The fancy ‘DON’ hairband, pulling on the No.14 shirt with a general air of sophistication perfectly defines the Twinkle Toed Croatian Luka Modric. Representing the increasingly impressive Spurs side of late, and becoming arguably the key component for the Lily Whites, Modric was introduced into the football world at the tender teenage of 17 at Dinamo Zagreb, the Croatian giants.
Having represented the youth setup at Zagreb like every other footballer, Modric was promoted to the first team sooner than any of his compatriots. However, the little man was unable to stick his foot in the first team consistently because of his tiny frame and the presence of other veterans. He was loaned out to Bosnian side Zrinjski Mostar in 2003 for a year long loan to get the crucial first team experience to play at the highest level consistently. Justifying his prospect, Modric went on to win the Bosnian and Herzegovinian League Player of the Year showcasing his versatile playmaking abilities at just the age of 18.
The loan spell continued the following year with Croatian second division side earning the rewards with Modric helping them to move up to the Croatian first division. At the end of that season, in 2004, Modric collected more individual honors in the form of Croatian Football Hope of the Year award. It was enough to see him back at his boyhood club Dinamo Zagreb with whose nickname he shares his full Surname virtually.
The Dinamic Connection
Many football pundits across the world recognized him as a cusp of Cruyff and Scholes but it was too premature to make such comments as he was just one of the 19 year old kids in the football arena. His first season with the Croatians wasn’t as productive as he didn’t contribute a single goal for Zagreb which was reasonably expected considering it was just a start with the Modri. However, improvements showered in his second season as he not only contributed 7 goals from midfield in 31 first team appearances but also guided Dinamo to yet another league crown.
Modric, during his time in Croatia was the main creative force for his club, basically operating as a left sided playmaker and sometimes appearing behind the striker in the hole. The following season resulted in another league crown with the little man also earning his first Prva HNL Player of the Year award. Having tasted league success, the Modri wanted more in Europe and they were participating in a play-off game with Ajax to qualify for the then “UEFA CUP”.
Modric converted a penalty in normal time before helping his team beat Ajax 3-2 in extra time with the away goal rule sending the Croatian Champions to the UEFA cup group stages. Yet, Dinamo failed to cross the group stages because of injuries and bad form. Alongside his club contributions, Modric also masterminded England’s elimination from Euro 2008 qualifying stages with a superb performance at Wembley. This attracted many footballing giants across the planet to seal his signature before the Euros which eventually happened as Tottenham Hotspurs beat off tough competition and signed him for a record 16.5 million euros which apparently became their most expensive signing ever alongside Darren Bent. Luka bid farewell to Dinamo and was given a warm goodbye by his fans and the club supporters for whom he had contributed an impressive 31 goals and 29 assists in his four year stint.
Romance with the Lilywhites
Modric’s arrival was treated both with Compliments and Complaints as some fans thought he was too light weight for the Premier league whilst the other section welcomed his technical abilities. Modric knew that the Premier League isn’t an easy place to step foot as has been noted in many cases. But he had the confidence to grow into the league after his exploits at Wembley.
Juande Ramos, the former Spurs manager awarded Modric his first cap in a 2-1 defeat against Middlesbrough. Ramos deployed Luka in a deeper role than he used to play with Dinamo, basically as a Central Midfielder citing his creativity, vision and long range passing rather than as an Attacking midfielder which had worked wonders for the Croatians. However, as Spurs started to lose more games, Modric assumed a more defensive role helping out Jenas to cut out the opposition which resulted in Modric getting battered by his Premier League colleagues.
Things began to look gloomy for the Croatian as he wasn’t able to influence the games because of poor management and thereby started to lose his form whilst also suffering from injury in his very first season. Some experts in England began to point out Modric’s lack of physical presence to be his main weakness which would eventually force him out of English football.
However, with the apparent sacking of Juande Ramos and the brilliant management of Harry Redknapp, Modric gained his confidence back after being played in his familiar role of a left sided attacking midfielder. Just like what he did with Dinamo, Luka started to play behind the striker and influence games brilliantly which was shown in a sensational performance against Arsenal; a 4-4 draw. Arrivals of Defoe, Keane and Palacios pushed Modric back into the left side of midfield still being able to influence the games with the latter providing defensive support for the lilywhites allowing Modric to roam in the opposition half. Luka scored his first premier league goal against Newcastle in December and Spurs with the help of their new signing somehow managed to finish in a decent position in the Premier League after a horrendous start under Ramos. However, Modric reserved his best performance of the season against Chelsea when he produced a match winning performance ripping the Blues apart at the White Hart Lane.
The start to the next season was a disaster for Luka as he was stretchered off against Birmingham breaking his leg and getting out of the first team for 6 weeks. Recovery continued and upon his return, Modric scored against West Ham United and made a telling contribution in a 2-0 win against their London rivals. With the help of the rejuvenated Bale and the inform Defoe, Modric helped Spurs qualify for the Champions League in 2010 beating off competition from Manchester City on the penultimate match day and he was rightly rewarded with a 6 year contract in May which showed their belief in the little man.
The excitement of Champions League football filled the London side and the capture of Dutchman Van Der Waart further indicated Spurs’ intentions to be the force to reckon with. Arrival of Van Der Waart and the adventures of Bale sent Modric back to his Central Midfield role along with Huddlestone which had bought him nightmares during Juande Ramos’ tenure. However, Luka took the responsibility this time and reacted positively with consistent performances from his deep role providing the creativity with his brilliant runs and long range passing.
In their Champions league games against Werder Bremen and Inter Milan, Spurs and Modric turned on the style demolishing both the defenses by an inspired Gareth Bale and Van Der Vaart. Deservedly, Bale bragged all the headlines, but it was Modric’s distribution from deep inside his own half which impressed the football pundits. In particular, it was his brilliant run and dummy against Inter which set up Spurs’ first goal and was the highlight of the season for the lilywhites. This season, all the limelight has been grabbed by Bale and VDV, but it has been the often underrated Modric who has ticked the Spurs side with his delightful football. Harry Redknapp praises Modric as a perfect professional and a role model for the younger ones on and off the pitch
“I just think he’s an absolute top player and top fella. He’s not a minute’s problem. He comes in every day, works hard, trains and never complains. He is an absolute dream to work with. For me, Gareth [Bale] would probably be our player of the season so far but Luka has just been amazing. I cannot speak highly enough of him.“
An Apparent Heir to Scholes?
Whilst at Spurs, Modric has had enquiries by many big clubs across Europe. Yet, Spurs have managed to hold on to their star asset with a notable offer from Manchester United to replace their legendary Ginger Maestro Paul Scholes being rejected by the lilywhites. Rumors have refused to go away even after Modric signed a 6 year deal.
It would be a dream move for both Manchester United and Luka to work together as he could be the perfect replacement for Scholes. Although it is close to impossible to replace the Oldham man because of his consistency and his footballing brain, Modric would be a decent solution for the Manks’ midfield problems. Modric is already playing the position Scholes is playing in his current days and could definitely dictate the game in United’s favour. It is not only his reading of the game that is impressive but his vision and the box to box runs which is a symmetry of the legendary Scholes. Off the pitch, Modric is similar to Scholes with his media shyness, keeping himself away from limelight most of the time.
However, Spurs have shrugged off all the rumors and Modric has been absolutely loyal to the cause. But, having tasted the richness of Champions League football, many wouldn’t complain if he decides to leave Spurs in case the Londoners don’t manage to offer him regular European football. This season has been very exciting for both the Londoners and the Croatian and every single Spurs fan would be hoping to see their team become world beaters. And on the personal front, Modric would be not only hoping to help his side win things but also collect some individual honors. As a neutral, football fans would be hoping to see this beautiful romance continue for a long time.