World Player Of The Year

World Soccer - - 2018 Awards Results -

The cover of World Soc­cer’s March 2017 is­sue fea­tured Luka Mo­dric with the line “The World’s Best Mid­fielder?” The Croa­t­ian’s per­for­mances for Euro­pean Champions Real Madrid had been cru­cial to his club’s suc­cess, but the media spot­light had all too of­ten fallen upon his more head­line-hun­gry team­mates, no­tably Cris­tiano Ron­aldo.

The ques­tion mark is no longer needed. Not only has Mo­dric been the world’s best mid­fielder over the past 12 months, his el­e­va­tion to the sta­tus of best player on the planet is now com­plete.

His role in help­ing Madrid to a fourth Champions League in five sea­sons would have been enough to make him a con­tender for the World Player of the Year award, along­side the likes of peren­nial win­ners Ron­aldo and Li­onel Messi. But it was in help­ing raise Croa­tia to the sta­tus of World Cup run­ners-up that saw him over­take the Por­tuguese and Ar­gen­tinian, both of whom failed to live up to ex­pec­ta­tions on the world’s big­gest stage last sum­mer.

The Croa­tia team of 1998, which lost to France in the World Cup semi-fi­nals in Paris, ar­guably con­tained more nat­u­ral tal­ent in the shape of Zvon­imir Boban, Robert Prosi­necki, Da­vor Suker, Robert Jarni et al. But that mem­o­rable side has been sur­passed by the class of 2018, or­ches­trated and di­rected by Mo­dric.

As Spain, Ger­many, Ar­gentina and Brazil fell by the way­side in Rus­sia, Mo­dric was the man who lifted his team to a higher level. His tal­ents, both cre­ative and phys­i­cal, al­lowed his team-mates to flour­ish. With long pin­point passes as well as sharp, com­pet­i­tive chal­lenges, his full range of qual­i­ties was on dis­play.

It is rare for a player to star for both

club and coun­try in the same sea­son but only a few weeks af­ter he had cel­e­brated win­ning the Champions League with Real Madrid in Kiev, Mo­dric was named the best player of the World Cup.

He still re­grets the French vic­tory in the Fi­nal and says: “The sec­ond goal [An­toine Griez­mann’s penalty ] was a turn­ing point. We were sur­prised it was given be­cause of the free-kick the ref­eree gave for the first goal which wasn’t a free-kick in my opin­ion.

“We re­cov­ered af­ter the first goal and when we played our best foot­ball he gave a penalty and it kills you.

“I think we were un­lucky to lose. We played well and I think we were the bet­ter team but some­times bet­ter teams don’t win. We have to be proud with how we played but it wasn’t enough to win it.”

Croa­tia are the lat­est in a long line of east Euro­pean coun­tries who have been raised from the pack by an ex­tra­or­di­nary in­di­vid­ual: Bul­garia with Hristo Sto­ichkov, Ghe­o­rghe Hagi’s Ro­ma­nia, the Ukraine of An­driy Shevchenko.

Mo­dric is Croa­tia’s great­est-ever player and ar­guably the best to have emerged from the re­gion of the for­mer Yu­goslavia, yet his mod­esty is dis­arm­ing.

When ques­tioned about the house he had built in his adopted home­town of Zadar, he replied: “Peo­ple ask me why it’s only a mini villa. They want to know why it’s so small. There’s only four of us [wife Vanja, son Ivano and daugh­ter Ema]. What are we sup­posed to do with the five or six rooms we don’t use?”

Zadar, on Croa­tia’s Adri­atic coast, is where the Mo­dric clan – Luka, fa­ther Stipe, mother Rado­jka and younger sis­ter Jas­mina – sought refuge dur­ing the Yu­goslav civil war in the early 1990s. They had been forced to flee their home on the slopes on the Velebit moun­tains in north­ern Dal­ma­tia fol­low­ing the mur­der by Serb paramil­i­taries of Luka’s grand­fa­ther.

Luka was only six at the time and the fam­ily were housed in one of the largest ho­tels in the town, the Kolo­vare. But there was lit­tle respite from the war, as Zadar came un­der con­stant Serb bom­bard­ment by both land and sea. It was while kick­ing a ball along the cor­ri­dors of the ho­tel that the young­ster came to the at­ten­tion of lo­cal club NK Zadar.

Train­ing ses­sions of­ten came un­der fire from mor­tar at­tacks but Zadar nur­tured the young Mo­dric, de­spite his diminu­tive frame and lack of stature.

A ma­jor set­back came in the form of re­jec­tion by Ha­j­duk Split when aged 12. But the head of the Zadar youth academy, Tomis­lav Ba­sic, en­cour­aged him to keep the faith, work­ing with him to im­prove his frag­ile physique.

“With­out him, I wouldn’t be where I am now,” Mo­dric says of Ba­sic, who died in 2014.

Croa­tia’s lead­ing club Di­namo Za­greb signed him at the age of 16 and two years later, in the sum­mer of 2003, he headed for Bos­nian club Zrin­jski Mostar on loan, a move that proved to be his mak­ing.

He learnt how to be a mid­field all­rounder in Bos­nia and was voted the league’s best player, aged just 18.

Af­ter an­other loan spell, at Croat first-divi­sion side In­ter Zapresic, he was ready for Di­namo, where his per­for­mances would at­tract at­ten­tion from Europe’s elite clubs. In the end, Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur beat a host of Euro­pean heavy­weights, in­clud­ing Barcelona, to his sig­na­ture, sign­ing him for £16.5mil­lion in 2008.

The trans­fer to Eng­land from Za­greb would later come back to haunt Mo­dric when he was charged in 2018 with per­jury for pro­vid­ing false tes­ti­mony in the trial of Zdravko Mamic, the allpow­er­ful for­mer Di­namo ex­ec­u­tive who had al­legedly si­phoned off money from deals in­volv­ing a num­ber of Croa­tia in­ter­na­tion­als, in­clud­ing Mo­dric and fel­low in­ter­na­tional De­jan Lovren, who was also charged.

Charges against Mo­dric were dropped in Oc­to­ber, but not be­fore the case had dam­aged his rep­u­ta­tion back home.

Now in his seventh sea­son with Madrid, Mo­dric has a con­tract un­til 2020, when he will turn 35.

A ru­moured con­tract extension, re­port­edly promised af­ter he re­jected a post World Cup move to In­ter­nazionale, has not yet ma­te­ri­alised.

For the mo­ment, how­ever, Luka Mo­dric has more than enough to cel­e­brate.

Winner...with the 2018 Champions League tro­phy

Threat...trou­bling Liver­pool in Kiev Pride...rep­re­sent­ing his coun­try in Rus­sia in the sum­mer

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