Happy Birthday Luka Modric: The Icon Who Was Only Behind Ronaldo And Messi

There is no shame in third place for Luka Modric
10:00, 09 Sep 2023

As football fans reached for any remaining caveats to temper his brilliance, there was one amusing allegation thrown Lionel Messi’s way. As football fans took stock of his achievements, inward-looking English supporters would bemoan the fact he never “did it in the Prem”. As if a hat-trick at Turf Moor would really make his record seven Ballon d’Ors sparkle that little bit brighter. It really is a ridiculous assertion. 

But Luka Modric did grace England with his presence. And oh boy, could he do it in the Prem. The diminutive Croatian midfielder who duked it out with Messi in La Liga during their time on opposite sides of the El Clasico divide made an electric impression on English football during his time in the Premier League.


After conquering his homeland, lifting six trophies with Dinamo Zagreb, Modric was snapped up by Tottenham Hotspur manager Juande Ramos. The boss wouldn’t last beyond October, but Modric would last almost eternally. For four seasons he plied his trade in Lilywhite, but his influence and impact will endure for a lifetime. At a time when Xavi and Andres Iniesta were bewitching the world, and Paul Scholes was undergoing a late-career renaissance as a deep-lying playmaker, Modric was Spurs’ version of these greats. Dictating the tempo of a Premier League midfield despite his 5’8” frame, Modric quickly became a talismanic figure. To borrow a phrase, stars like Gareth Bale were the gold paint on the Bentley, Modric was the engine. 

It is appropriate to use an adage coined to describe Real Madrid’s departing Claude Makelele considering the fact Modric would end up at Los Blancos. He would be the first of twin-body blows Spurs endured at the hands of the Spanish giants. Modric left for the Bernabeu in the summer of 2012. Bale joined him in 2013. Tottenham had glimpsed greatness only to see it slip through their fingers.


The Premier League’s loss was La Liga’s gain. Despite his achievements and moments of brilliance, the Real Madrid fanbase never quite took to Bale. His attitude was seen as superstar-ish and uncaring. But Modric was the quiet galactico. He was a big name not due to his movie star charisma or famous friends. The Croatian midfielder ascended to the very top of the game on the strength of his football alone. And what football it is. 

Instrumental in five Champions League triumphs during his time with the club, Modric started every single final. Even at the age of 36, he lined up for the 2022 showpiece to help Los Blancos defeat Liverpool. Modric has also lifted three La Liga titles and a host of other domestic and continental honours over the course of his 454 appearances for the club. 

A legendary figure at two clubs, arguably he is an even greater icon at international level. When he took to the field against Morocco in Croatia’s opener at this World Cup, he became the first player in history to appear at both European Championships and World Cups in three different decades. He helped steer his nation to the quarter finals of Euro 2008 before being the catalyst for their greatest achievement a decade later.

Modric was scintillating as Croatia reached the final of the 2018 World Cup. He was man of the match in the quarter final extra time win over Russia. He covered more ground than any player on the field as Croatia beat England in the semi final. They would lose to France in the final, but Modric’s incredible tournament performance would be rewarded with the FIFA Golden Ball award. 

Incredibly, the 2018 Ballon d’Or would be next up for the midfield creator. No player outside of the Lionel Messi-Cristiano Ronaldo axis had lifted the ultimate individual award since Kaka in 2007. Only one player away from that pair has lifted it since, in Karim Benzema. It is a true testament to Modric’s greatness that in an era utterly beholden to Messi and Ronaldo, he ascended briefly to the status of best in the world.

Modric belongs alongside the likes of Karim Benzema and Robert Lewandiwski. Players that in any other era would have regularly duked it out to be considered the greatest of the period. Ronaldo and Messi’s dominance ensured that was never the case for a sustained time. But you could make a firm argument that Modric was perhaps the third man in a compelling trio. With such icons holding the gold and silver, there is no shame holding the bronze.

In many ways, Modric outlasted his illustrious brethren. Ronaldo vacated Los Blancos for spells with Juventus, Manchester United and Al-Nassr. Messi waved goodbye to La Liga and went to Paris Saint-Germain before settling at Inter Miami. But Modric remains at the sharp end, playing for Real Madrid at the age of 37. A remarkable career continues. No matter who shared the spotlight with him, Modric will go down as one of the greatest of all time.

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