|Illustration: Akshita Monga|
The visual of Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović trying to console a sobbing Luka Modrić after their side’s 4-2 loss to France in the World Cup final is going to stay with me – and I am certain I speak for many who love and follow football with ardent devotion. It was irrelevant whether you supported Croatia, France, or were a neutral spectator. Watching a grown man cry after a game is heartbreaking. More so, when it is Luka Modrić, a player you just cannot not love.
At 32, Luka Modrić might have played his last game at a World Cup for Croatia, taking them to the finals and winning the Golden Ball in the process. In his own words, it was a “bittersweet moment,” because personal glory is pale in comparison to winning the ultimate prize for the team. It tells you everything you need to know about the Croatian captain.
With three Man of the Match awards in seven games, Croatia’s midfield general had a stellar tournament. It is rather fitting that the biggest stage of them all, was graced by his tiny, dignified, and unassuming presence.
In the time span that Modrić receives a pass and passes the ball to the next player, football seems to be the easiest sport on the planet. Everything seems simple, clear, and evident. “That’s what I would have done,” you think. Why doesn’t everyone play like him?
The football world idolises pace, dribbling, and trickery. We love watching Cristiano Ronaldo embarrass a defender with a nutmeg, we love watching Lionel Messi go past half the team with quick feet, we love watching Kylian Mbappé run at 45 kmph. In a world that is premised on speed, Luka Modrić has mastered the art of the pause. Of waiting for the right moment. Of moulding space and time on the football pitch.
At any moment in the game, Modrić is aware where every one of his teammates is, almost like an aerial cam is feeding his brain. He always has an extra second on him, to make a decision, and it always seems to be the right one, like a chess grandmaster who has perfected the end-game. He knows when to make a pass and the precise weight it should carry. He knows when someone around will make a run and what it’ll lead to. Modrić has the rare ability that very few in the game have, of knowing what’s going to happen in the next three seconds.
The reason Luka Modrić is adored in the world of football, is because there’s no nonsense associated with him. He doesn’t roll over like a drama queen every 15 seconds, he doesn’t have a flashy signature celebration or any headline sponsors. He never walks into an interview and says outrageous things. There’s an underrated professionalism and dignity with which he carries himself, that we all love. There’s nothing about him that says “Look at me!”
At any moment in the game, Modrić is aware where every one of his teammates is, almost like an aerial cam is feeding his brain.
Image Credits: Getty Images
He quietly takes the pitch every game, runs more than anyone, touches the ball more than anyone, and creates chances more than anyone, doing the job for the team. That’s what Modrić is all about: He creates chances so his teammates can score and he intercepts play so that his defenders are shielded. A team man, a leader, and one of the best box-to-box midfielders in the game.
Croatia’s dream World Cup campaign will be remembered for its comebacks and its modest group of players, consistently punching above weight. A war survivor, a child refugee, a “shy kid who was too timid” to play football, Modrić also kept making comebacks from adversity and punched above weight, to become one of the most loved players on the planet.
In the words of commentator Peter Dury, “There isn’t a person who embodies their country, much like Luka Modrić”. In him, we see everything we want sport to be about.
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