LUKA MODRIC has enjoyed a stunning career, including winning the Ballon d’Or title in 2018, and is set to face England at Euro 2021 on June 13.
But his upbringing could not have been tougher.
When the Croatia and Real Madrid superstar was just six years old, his entire existence was rocked by the shooting of his beloved granddad at the hands of militant Serbian thugs and he was forced to live life as a refugee in his war-torn homeland.
But despite such hardship, that didn’t stop the ambitious kid from going on to become one of the best players on the planet and, now aged 35, a global superstar.
In 2018, he was voted the best player on the planet, ending the decade of dominance of the award by Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
But on December 8, 1991, during Croatia’s war of independence, violent Serbian militia stormed Modrici, a small village near the Velebit mountains in northern Dalmatia and wrought terror on Croatian families who hadn’t escaped.
One of those caught in the crossfire was Luka Modric Snr, who was walking his cattle up an abandoned street when he was cornered by a group of Serbians.
They brutally executed him along with five other locals.
The idea was to send a message to other Modrici residents that they must leave their town behind, but it robbed the future Real Madrid midfielder of his grandfather.
It hit Luka hard.
At the time, he was raised by Modric Snr while his parents Stipe and Radojka worked long hours in a knitwear factory to support the family financially.
And amazing footage emerged during the 2018 World Cup of a young Luka herding goats.
I was six years old. These were really hard times. I remember them vividly but it’s not something you want to remember or think about
After the incident, his parents were forced to leave Modrici and they sought refuge at the Hotel Iz in the town of Zadar.
Without any electricity or running water, the sound of grenades and bullets became a daily occurrence for little Luka and his sister Jasmina, not to mention avoiding landmines potentially buried around any corner.
But that didn’t stop the boy from kicking a small, punctured football around the hotel car park, dreaming that one day he would be able to leave his war-torn existence behind.
It’s a rags-to-riches tale that’s testament to the four-time Champions League winner’s dedication and determination to succeed in the wake of an awful tragedy.
Modric rarely talks about his hardship, but when he signed for Spurs back in 2008, he briefly addressed the issues that blighted his childhood.
“When the war started we became refugees and it was a really tough time,” Modric revealed.
“I was six years old. These were really hard times. I remember them vividly but it’s not something you want to remember or think about.
“We lived in a hotel for many years as we struggled financially, but I always loved football.
“I remember my first shin pads had the Brazilian Ronaldo on them and I loved them.
“The war made me stronger, it was a very hard time for me and my family. I don’t want to drag that with me forever, but I don’t want to forget about it either.”
It’s that mental toughness that has served Modric well during his career.
In Croatia’s stunning run to the Russia 2018 final, he overcame missing a penalty in normal time versus Denmark in the last-16 to step up in the shootout and send his side through.
He also took a pen in his country’s second penalty shootout win over Russia in the quarter-finals that ensured their semi-final berth.
However, when Modric was 10 years old he was written off by a number of coaches who thought he was too frail and shy to make it in the game.
Hajduk Split passed on him and it was only when Tomislav Basic, a coach of a team that Modric played for in Zadar, stepped in and used his contacts to get Luka a trial at Dinamo Zagreb.
From there his talent flourished, he went on to Tottenham and Real Madrid and is now a star for both club and country, as well as being one of the most respected footballers in the world.
And his personal life couldn’t be much better either.
He married Vanja Bosnic, who also acts as his agent, in 2010 in the Croatian capital of Zagreb. The pair first met at Mamic sports agency, where she worked.
Modric’s former Tottenham and Croatia team-mate Vedran Corluka was the best man at their wedding.
The couple’s first child, son Ivano, was born just three weeks after their big day.
Since then, they have had two daughters; five-year-old Ema and Sofia, who was born in 2017.
Bosnic is said to have such an influence on his life, she was deemed to be the person responsible for orchestrating his £30m move to Real Madrid.
Modric’s remarkable rise to the top of world football was confirmed when he won the Ballon d’Or.
No wonder his father Stipe was so emotional, saying: “I am the happiest and proudest father in the world.
“You are my genius. I can’t find words.”