first_img Read more Share via Email Read more Croatia’s Luka Modric: ‘It is only right there are great expectations of us’ Share on Pinterest Share on Twitter The less clued-up reporters watching on from the press box double check the player’s name on the team sheet: Luka Modric. Plays for Dinamo Zagreb. Definitely one to keep an eye on. Could be a serious talent. Which is precisely what he became.A little under 11 years on, Modric remains small and wiry but professionally he is now a giant: a four-times Champions League winner with Real Madrid and the captain of his country as they face Denmark on Sunday in their first World Cup last-16 tie in two decades. Modric has impressed in Russia and is key to Croatia’s hopes of progressing. From an individual point of view, these finals also offer the 32-year-old a chance to establish himself as the finest midfielder on the planet.It is somewhat odd that Modric is not spoken of in those terms already. He has been a key cog in the most successful European club team of the past 10 years and is a player whose ability to dictate the tempo of top-level matches with brain as well as feet cannot be beaten. There have been others of a similar ilk, most notably Xavi and Andrés Iniesta, but they have at least been fully recognised for their brilliance. Modric operates in relative darkness, passing, moving and gobbling up winner’s medals with barely a nod of approval in his direction.In part that is down to Modric’s unassuming nature. He is a subtle operator who physically gets lost among the game’s honed and toned superstars. As Barney Ronay once put it in the Guardian, Modric resembles a “small boy dressed up as a witch”, but the talent is undeniable and now, on the greatest stage of all, comes a chance to lift himself above the crowd.“We are all football lovers and we know Modric is an incredible player,” said Dejan Lovren on behalf of his Croatia teammates, all of whom leant heavily on the man with No 10 on his back as they went about topping Group D with a 100% record to head into Sunday evening’s contest in Nizhny Novgorod as favourites to progress to the quarter-finals.No Croat has completed more passes at this World Cup than Modric (143), or received more (124), highlighting the level of trust the midfielder’s colleagues have in him to do the right thing at the right moment. And it is not just with his use of the ball that Modric has made a telling contribution. He is also second for greatest distance covered (26.09km), third for most sprints completed (93) and, somewhat surprisingly, has made more tackles than anyone else in Zlatko Dalic’s ranks (seven). Luka Modric celebrates after his stunning goal against Argentina. Photograph: Ricardo Mazalan/AP Twitter All hail Luka Modric, the maestro who makes Real Madrid’s superstars tick Facebook The captain is here, there and everywhere, having also scored twice at these finals, following up a penalty in the opening game against Nigeria with that twisting, turning howitzer in the 3-0 victory against Argentina. Modric described that goal as one of his best in 109 appearances for Croatia and, more than anything, it reflected his capacity to keep a clear head in the most pressured situations, a remarkable feat given the player travelled to Russia with a possible five-year prison sentence preying on his mind.The sanction stems from Modric’s involvement as a witness in the criminal trial of the former Dinamo Zagreb director Zdravko Mamic, following which he was charged with perjury. A trial is due to take place after the World Cup and, it would not have been a major surprise had Modric, who denies wrongdoing, performed like a troubled soul at the tournament. Croatia Barney Ronay Share on Messenger Topics World Cup 2018 Pinterest Instead he has flourished in the centre of Croatia’s midfield, dictating play with calmness, precision, variety and a quality he is not widely renowned for: robustness.For a man who is 5ft 6in (1.68m) and 10st 3lb (66kg), Modric is incredibly strong, using every element of his frame to hold off more imposing opponents in order to receive and use the ball. It was a trait that was fully on show during Real’s Champions League final victory over Liverpool in Kiev and something Harry Redknapp noticed on becoming Tottenham manager in October 2008, six months after Modric joined the club from Dinamo.“Luka is as brave as a lion,” said Redknapp, having overseen the flourishing of a player who had struggled to adapt to life in north London. “He can make things happen – he has that ability to open the door.”They have also seen that at Real, where Modric likewise suffered early teething problems. He was voted the worst signing of the 2012-13 La Liga season by Marca, having arrived at the Bernabéu for £30m a few weeks before the start of the campaign. He refused to crumble, however, and having moved from a No 10 role into centre midfield, became integral to Real’s success on the European stage.Now he plans to help Croatia reach grand heights, potentially emulating or even surpassing their success at France 98, when a team who included Robert Prosinecki, Zvonimir Boban and Davor Suker reached the semi-finals. Do that and Modric will well and truly stamp his mark on the global consciousness.“Because we are a small country, Luka gets less attention than he deserves,” Lovren said. “He is one of the best in the world. Maybe even a Ballon d’Or winner.” Share on WhatsApp The Observer Saturday 17 November 2007 and the pitch at the National Arena in Skopje is a bog. Incessant rain has caused severe waterlogging and put Macedonia’s hosting of Croatia in a Euro 2008 qualifier under threat. The game goes ahead, and the hosts go on to win 2-0, but it is a poor contest as players on both sides struggle to control the ball, let along do anything with it.Amid the sodden muck one player does catch the eye. Croatia’s No 14, a small and wiry midfielder who, despite the conditions, looks to use possession intelligently and precisely. Sometimes he fails, sometimes he succeeds, but he continues to try, continues to trust in his technique, and what makes his display even more impressive is he is just 22. Share on LinkedIn World Cup Share on Facebook features Reuse this contentlast_img

Luka Modric: the unassuming genius driving Croatia’s tilt at the World Cup

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