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War, poverty and tattered footballs: The remarkable story of Luka Modric’s humble upbringing

From a tiny village in Zadar to the shining on the world's biggest stage

On Monday night Luka Modric was named the world’s best male player at FIFA’s ‘The Best’ awards in London.

An accolade fully deserved after a wonderful year both for Real Madrid and his national team.

During his acceptance speech, the fair haired Croatian gave a nod to his upbringing.


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The best

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The best

“This trophy is also for my family, without whom I would not be the player and person that I am,” he said.

A generic acceptance line, we know.

But for this particular man, that statement carries more significance than most.

A family affair

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A family affair

Modric was born on the 9th of September 1985 in Zadar, a coastal region of what was previously Yugoslavia, now Croatia.

The promising talent grew up in a small village called Modrici. It was common for a family name to be the same as the villages.

Both his parents worked in textiles during a period of poverty, war and religious genocide.

Modric as a young prodigy

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Modric as a young prodigy

Political and religious tensions and the struggle for land caused possibly the most inhumane acts of war since WW2.

A war that civilians couldn’t hide from, with mass execution occurring throughout the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Hardly an ideal environment to raise a child.

While his parents were working, a young Modric would spend most of his days with his Grandfather. The man effectively raising him by himself.

They were making the most out of a horrendous situation.

Fashion icon

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Fashion icon

That all changed on the 18th of December 1991. Two months after the formation of Croatia, Serbian soldiers murdered residents of Modrici who were yet to flee.

Among the six murdered were Luka’s grandfather, and in many respects his father figure.

Following the attacks, Modric’s parents fled to Zadar where there was a refugee camp set up in a hotel. This is where young Luka would spend a lot of his upbringing.

The hotel ‘Iz’ had no electricity and no running water, and was where Modric spent many years of his childhood.

A solemn face after the World Cup final

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A solemn face after the World Cup final

The future Spurs and Real Madrid superstar would take his tattered football in to the hotel carpark and kick it around by himself, trying to drown out the sounds of surrounding gunfire, grenades and landmines.

Clearly still mentally scarred, when asked about his upbringing in 2008, Modric said, “I remember it vividly but it’s not something you want to remember.”

His most prized possession at the time? A pair of shin pads with the Brazilian Ronaldo’s image printed on them.

His dream to become a star playing football took an early blow when his childhood team, Hajduk Split, claimed he was too small and didn’t take him on.

Luka Modric arrives to court to give evidence in Zdravko Mamic's trial

AFP
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Luka Modric arrives to court to give evidence in Zdravko Mamic’s trial

Not to be deterred, Modric persisted with his dream and ended up with Dinamo Zagreb’s youth setup.

He made his debut in 2005 and went on to win three consecutive titles, as well as being named player of the year in Croatia in 2007.

His sparkling form in Croatia earned him a move to Spurs in 2008.

He quickly became an icon at Spurs

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He quickly became an icon at Spurs

After four years at Spurs, taking them to the Champions League for the first time in 50 years, Modric’s form did not go unnoticed. Chelsea were desperate for the midfield’s signature.

Modric was Tottenham’s player of the season in the 2010/2011 season.

However it was Real who eventually lured him away from north London in a deal worth £33million.

Luka Modric has warned James Rodriguez not to leave Real Madrid

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The best midfielder in the world

Since his arrival at Real Madrid, Modric has gone from strength-to-strength winning the European cup four times. He was in the Champions League team of the season for each of those triumphs.

He has also been in the FIFA World Pro XI the past four years.

The bug-eyed technician was named player of the tournament at the World Cup this summer after captaining his Croatian team to a World Cup final. The first in their short history.

So it should come as no surprise that the midfield magician has walked away with the ‘Best’ award this year.

He has grown and grown as a player and is now rightly considered as one of the very best.

Croatia internationals Mateo Kovacic and Luka Modric with Champions League

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Three wins in three years

Only Modric himself knows the hardship he has endured to become what he has today, saying on Monday evening, “This award shows that we all can become the best with hard work, dedication and belief. All dreams can come true.”

Once again, something you may hear at the Grammys or Oscars, although with Modric you get the impression he really did have to overcome a hell of a lot more than most to get to where he is today.

Well done, Luka.


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