The Croatian captain savours success after their quarter-final win over Russia
The quiet but polite Croatia international had given the club one final year of unstinting service and even helped lift them into the top four for only the second time in Premier League history.
But just as Chelsea’s unexpected Champions League victory had robbed the north London club yet again of a spot among Europe’s elite, so it was recognised that their prodigious talent would have to leave to fulfil his ambitions – not least when Real Madrid offered to pay up to £33m for his services.
“Who knows,” he told staff at the club as he headed out of the door. “Maybe when I have won the Champions League, I will come back!”
Unfortunately, after winning it four times in the intervening six years, it seems that Modric has acquired a taste for such rarefied silverware.
Modric celebrates his side’s most recent Champions League win over Liverpool in May
The bad news for England now is that he has the scent of the World Cup itself in his nostrils.
Much as it pained Tottenham to lose their midfield gem, nobody at the club will tell you that Modric’s decision to leave was ever about the money.
A concerted effort from Chelsea to sign him for £40m the summer before had been stymied by chairman Daniel Levy and even though he could have doubled his money at Stamford Bridge, according to reports, Modric knuckled down to serve the club that had taken him from the obscurity of the Croatian League and introduced him to Premier League football for one more year.
After becoming Tottenham’s record signing in 2008 when he arrived from Dinamo Zagreb for £16.5m, he was part of a mammoth implosion that saw Juande Ramos pick up two points from the club’s first eight games.
Shunted out to the left wing by new boss Harry Redknapp, he suffered the ultimate indignity of being described as “too lightweight” by the champion of the tippy-tappy midfielder, Mr Arsene Wenger himself.
The midfielder had mixed fortunes during his four years at White Hart Lane
As if to prove a point, the following season an introduction to Birmingham’s Lee Bowyer left him with a fractured bone in his leg for four months and if it were not for the emergence of a certain Gareth Bale on the left, he may never have found his ultimate home back in the centre of midfield.
Modric was never a leader, either officially or unofficially. He was one of the silent voices in the dressing room, listening to instruction, never one to berate a team-mate. Yet slowly they came to respect him.
His energy in midfield coupled with his reading of the game meant that whenever a team-mate was in trouble, Modric was always an out-ball. Players hate to be made to look silly in front of 40,000 people and anybody who stops that from happening by being a 15-yard pass away is suddenly an ally.
It is a quality not to be underestimated and certainly Real Madrid did not, and yet even there he took time to settle.
Modric has grown to be a key player for club and country, even if the statistics suggest otherwise
They all benefit from him being in the team. He’s not selfish, he’s playing for the team.
His main problem is his lack of goals. 22 of them from nearly 300 appearances in the Premier League and La Liga is certainly nothing to get excited about.
And yet for 12 years Madrid had bought Galactico after Galactico in search of La Decima – a tenth Champions League success. Six years after signing Modric, they are looking for number 14.
“He’s a player who makes others better,” former Croatia manager Slaven Bilic once said. “They all benefit from him being in the team. He’s not selfish, he’s playing for the team.”
The trouble is that in a country which has a population of just four million, there are not necessarily others to make better. The onus has often been somewhat upon Modric himself.
But in many ways he is a victim of statistics. The value of so many creative figures only became apparent when the “assist” became a ‘thing’ in football around a decade ago. Modric, though, is the master of the “pre-assist” – surely a sign he is way too far ahead of his time to be truly appreciated.
Modric is regarded as one of three key players, alongside Mario Mandzukic (L) and Ivan Rakitic (C)
It leaves one extra level between genius and the back of the net. Croatia have Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic and Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic for Modric to link up with but precious little else. That remains England’s main hope.
But from the age of six, when his beloved grandfather Luka Modric Snr was executed in the street by Serbian militia, the 32-year-old became a refugee of the Yugoslav Civil War. He always sought a home among those who could help him the most.
“It was never about the money,” one Tottenham insider revealed. “He just wanted to win things. Perhaps if he was 22 again and with the current crop of players here, things might have been different and he might have stayed.”
Now, in what he sees as a final shot at glory, Modric is putting his faith in his countrymen. That is going to be a hard bond to shake in the Luzhniki tonight.
Read more here: Daily Express :: Sport Feedhappy wheels
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