Luka Modric could pick up his fifth Champions League winners’ medal on Saturday night, matching the number of times Cristiano Ronaldo has won it.
He could easily have left the club the same year as the Portuguese but Madrid resisted his attempts to move to Inter Milan and they’ve been congratulating themselves on insisting he stayed ever since.
It felt like the end of an era after Real Madrid beat Liverpool in Kiev. Ronaldo said he was off in his post-match interview and Zinedine Zidane was not far behind him. Modric was 33 years of age and with only a year left on his deal he wanted a new challenge and some contract security.
Luke Modric stands among the pantheon of Real Madrid greats given his levels of success
He has four Champions League titles (pictured lifting the trophy in Cardiff in 2017) and may well consolidate himself as Real Madrid’s greatest ever midfielder with a fifth winners’ medal
Inter were offering him three years but they were not willing to pay a big transfer fee and wanted Madrid to take into account he only had a year left on his deal and let him leave on the cheap.
Real Madrid president Florentino Perez insisted he only left if a club paid his release clause, which stood at a completely out-of-bounds € 750m. Modric was fuming at the decision. He felt his brilliant service to the club merited better treatment.
But Madrid stood firm. They had come to the conclusion that even at 33 Modric was too good to lose, especially in the same year as Ronaldo, and everything the Croatian does now aged 36 and nine months, tells them they got the decision absolutely right.
It did not take long for them to feel justified either.
The Croatian midfielder first got his hands on the trophy when winning the 2013-14 final
His most recent arrived in Kyiv, with a 3-1 win over Liverpool, who he will face next in Paris
When Lionel Messi and Ronaldo’s 10-year domination of the Ballon d’Or finally came to an end in 2018 it was Modric who took their place on stage at Le Grand Palais in Paris, crowned the world’s best player.
There were some sceptics regards how much he deserved the award.
He had helped take Croatia all the way to the final in the Russia World Cup where the brilliance of a 19-year-old Kylian Mbappe and some favorable refereeing and VAR decisions had seen Croatia, a country of just four million with only 800 registered professionals , just fall short of winning the tournament.
But him winning the Ballon d’Or was seen more as an unofficial long-service award for his spectacular career which was surely coming to an end. But the award was not a lifetime achievement; services to the sport, recognition and his playing days were not all behind him.
The player, who had grown up during the Balkans conflict in a family forced to flee to Zadar in Croatia where he lived in a series of hostels before they found a permanent home, had no intention of slowing down.
Lifting the trophy in Kyiv in 2018 marked Cristiano Ronaldo’s fifth Champions League title
‘I think a lot of the things that happened to me as a child in Croatia have left me feeling like I should never ease up,’ he told El Pais in an interview during the World Cup in 2018. That determination has shone through again this year.
None more so when Real Madrid scored two late goals to knock out Chelsea and set-up the semi-final with Manchester City that they went on to win.
Karim Benzema got the winner against Chelsea; Thibaut Courtois kept his team in the game, and substitutes Rodrygo and Eduardo Camavinga made the difference late on but Modric was most popular man-of-the-match and it was his name that was being sung by supporters after the final whistle.
‘Give him a statue already!’ read one headline in Marca of the player who never did get that three-year deal at Inter but is basically on a ‘stay as long as you want’ rolling one-year contract at Madrid.
He’s the ‘Dad’ of the dressing room, so much so that on Father’s Day in Spain the young Brazilian forward Rodrygo tweeted ‘Happy Father’s Day’ alongside a picture of him embracing Modric.
His pass with the outside of his foot to the young Brazilian forward was ‘the pass of the decade,’ according to former Rangers and Scotland striker Ally McCoist.
‘I would break my ankle if I tried to play passes like that,’ said Camavinga, in an interview with The team. The 19-year-old is another who idolises the veteran.
Modric has been nicknamed as the ‘father’ of the dressing room to youngsters like Rodrygo
Father Time has not tapped him on the shoulder yet as he continues to thrive at the top level
‘How many more years are you going to be able to be here,’ asked the Spanish pitchside reporter after the Chelsea win.
Modric laughed and said: ‘I do not know. We are taking it year by year. Let’s see how long I still feel good and can continue at his level ‘.
He was watching from the sidelines as Madrid knocked out City. And it is true that Camavinga and Fede Valverde are ready to take over. And Aurelien Tchouameni will join them if he is signed.
But it’s a mistake to write Modric off. He will stand alone as Madrid’s greatest midfielder if he wins a fifth European Cup leaving him just one winners’ medal behind legend Paco Gento.
They know the value of him now. And they knew it back in 2018 when Inter wanted to take him to Serie A and were told there was no way he was going to be allowed to leave Madrid.