, the oldest of the children, spent most of his childhood at his grandfather's house until the Croatian War of Independence started. During the war, Luka's grandfather was killed in front of their house, by some rebels. After this incident, Luka's family had to flee their home and had to live as refugees in a hotel in Zadar for 7 painful years.

Often asked about his time as a refugee, Luka Modric has always had a simple reply. He said that the period was tough, but it shaped his thoughts and changed his perspective. Football was the only way that he could escape the poverty and hardship, and that's when he started playing in the parking lot of the hotel he stayed in. He eventually joined a primary school and a sporting academy, which later on paid for his footballing career. 


The Croatian Football Hope of the Year

Luka Modric playing for Dinamo Zagreb
Luka Modric playing for Dinamo Zagreb

When he was 16 years old, he was spotted by Football Club NK Zadar's Head of Youth Academy, Tomislav Bašić. Modric considers Bašić as his footballing father. Bašić arranged Luka's transfer to Dinamo Zagreb, the biggest club in Croatia. But, as a 16-year-old, Luka was immediately loaned out to a club in Bosnia & Herzegovina, where he performed so well, he was awarded the Croatian Football Hope of the Year (2004) award.

For the next season, Luka was recalled by Dinamo Zagreb to play for the first team and that's when he signed a massive 10-year contract with the club. With the earnings, he bought his family their first home after the war, in Zadar.

In his four year tenure at Dinamo Zagreb, he won the Croatian league multiple times and also led the team to the UEFA Cup competition in 2007-08. Dinamo Zagreb did not go past the group stages, but after the last game, Modric was given a standing ovation by the whole crowd of Dinamo Zagreb supporters. That was the time when opportunities came knocking - Interest from European giants Barcelona, Arsenal & Chelsea. But Modric's life had other plans. 


The Englishman

Modric for Tottenham Hotspur
Modric for Tottenham Hotspur

Luka Modric signed for Tottenham Hotspur on a 6-year contract in 2008 equalling the club record fee of 16.5 Million Pounds. He made his debut in a 2-1 defeat at Middlesbrough in the Barclays Premier League. His first season in the Premier League was daunted by a knee injury and even after recovering he couldn't initially match the intensity of the Premier League. He was labelled as a lightweight in a heavyweight league by former Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger.

And then there was the turning point of his Tottenham career. Harry Redknapp was appointed as head coach at Spurs. He immediately recognised Modric's potential. He was then given the central midfield position by the manager where he could develop his game. And he did not disappoint.

Modric helped Tottenham reach the UEFA Champions League, and Tottenham rocked the Champions League with tremendous efforts by Modric's team-mate Gareth Bale. Modric was usually the player to dictate the team's tempo. Modric and Bale had successful years together at Tottenham, until the Winter Transfer window of the 2011-12 season.

Modric was heavily pursued by Tottenham's City rivals, Chelsea, which saw Tottenham reject bids for Modric worth 27 Million Pounds. Eventually, the Chelsea interest fell through, and the season ended with Modric still being one of the key players of the Tottenham team.

That was the last season Modric played in a Spurs jersey. 


The Galactico

Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid - UEFA Super Cup
Modric playing for Real Madrid

The beginning of the 2012-13 season saw Real Madrid sign Luka Modric on a 5-year contract for a fee reportedly around 30 Million Pounds plus add-ons. In an 8 year long career, from Dinamo Zagreb to Tottenham and then Tottenham to Real Madrid, it had been a big experience for the once refugee from Croatia.

Modric won his first trophy as a Real Madrid Player just 36 hours after he was announced as a part of the Los Blancos, in a win against Barcelona in the Supercopa de Espana. Early into his Madrid career, he was kept out of the starting lineup, thanks to veteran midfielder Xabi Alonso and the Germans - Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil. But, soon as Xabi Alonso's descent began due to his age, and Sami Khedira failed to be consistent with his form, Modric started gaining first-team experience.

Since then, for the last 7 years now into 2019, Luka Modric has never been left out of the starting lineup in 99% of Real Madrid's games. Hailed as a wizard by his Madrid team-mates, Modric has scored important goals and given thunderous performances to help the Madrid side, one of them notably being the winner at Old Trafford on Cristiano's return 'back home', and numerous other outstanding performances in the El Clasico against Barcelona.

Luka Modric has been for Real Madrid, what Andres Iniesta has been for FC Barcelona. Thanks to him, the midfield battle in El Clasico has never looked one-sided owing to Iniesta's capabilities.

Modric is a part of the Real Madrid side which is on a winning spree for a few seasons now, winning the La Decima, and then going on to win three Champions League trophies in a row. One of the important parts of his game has also been his reunion with his Spurs team-mate and friend Gareth Bale, who followed him to Real Madrid in 2013 in an 86 Million Pound transfer which is the Real Madrid club record fee, till date. 


World Cup 2018 & Europe's Best Player

France v Croatia - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Final
Modric in FIFA World Cup, 2018

Luka Modric was the captain of a Croatian side which was drawn against a difficult World Cup group with Argentina. A Modric led Croatia thumped a Lionel Messi inspired Argentina 3-0 and stunned the world by finishing above Argentina in the group stages. Croatia never looked in doubt winning game after game in the knockout phases and beat England in an extra time thriller Semi-Final to book a spot in the World Cup Final.

In a tournament which never seemed to have counted Croatia as favourites to even bypass the quarter-final mark, due to the presence of heavyweights like Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Spain and France, Croatia was in the World Cup Final. But destiny did not have sweet plans for the Croatian side.

France beat Croatia 4-2 in the World Cup 2018 Final, and the Croatians were left heartbroken. Luka Modric was awarded the Player of the Tournament which boasted the likes of Eden Hazard, Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe. Modric cried throughout the presentation ceremony but just managed to hide his emotions upon receipt of the award. During the runners-up medal ceremony, he again broke down, and the Croatian President tried to console him by wiping tears off his face.

Post World Cup, The Croatian team was given a hearty homecoming by the people of Croatia. They were applauded and appreciated and were compared to the 1998 Croatian side which had raised the bars of Croatian performances on the World Cup stage.

On 30th of August, 2018, in the UEFA Champions League Draw & Awards ceremony, Luka Modric was awarded the Men's Player of the Year award for helping Real Madrid win it's third Champions League in a row by his outstanding performances.

Luka Modric is a perfect example of why we should never give up on our dreams. His story, from seeing his grandfather killed by rebels to being a refugee, and from playing football to support his family to becoming one of the legends of the game, is nothing short of a fairytale coming true in today's reality.

There is no doubt Luka Modric will be remembered forever as one of the game's best players, long after his career will be over. Until then, Hala Madrid.

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