Tuesday 02 February 2016, 12:50

Modric: I admired Zidane as a child

Luka Modric has good reason to smile every day he goes to work. The Real Madrid midfielder shares the pitch with a player he regards as the best in the world, his new boss is his idol and his fellow professionals have recognised him as the best player in his position.

“I’m very happy,” confirmed the man himself in an interview with FIFA.com, just before he took to the stage at the 2015 FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala on 11 January in Zurich, where he received his award for earning a place in the FIFA FIFPro World XI.

That was quite an achievement for a player who did not enjoy the best of starts to 2015, a year that began with him trying to speed his recovery from a string of frustrating injuries. As soon as he made his return to the pitch, however, the Croatian reminded everyone of his quality. He has continued in the same vein in 2016, repaying the faith shown by his new coach Zinedine Zidane, who has given him the job of dictating the tempo in the Real Madrid midfield.

“Zinedine was an idol,” said the multi-faceted Croatian midfielder. “He was one of the players I admired as a child. I think every young player admired him because he was one of the best of his generation.”

The talented playmaker has made the most of having a legend of the game close to hand. When the mighty Zizou was working as Carlo Ancelotti’s assistant, Modric took every chance he could to work on his free-kicks with the French icon, and has once more been able to pick Zidane’s brains since he replaced Rafa Benitez in the dugout on 5 January.

“Every piece of advice he gives you is like gold dust and it helps you improve on the pitch,” explained Modric, whose skills have certainly impressed the new man in charge. “I’m amazed by what he can do with the outside of his foot,” remarked Zizou.

Such is Modric’s thirst for knowledge that he also seeks out his colleagues, the Croatian considering himself fortunate to be working with luminaries such as Cristiano Ronaldo on a daily basis. “He’s an amazing team-mate and to my mind the best player on the planet,” he said of the Portuguese star. “Sharing a dressing room with him is fantastic. You can learn so much from him: his desire, how hard he works every day, the effort he puts in. It’s incredible.”

The pride of a nation Modric has come an awful long way since his childhood years, when the war in the Balkans threatened to shatter his dreams. On turning 16 he found in football a means of restoring normality to his life and of fulfilling his natural talent. An ardent admirer of the skilful Croatia side that stunned everyone by taking third place at the 1998 FIFA World Cup France™, he is now an integral part of a new breed that is intent on achieving even more.

“We’re flattered when people say that we’re the best generation the country’s ever produced, especially when you consider how good some of the Croatia teams of the past were,” said the former Dinamo Zagreb and Tottenham Hotspur player. “But only time will tell if that praise is deserved.”

Time and titles. After appearances at two FIFA World Cups and two UEFA EURO competitions, Modric is still striving to make a lasting mark on the international stage. Another opportunity will come his way this summer, when great things are expected of a Croatia side also featuring Ivan Rakitic and Mateo Kovacic at UEFA EURO 2016 in France.

“In competitions like the EUROs, success comes down to a lot of factors,” said the 30-year-old. “You always need a bit of luck too, so let’s hope we get some. We’ve got what it takes. There’s no question of that. But let’s just wait and see how it goes.”

One good reason for Croatian optimism came with last September’s appointment of Ante Cacic as national team coach in place of Niko Kovac, a switch that has proved a breath of fresh air for the eastern European side.

“More than anything, it’s brought a sense of calm and confidence to the team,” explained Modric. “There was a lot of negativity around the side when he came in but we’ve reacted well with him and we’ve shown what we can do.”

With UEFA EURO 2016 just around the corner, the gifted midfielder has yet another reason to keep on smiling.