With the start of Euro 2012 just over a week away, Goal.com International's Croatia expert Luke Matthews profiles Vatreni and Tottenham midfielder Luka Modric
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Life for Luka Modric as a child growing up was tough. Born in the tiny Croatian town of Obrovac, he was forced to flee his birthplace at the age of six when the Croatian War of Independence broke out.
With his father away in the army, the family lived as refugees in their own country on the island of Iz, yet it is here that the diminutive star found his love for the beautiful game. Although he showed the necessary skill and desire to play at a higher level, Modric was a relatively late bloomer and joined his first club, Dinamo Zagreb, at the age of 17 in 2002.
After two loan spells away from Dinamo, it was at the Plavi where the midfield man established himself as one of the most talented players to grace the Croatian game. In March 2006, Modric made his international debut in a 3-2 friendly win over Argentina, before going on to make a further two substitute appearances at the World Cup later that year.
However, it was Slaven Bilic's appointment as head coach just after the summer tournament in Germany that the player dubbed 'the Croatian Cruyff' would nail down a regular slot in the Balkan country's midfield, with the playmaker now a relative veteran of the international game with 54 caps.
Modric would go on to win another two league titles with Dinamo before earning a £16.5 million (€20.6m) move to Tottenham in the summer of 2008. The slender-built Croatian struggled for the first few months with the physicality of the Premier League under the doomed reign of Juande Ramos, who often inexplicably deployed the Croat as a deep-lying midfielder.
It was Harry Redknapp's arrival as manager in October 2008 that saw Modric given a more attacking role, a decision which marked the beginning of a prosperous period with Spurs. The midfielder helped inspire the north London club to a top-four finish in the 2009-10 campaign to qualify for the Champions League for the first time in the side's history, before being crowned the Tottenham Fans' Player of the Year the following season.
Yet it wasn't long until the supporters began to turn on Modric after he revealed his desire to move to a 'bigger' club. Spurs stood firm with interest in the shape of Chelsea and Manchester United, even rejecting a deadline day bid of £40m last summer from the Blues.
|"Everyone in Spain and Italy knows him, and he'd easily fit into their teams. He's not just known in Croatia or England. He's made himself a world status. He's world class"
- Slaven Bilic on Modric's future
Modric would go on to help Redknapp's men secure another top four finish yet it has to be said, the 26-year-old has struggled at times to replicate his earlier Spurs form, attributed by many to his head being turned at the beginning of the season. The former Dinamo man has since refused to commit to the White Hart Lane outfit and has recently been quoted as saying: "I will decide about my future after the Euros. I will make the decision where to continue my career. I'm ready for the big tests."
Despite a cloud looming large over his club future, Bilic believes his star player is the real deal.
"Everyone in Spain knows him, everyone in Italy knows him, and he would easily fit into their teams. He's not just known in Croatia or in England. He has made himself a world status. He's world class."
With Modric seemingly itching for a new challenge, a successful Euros would firmly put him back in the shop window once again.Follow Luke Matthews on