Luka Modrić is a Croatian professional footballer who plays as a midfielder and he is the captain of the Croatia national team. Modrić plays mainly as a central midfielder but can also play as an attacking midfielder or as a defensive midfielder, usually deployed as a deep-lying playmaker. Modrić is widely regarded as one of the best midfielders of his generation, and the greatest Croatian footballer of all-time. Able to blend traditional and trequartista playmaking effectively, he is known for his vision, precision in execution, and tactical strategy. Born in Zadar, Modrić’s childhood coincided with the Croatian War of Independence which displaced his family. In 2002, he was signed by Dinamo Zagreb at age 16, after showing promise with his hometown club’s youth team. He continued his development in Zagreb before spells on loan to Zrinjski Mostar and Inter Zaprešić. He made his debut for Dinamo in 2005 and won three consecutive league titles and domestic cups, being named the Prva HNL Player of the Year in 2007. In 2008, he moved to Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur for a club-record transfer fee of £16.5 million, where he led Spurs to their first UEFA Champions League appearance in almost 50 years, reaching the quarter-finals of the 2010–11 tournament. In the summer of 2012, Modrić joined Real Madrid for a £30 million transfer fee, where he became a key contributor under head coach Carlo Ancelotti and helped the team win La Décima, being elected to the 2013–14 Champions League squad of the season. After Zinedine Zidane took over Madrid, Modrić was critical to three consecutive Champions League titles from 2015–16 to 2017–18, each time being voted into the squad of the season. He would go on to win the La Liga Award for “Best Midfielder” in 2016 for the second time, and the UEFA Club Football Award for “Best Midfielder” in 2017 and 2018. In 2015, he became the first Croatian player to be included in the FIFA World XI, in which he was included once again between 2016 and 2018, as well in the UEFA Team of the Year in 2016 and 2017. Modrić made his international debut for Croatia against Argentina in March 2006, and scored his first international goal in a friendly match against Italy. Modrić has since anchored Croatia’s “second Golden Generation”, participating in every major tournament Croatia has qualified for, including the 2008, 2012, and UEFA Euro 2016, as well the 2006, 2014, and 2018 FIFA World Cup. At UEFA Euro 2008, he was selected for the Team of the Tournament, becoming only the second Croatian to ever achieve this honor. Following group stage eliminations in his first two World Cups, Modrić led Croatia to the 2018 World Cup Final, and he received the Golden Ball award for Best Player of the Tournament. Furthermore, he has been named the Croatian Footballer of the Year six times, tied with Davor Šuker for most wins.
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A diminutive midfielder, Modrić is described as a quick and creative playmaker, with great vision, who is able to change the course of the game with a deft pass, or with a solo, long-range effort. He is able to play with both feet and combines this with his swift, offensive positioning off the ball. He is noted for his ability to pass the ball accurately across long or short distances, even with the outside of his boot, as well as his ball control, first touch, positional play, and his ability to retain possession and set the tempo of the game. A former attacking midfielder, he is also noted for his passing range and dribbling skills, and is considered as a master of the “pre-assist”. He is often referred to as the Midfield Maestro (“Midfield Master”) for his mastery of footballing fundamentals, tactical strategy, and precision in execution. His tactical vision and strategic planning has had him compared to a conductor of an orchestra, a “puppet master”, and a “midfield magician”. When arrived at Real Madrid he was nicknamed by the Spanish media as El Pájaro (“the bird”), while in the dressing room was simply called “Lukita”.
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Luka Modrić was born on 9 September 1985 and was raised in the hamlet of Modrići which is a part of Zaton Obrovački, a village situated on the southern slopes of the mountain Velebit, north of the city of Zadar in SR Croatia, then a republic within SFR Yugoslavia. He is the oldest child of Stipe Modrić from Modrići and Radojka Dopuđ from Kruševo near Obrovac, both of whom initially worked in knitwear factory. Modrić mostly spent his early years in the house of his paternal grandfather after whom he was named. However, his childhood coincided with the Croatian War of Independence—in 1991, when the war escalated, his family were forced to flee the area. Modrić’s grandfather Luka was executed by Serb rebels who were part of the police of SAO Krajina in December 1991 near his house in Modrići, and after the family fled the house was burned to the ground. Modrić became a refugee and lived with his family in the Hotel Kolovare for seven years; he later moved to the Hotel Iž, both in Zadar. His father joined the Croatian Army as an aeromechanic. In those years, thousands of bombs fell on the city and football was a way to escape the reality of war. He recalls it as a tough time for his family and something which shaped him as a person. He also said he was mostly unaware of the war because he befriended many other children and their parents did not let it affect their childhood. In these difficult circumstances, Modrić began playing football, mostly at the hotel parking lot. In 1992, he simultaneously entered the primary school and a sporting academy, the latter paid for with the little money the family had, sometimes helped by Modrić’s uncle. As a boy he was inspired to play football by Zvonimir Boban and Francesco Totti.
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Modrić is widely regarded as one of most well-rounded and effective midfielders in the world. According to Jonathan Wilson, what sets apart Modrić from old-school playmakers (number ten) like Juan Román Riquelme is the universality due to increased defensive responsibility, a quality which was insisted by Valeriy Lobanovskyi and Arrigo Sacchi that should make a modern footballer.
Modrić’s skill in the game was recognized early by Dragan Stojković (Piksi), who stated, “I saw a small blond boy who played exactly like I would. Ideas he was showing then on the terrain were fascinating”. Piksi considered him, along with Xavi and Andrés Iniesta, as the most intelligent player. Johan Cruyff said Modrić’s quality and influence on the game depend on the freedom he gets. Paul Scholes, who played several times against Modrić, said in an interview with the Manchester Evening News in 2011, “Of the three (Samir Nasri and Wesley Sneijder), Modrić, has been the one I have been most impressed with, [and] whenever we played Tottenham, he was the one who stood out”. In 2014, Zinedine Zidane included Modrić in his best XI currently playing the game. Andriy Shevchenko has stated that he considers Modrić to be one of the greatest midfielders to ever play. In 2018, Robert Prosinečki, with whom Ivan Rakitić agreed, considered Modrić as the best Croatian player in the history. José Mourinho said he wanted Modrić in Real Madrid because of his influence on the game, tactical level and because he has “that artistic sense”. In 2012, Carlo Ancelotti praised Modrić’s technique and versatility as a midfield player, stating, “Modric is an outstanding player and in my opinion one of the best midfielders in the world right now, because he can play in more than one position”. Alex Ferguson regarded him highly as a player while he played in the Premier League, saying it is fair to compare him to Paul Scholes because both are intelligent footballers with good passing consistencies, control of the game, fairplay, and wanted to sign him. Slaven Bilić said Modrić “is a player who makes others better, they all benefit from him being in the team. He’s not selfish, he’s playing for the team … he’s a complete player; good in defence, good in offence—it looks like he was born with the ball at his feet”. Others managers who have praised Modrić’s game include Pep Guardiola and Sven-Göran Eriksson.