Now 33, newly-crowned UEFA Men’s Player of the Year Luka Modrić is in line to make his 100th appearance in UEFA club competition against Roma on Wednesday for Real Madrid; look on his works, ye mighty, and despair.
What they say
“He is the best player in Europe and he doesn’t have any more space at home for all the trophies he keeps receiving.”
Vedran Ćorluka, Croatia defender
“There is no way of looking at it in which [Modrić] doesn’t deserve the title of the best [Croatian] in history.”
Robert Prosinečki, former Croatia forward
“I see him as the most intelligent player in the world! I remember him from Dinamo. I was watching a game at the Maksimir and saw a little guy in blue playing just the way I used to. The creativity that he showed on the pitch then was amazing. I did not make a mistake, but it was hard to miss.”
Dragan Stojković, former Yugoslavia midfielder
“[He’s] a hell of a player and a manager’s dream… 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.”
Harry Redknapp, former Tottenham manager
“[Modrić and Andres Iniesta] are from a different planet and they came to play football with us mortals here. Both of them are among the best players ever in their positions. If I created a football team, I would have both of them. I thank God that I get to play with both of them.”
Ivan Rakitić, Barcelona and Croatia midfielder
International: 115 appearances, 14 goals
UEFA club competition: 99 appearances, 10 goals
Domestic competition: 487 appearances, 64 goals
Claims to fame
• Having been passed over by Dinamo’s arch-rivals Hajduk Split, Modrić bloomed with local club Zadar, where coach Tomislav Bašić helped mould him. “[His family] didn’t have money to buy Luka shirts or shinpads, so I made him some wooden ones,” Bašić remembered, though the player later refuted this, saying his first shinpads “had a picture of [Brazil’s] Ronaldo on them”.
• He was Player of the Season in Bosnia and Herzegovina when he was just 18. Loaned out after signing for Dinamo, Modrić toughened up by playing for Zrinjski and was the star of their 2003/04 campaign.
• He was Croatia’s young player of the year in 2004/05 after starring on loan at Inter Zaprešić; his side finished second in the table, with Dinamo down in seventh. He returned to Zagreb to sign a ten-year contract, helping his side win three successive titles (and two Croatian Cups) in the next three campaigns.
• Barcelona, Chelsea and Arsenal showed an interest in Modrić before Spurs boss Juande Ramos made the midfielder his first summer signing of 2008. Initially played out of position, he was criticised for his lack of physical clout, but shone when redeployed to central midfield under Harry Redknapp.
• Playing alongside future Real Madrid team-mate Gareth Bale, Modrić helped Spurs to become a real force in English football, playing UEFA Champions League football. However, he did not win any trophies at White Hart Lane. “I’ve spoken to Luka about this,” Bale said later. “We were there or thereabouts to win the league and we kind of just dipped at the end. When you look at the team we had at the time, we feel that we should have won something.”
• Signed in the summer of 2012 after Spurs had resisted selling him to Chelsea, Modrić was not an instant success: a vote on Marca‘s website had him as the worst signing of the year.
• José Mourinho perhaps never saw the best of him, but successive Madrid coaches were grateful for the Portuguese’s decision to sign him. “Modrić is one of my boys,” said Mourinho. “When I bought him to Real Madrid the Spanish press was saying that we bought the worst player in Real Madrid’s history; he is not at all the worst player in Real Madrid’s history.”
• Modrić’s domestic return has been relatively modest: one Liga title and one Spanish Cup. However, his European haul has been huge, with the 2017/18 success earning him a fourth UEFA Champions League winners’ medal.
• Was UEFA Men’s Player of the Year for 2017/18, edging out fomer club-mate Cristiano Ronaldo – who was gracious in defeat. “Cristiano sent me a message, congratulated me and told me he is happy for me and I deserved it,” Modrić said.
• Handed his senior debut in a 3-2 friendly win against Argentina in March 2006, the ‘Croatian Cruyff’ has played at three FIFA World Cups (2006, 2014 and 2018) as well as the last three EUROs. Captained his country for the first time in March 2015.
• Won the Golden Ball as he steered Croatia to their first major final at the World Cup in Russia, and was named Man of the Match three times en route to a 4-2 final loss to France.
• Modrić came back to Zadar with team-mates Šime Vrsaljko, Danijel Subašić and Dominik Livaković to celebrate their World Cup achievement in front of a huge crowd. The local hero said: “This is the most beautiful thing we could expect, and now I’m having a holiday. I don’t have any plans right now – just a holiday.”
What you might not know
• Modrić was born in a tiny village called Modrići to parents who worked in a knitwear factory, though he was forced to move to the city of Zadar during the Yugoslav Wars, during which his grandfather – another Luka Modrić – was killed. Ahead of the 2018 World Cup final, video footage emerged of the five-year-old Modrić shepherding goats in Croatia’s Velebit mountains.
• His family lived in Hotel Kolovare for several years, where Modrić learned his football skills, despite bombs falling on Zadar. “He played all day long and broke more windows than the bomb explosions,” remembered one receptionist.
• He is married (to Vanja) and has three children (son Ivano and daughters Ema and Sofia), and really does relish a quiet life, preferring a trip to the zoo with his family to nightclubbing. His closest friends are mostly from back in Croatia, and according to some reports, he spends all his holidays back in Zadar
• Gladiator is one of his favourite films. “I’ve watched Gladiator a lot of times,” he said ahead of the second leg of Spurs’ 2010/11 #UCL quarter-final decider against Real Madrid . “I won’t watch it again tonight as I’ll be watching Manchester United versus Chelsea, but we need to show a big spirit tomorrow – a fighting spirit like in that movie.”
• Since Ronaldo’s departure for Juventus, replica Modrić shirts have reportedly been the biggest sellers in the Real Madrid club shop.
What he says
“I have never doubted myself even if others did. I always believed I could get to where I am today and thank God this came true. You don’t have to be a giant to play football. I’m happy with where I am. I am happy with where I am and I never cared what anyone else said, it only further motivated me.”
“I don’t think any club is like [Real Madrid]. They ask so much from you and that forces you to always be at the top of your game. The pressure is huge here. But I’ve never had a problem with pressure, I like pressure, pressure pushes me to be better.”
“Everything is happening too fast. Maybe I have still not taken in what have I accomplished, what I actually did, but maybe it will come to me one day. I just keep trying to be better and better.”
“If I am somebody’s idol because of my accomplishments in football, that’s fantastic, I am proud of that. But you won’t hear me talking myself up; that’s for other people to say.”
What he might achieve yet
• Overtake Darijo Srna to become the Croatian with the most UEFA competition appearances; the former Shakhtar man made 146, which means Modrić (now 33) may need to play on for a few more years. Modrić has already made more UEFA Champions League (group stage to final) appearances than any of his countrymen (70).
• Become Croatia’s player of the year for a record seventh time; at the moment, he is tied on six wins with former Dinamo and Real Madrid star Davor Šuker.
• Match Cristiano Ronaldo’s record of five European titles in the UEFA Champions League era. He has four at the moment. Two more successes, meanwhile, would put him level with another Real Madrid record holder, Francisco Gento – the only player to win Europe’s top club competition six times.
• Break Croatia’s international caps record; at the moment, Modrić has 115: record-holder Srna set the target with 134.
• Win a major trophy with Croatia: he got to the final at the 2018 World Cup. Who’s to say he can’t go a step further at UEFA EURO 2020?