Los 40 USA
NewslettersSign in to commentAPP
spainSPAINchileCHILEcolombiaCOLOMBIAusaUSAmexicoMEXICOlatin usaLATIN USAamericaAMERICA
Luka Modric

Luka Modric

The boy who learned to play in the Balkan war

The Croatian who survived the Balkan War and learned to play football in the parking lot of a refugee hotel is now a legend of the sport who has managed to win a Ballon d'Or and dozens of trophies with Real Madrid.

Luka Modric
Luka Modric
Luka Modric
Luka Modric
Luka Modric
Luka Modric
Luka Modric
Luka Modric
Luka Modric
Luka Modric
Luka Modric

Luka Modric was born on September 9, 1985 in Zadar, Croatia. The Real Madrid player is considered one of the best midfielders in history, and this is accredited by his Golden Ball (2018). But before he became a legend, Luka had a very tough childhood. Overcoming a war, living thousands of miles away, being rejected for his physique in football teams...

Before the bloody Balkan War broke out, Modric's family had to travel 60 kilometers before their son could be born. Removed from the countryside by the outbreak of the war between Croatia and Serbia, little Luka lived as a refugee in hotels in the Zadar area. There, he started playing football, in the parking lots of hotels.

Between sounds of bombs and sirens, Modric witnessed a tragic event that would change his life. “Luka saw his grandfather killed with his own eyes.” In order not to be killed, his family had no choice but to flee to Zadar through the forests and mountains," said Josip Bajlo, the sporting director of the player's first club, NK Zadar.

The owner of the Hotel Kolovare (where Modric lived) was also a manager of NK Zadar, the club where the Croatian began to play from childhood. There he trained for many years amid the noise of war, about 500 grenades a day falling in the area. In fact, in Zadar they lived for up to two years without electricity or water- very difficult circumstances to believe in any dreams at all. But Modric never lost his smile.

When he was 8 years old, he was rejected from the club of his dreams (Hajduk) for being too skinny and too short. That's when the current Madrid player started training even harder. At the age of 16, he signed for Dinamo Zagreb, the biggest club in Croatia.

His debut did not come, however, because he was sent to the toughest league in the region. He ended up in Zrinjski, Bosnia, where he managed to complete a hard season. The following year, he was loaned to Inter Zapresic, in Croatia. In this team he was a starter and was summoned with the Under 21 of Croatia at 18 years old. He was crowned winter champion by his club, after beating by six points his team, Dinamo, who replaced him in the winter.

During his time at Dinamo, the Croatian played 73 games, in which he scored 22 goals and distributed 21 assists. No one said anything about his physique anymore as the quality he showed was enormous. "I can only say that I never doubted myself," Modric said in Russia. I always thought I could get here. Thank God it is reality. That was not a barrier, but an extra motivation for me. You don't need to be robust to play football," confessed the Croatian.

In 2008, Tottenham paid 20 million euros for Modric and would begin the final jump to the elite. In the English club, he played a total of 160 games in which he scored 17 goals and gave 26 goal passes. He was not considered one of the best midfielders in the world but Real Madrid bet on him. Modric signed for the white club in 2012 for a total of 30 million euros.

In his first seasons with Madrid, the Croatian was criticized for the high cost of his transfer. But over the years, he continued to improve and was increasingly standing out worldwide. Today, he is considered one of the greatest legends of Real Madrid. He has played 450 games in total, in which he has scored 34 goals and provided 74 assists. His touches of exterior, his vision of the game, his humility, his soul of a captain... Real Madrid has been admiring the Croatian for years now. He has won 5 Champions Leagues, 3 Leagues, 4 Spanish Super Cups, 4 European Super Cups, 1 Copa del Rey…

But Modric’s greatest achievement in history would be achieved in 2018 when he leads a Croatian team and sneaks into the World Cup final showing some great football. Despite losing the final against France, the whole country attended the celebration of the runner-up in a moment of unity. This milestone with Croatia and the great collective season at Real Madrid made Modric win the Ballon d'Or in 2018.

That little Luka who played in the parking lot of a hotel in the middle of a war, who saw his grandfather die, who was rejected because of his physique, would be recognized as the best player in the world. He never lost his smile or illusion, and the world of football will remember his name and his beautiful story of overcoming.

More World Cup stories

Discover the secret histories of other stars at the Qatar World Cup

Lionel Messi Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi

The little kid who became the best player in history Go to the story

Angel Correa Ángel Correa

Ángel Correa

The warrior who grew up in the poorest neighborhood Go to the story

Raul Jimenez Raúl Jiménez

Raúl Jiménez

The Mexican who risked his head for soccer Go to the story

Robert Lewandowski Robert Lewandowski

Robert Lewandowski

The rebellious kid who changed after his father died Go to the story

Eduardo Camavinga Eduardo Camavinga

Eduardo Camavinga

The kid who saved his family from catastrophe Go to the story

Luka Modric Luka Modric

Luka Modric

The kid who learned to play football during the Yugoslav War Go to the story

Marco Asensio Marco Asensio

Marco Asensio

The late developer who lost his mother Go to the story

Alphonso Davies Alphonso Davies

Alphonso Davies

From the Liberian Civil War to success at Bayern Go to the story

Gabriel Jesús Gabriel Jesús

Gabriel Jesús

From painting streets to fulfilling a promise to his mother Go to the story

Sadio Mane Sadio Mané

Sadio Mané

The philanthropist who built a city in Senegal Go to the story

Mariano Tovar.
Art direction:
Francisco Expósito.
Darío González.
Rodrigo Ludgero.
Texts writing:
David Adán.