FOR all that he has won during his club career, Luka Modric has little to show for his achievements with Croatia. It’s at this World Cup where he’s really made his mark, and on Sunday he’s hoping to leave an indelible one. It was only on the third attempt that he was able to steer the Croats past the group stage. At 32, this is, in all probability his last to win it.
Croatia face France in the World Cup final here at the Luzhniki Stadium and Modric, the man who’s carried them to the final hopes to win the prize that has eluded some of the greatest players of his generation. Victory here and a Golden Ball – the award for the best player of the tournament – will follow. Maybe even the FIFA World Player of the Year award and the Ballon d’Or. “I want the success of the team, not individual distinctions,” said the Croatian captain at a news conference here at the Luzhniki Stadium on Saturday.
It would be a long-awaited success. Modric was a youngster in Croatia’s World Cup squad in 2006 but despite his role growing in the team, he couldn’t help them qualify in 2010 while the team didn’t live up to the expectations last time out. Croatia haven’t done much of note in the three European Championships during that time as well.
In Russia, though, he’s really been one of the stars where lots of big names flattered to deceive. And he’s amassed staggering numbers. He leads the tournament with 604-minute and 39-mile run. A contributing factor being that all three of Croatia’s knockout games have gone the full distance; two of them going to penalties. You can also attribute to him being ranked third in the tournament for the number of touches and fourth in passes completed.
But it’s the other statistics that really show how much of an influence he’s been; statistics that are remarkable considering the energy-sapping 120 minutes he’s played thrice. Modric is tied with Frenchman N’Golo Kante for most recoveries (48) while he leads the list for possession won in midfield (31). He’s also created 16 chances and has two goals and an assist to his name.
He’s won the final of the biggest club event a remarkable four times but on Sunday, he’s hoping to win the greatest prize of them all; one that has been won only by the all-time greats.
“We shouldn’t change anything,” he said on Saturday. “We need to relax and prepare exactly the same way as for the other matches. Everyone wants to win it.”
Behind this calm veneer is a story of epic struggle. At the outbreak of the Croatian War of Independence in 1990, Modric and his family were forced to become refugees when they had to flee their home when his grandfather was killed. On Saturday, He was asked how it shaped him.
“I don’t go back to those things,” he said. “I don’t like to go back to those things. It’s all in the past. However, of course everything influences you. I’ve seen a great deal of hardship.
The war made us resilient people as a nation. The most important thing is to never give up, never give in to circumstances, believe yourself and to soldier on no matter what’s in your way.”
At the beginning, Modric’s slight stature — standing 5ft 8in tall and weighing 66kg — came in the way of his dream of becoming a footballer. As a kid, Hajduk Split, one of Croatia’s top clubs, rejected him. “I ignored that,” he said. “I never doubted myself even if others did. You don’t have to be a giant to play football. You have to fight for your dreams and success and I always believed I could get where I am today.”
Modric is now at a World Cup final.
Published in Dawn, July 15th, 2018