Underestimate Modri? and Croatia At Your Own Peril, They Thrive On It
World Cup 2018
Later today, Luka Modri? will step into the majestic Luzhniki Stadium to captain his national team in a World Cup Final - the pinnacle of any footballer’s career.
It is in fact, a first ever World Cup Final for Croatia, who will face Euro 2016 Finalists, France. Their last encounter in a World Cup twenty years ago. Coincidentally, also the last time Croatia progressed beyond the group stage.
It was Croatia’s World Cup debut as an independent nation (formerly part of SFR Yugoslavia). Davor Suker, Golden Boot Winner that year, spearheaded the “golden generation” to the semi-final. Their best performance at a World Cup, till now.
As the major footballing nations exited this year’s tournament one-by-one, 32-year-old Modri? captained a quiet assault, inspiring Croatia’s second “golden generation” to win every match on the way to the Final.
One man short of a full squad (Nikola Kalinic was sent home on disciplinary grounds after the first game), the knock-out stages tested the Croat mettle. Enduring three consecutive extra-time periods, they came back from behind in to win each match.
Victories over Denmark and Russia were decided by penalty shoot-out. A Mario Mand'uki? 109th-minute winner decided the semi-final, dashing England’s hopes.
Modri? later criticised the English media:
"English journalists, pundits from television, they underestimated Croatia and that was a huge mistake…they should be more humble and respect more opponents. All these words from them we take, we were reading, and we were saying, 'OK, today we will see who will be tired'."
Croatia has been the epitome of resilience, achieving a feat none expected at the outset of the tournament. This durability and doggedness are embodied in their talisman – no stranger to adversity himself.
Luka Modri? was born 9th September 1985 in Modri?i, SR Croatia – at the time a republic within SFR Yugoslavia. He was six-years-old when the Croatian War of Independence began. His grandfather was executed by Croatian Serb rebels and his family home burned down.
The Modri? family took refuge in hotels of Zardar – approximately thirty miles west of their village. In this war zone often peppered with grenades, a young Luka was seen kicking a football in the hotel car park for days on end.
As a teenager, he was rejected by local club Hajduk Split – considered to be “too small and weak”. Instead, he joined rivals Dinamo Zagreb. At the age of eighteen, Modri? was loaned to Zrinjski Mostar in the Bosnia and Herzegovina Premier League – noted for its brutal nature.
The young playmaker spoke of it:
“Someone who can play in the Bosnian league can play anywhere.”
In 2005 he signed a ten-year deal with Dinamo Zagreb.
At the age of twenty-two, Modri? took the plunge into the Premier League, joining Tottenham Hotspur. In a slow start cursed with injury, the doubters re-emerged – once again calling in to question his stature.
"Critics push you forward to show people they are wrong. Maybe I look lightweight, but I am a really strong person mentally and physically, and I never had any problems with my size."
He was crucial in helping Harry Redknapp’s side to their first jaunt in the UEFA Champions League. They were eliminated by Real Madrid in the quarterfinals.
The following season, 2012, Los Blancos signed the mercurial midfielder for themselves. After a tricky first season, struggling for place José Mourinho’s starting line-up, he has gone on to play a regular role for the Galacticos, winning the La Liga title, multiple Champions Leagues and many more.
For the odds he has overcome and his achievements on the pitch, Luka Modri? is still facing adversity off it.
In June 2018, former Dinamo Zagreb executive director Zdravko Mami? was sentenced to six-and-a-half years for embezzlement and tax evasion. In March 2018 Modric was charged with perjury after appearing to change his statements as a witness in the trial. He faces a five-year-sentence if found guilty.
Ever since, his reputation has been shrouded in suspicion - Croatia is divided. Whilst receiving abuse and threats from a section fed-up with corruption in Croatian football, others including the Croatian Football Federation has backed him.
Modri? remained resolute when addressing the judge:
"I came here to state my defence and tell the truth, like every time so far. My conscience is clear".
By the time Modri? was celebrating the semi-final win, he had run further, played more minutes and been awarded more Man of the Match accolades than anyone in the tournament – making him a literal driving force for Croatia.
Some of his contemporaries were the focal point in their team. Expected to receive the ball and simply conjure up a goal. Meanwhile Modri? acts as a catalyst that elevates the team – serving them, as opposed to them serve him.
Should he help Croatia to victory in the Final, the Real Madrid player will be favourite to collect the coveted Ballon d’Dor. If so – it would be the first time the World Cup, Champions League and Ballon d’Or have been won by a single player in the same year.
Having played far more minutes with less time to prepare, Croatia is the underdog against a superior French team. But this is just how Modri? and his teammates like it. They have been here before. Underestimate them at your own peril, they thrive on it.