Modric, from Croa­t­ian war child to Ballon d’Or win­ner

Modric’s grand­fa­ther was killed by Serb forces, the house was burned and the fam­ily had to flee to Zadar

Gulf Times Sport - - FOOTBALL -

Luka Modric’s jour­ney from Croa­t­ian war child to the world’s best foot­baller was cel­e­brated on Mon­day night when the Real Madrid mid­fielder hoisted the Ballon d’Or. A na­tional hero in his home coun­try and crowned the best player on the planet, Modric was re­warded for his key role in Croa­tia’s his­toric run to the World Cup fi­nal and his club Real Madrid’s third straight Cham­pi­ons League tro­phy.

“It’s a unique feel­ing. I’m happy, proud and hon­oured,” said Modric, who also won the FIFA Player of the Year award in Septem­ber.

The star-stud­ded Paris cer­e­mony could hardly be fur­ther re­moved from Modric’s early years as a child refugee, flee­ing the burned-out shell of a re­mote Croa­t­ian cot­tage where he spent part of his child­hood.

Hid­den in the folds of Velebit moun­tain, with the near­est neigh­bours sev­eral kilo­me­tres away, trees now grow in­side the roof­less ruin and a sign warns of “Mines — Keep out!” The player’s grand­fa­ther, also named Luka, lived in the house, ly­ing on a moun­tain road wind­ing through the Mo­drici ham­let.

His grand­fa­ther was killed by Serb forces, the house was burned and the fam­ily fled to the coastal town of Zadar, some 40 kilo­me­tres (19 miles) away. It was there that Modric, born in 1985, be­gan his foot­balling odyssey, draw­ing at­ten­tion for the first time to his bud­ding abil­i­ties.

“I heard about a lit­tle hy­per­ac­tive boy con­stantly play­ing with a foot­ball in the cor­ri­dor of a refugee ho­tel, even go­ing to sleep with it,” said Josip Ba­jlo, who was then coach at the First Divi­sion club NK Zadar. As soon as Ba­jlo saw Modric play he signed him up for the club’s foot­ball school, where he im­me­di­ately stood out. “He was an idol to his gen­er­a­tion, a leader, a favourite,” Ba­jlo said ear­lier this year.

The 1991-1995 war with Serb rebels, dur­ing which Zadar and the sur­round­ing re­gion were heav­ily shelled, tough­ened Modric, ac­cord­ing to those close to him. “It hap­pened a mil­lion times that we were go­ing to train­ing as the shells were fall­ing, and we were run­ning to shel­ters,” said child­hood friend Mar­i­jan Bul­jat, who trained and played with Modric while grow­ing up.

Modric left Zadar, where he re­mains a leg­end, for Di­namo Za­greb in 2000 and then joined English Pre­mier League club Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur in 2008. Af­ter a bid­ding war he was snapped up by Real Madrid in 2012.

But his pop­u­lar­ity in Croa­tia and his im­age as a mod­est fam­ily man was tar­nished by his tes­ti­mony last year dur­ing the multi-mil­lion-euro cor­rup­tion trial of for­mer Di­namo Za­greb chief Zdravko Mamic. Modric’s tes­ti­mony sup­ported Mamic’s case against al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion, an­ger­ing many fans who saw the trial as a chance to clean up the cor­rup­tion-rid­den sport.

Pros­e­cu­tors even­tu­ally charged Modric in March for giv­ing false ev­i­dence, but dropped the case on Mon­day due to a lack ev­i­dence. Any lin­ger­ing anger against Modric had evap­o­rated long ago, how­ever, af­ter he bril­liantly in­spired Croa­tia to their first World Cup fi­nal last sum­mer.

De­spite the 4-2 de­feat by France, more than 500,000 peo­ple gave cap­tain Modric and his team a heroic wel­come on their re­turn to Za­greb.


Real Madrid’s Luka Modric poses with his wife and kids af­ter win­ning the Ballon d’Or award in Paris on Mon­day night.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Qatar

© PressReader. All rights reserved.