The journey to Madrid – Luka Modric



After initial plaudits that came his way, Luka Modric’s career at the Bernabéu seems to be off to a rocky start. He remained on the bench in the Champions League match at Ajax on Wednesday and is by no means certain to play in Sunday’s Clásico. But if Modric’s personal history is anything to go by, the former Tottenham Hotspur creative force can overcome any obstacle and become one of the leading stars at Real Madrid. He’s been through hell more than once in his life, coming back stronger each time.

Last month, a Spanish TV crew travelled to coastal Croatia to find “the origins” of Modric and to film this short documentary. They talked to his one-time coaches, former team mates from NK Zadar’s youth ranks, friends of the family and journalists. Modric’s father, Stipe, didn’t take part, saying the nature of his job with the Croatian army requires him to keep a low public profile, but he did OK the project. It’s a classic rags-to-riches tale, but also an emotional roller-coaster which does justice to the fact that Modric making it this far is nothing short of a miracle.

There is an abandoned and dilapidated building complex around 60km from the town of Zadar, signposted the “Obrovac Free Zone”. It was supposed to be an industrial area and attract investors to this particularly remote and rural part of the country, but no one was ever attracted to it and it was never quite finished.

Next to it is the village of Modrici (plural for Modric), where the Real player’s family lived. Further up the narrow and winding road that goes up the Velebit mountain range – one of only two pathways which connected the north and south of Croatia before the modern motorway was built in the last decade – there is a lone house on the curve where Modric spent most of his early childhood. This is where his grandfather, after whom he was named, used to live.

Two decades ago, this was the scene of gruesome war crimes and there are still signs all around indicating the surroundings are not yet cleared of landmines. As Croatia declared its independence, local Serbs captured the area with the help of the Yugoslav army and nationalist volunteers from Serbia, trying to cut off communication and transport between the two parts of the country. On 18 December 1991, Luka Modric senior went up the hill with his cattle. He was murdered in cold blood.

Luka Modric the footballer was only six at the time. As the rest of his family escaped death threats and settled as refugees in one of Zadar’s large hotels, he couldn’t have conceived the horrors which were happening all around him.

“There was this boy who used to kick the ball around the hotel parking lot all day,” says NK Zadar’s chairman, Josip Bajlo. “He was skinny and really small for his age, but you could see right away that he had that something special in him. However, none of us could have dreamed that one day he would grow to become the player he is now.”

“We were always afraid, that’s what I remember the most,” says Tomislav Basic, one of Modric’s early coaches at NK Zadar. “Thousands of grenades, fired from the surrounding hills, fell on the training pitch in those years, and we were always racing to reach the shelter. Football was our escape from reality.”
Click on Real Madrid’s Luka Modric: from Balkan warzone to the Bernabéu by Aleksandar Holiga  to read the rest of the article.


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