Five years ago when Luka Modric signed for Real Madrid from Spurs for €40m, the Croatian was voted as the worst signing of the season in a La Liga poll. Many fans said he was a flop after scoring just one goal and playing an average of 35 minutes per game during the first half of the season.

Fast forward to summer 2018 and Modric has just been awarded the World Cup Golden Ball after leading Croatia to a World Cup final. He has also been instrumental in Real Madrid’s three consecutive Champions League victories, and after Ronaldo’s exit is now seen as Madrid’s most important player by many. He is now selling more shirts than any other Real Madrid player, and Barcelona fans voted that he would be the player they would most want to steal from their rivals.

He’s one of the top midfielders in the world today, and his story is extraordinary. Modric grew up during the Balkan war, and when he was six years old his grandfather, who was a soldier, was shot and killed near his home. His family fled the area to and became refugees, and their home was burned to the ground after they left. Luka and his family lived in a hotel for seven years, and it was in the hotel car park where he ran around with a ball practicing.

He says playing football in the streets helped him take his mind off the brutal realities happening in the war zones not far away, and he and his sister even had to look out for mines as they walked down the streets. Modric says his experiences made him stronger and shaped him as a person, and maybe a reason why he has risen to such great heights. He was rejected by a few clubs when he was a youth because he was considered too small and weak, but he eventually earned a contract with Dinamo Zagreb when he was 16, after impressing at a tournament in Italy.

He still hadn’t made it though, and it took a loan spell in Bosnia for Zagreb to realise his worth. Modric was voted best player in the Bosnian Premier League and was given a long-term contract at Zagreb. This allowed him to buy a flat for his family and he later won the league with Zagreb in his first full season. It wasn’t long before the likes of Barcelona and Arsenal showed an interest, but Luka was patient and went with a move to Spurs instead.

He spent four years in London, and initially, there were concerns as some pundits and rival managers said he was too much of a lightweight for the Premier League. “Critics push you forward to show people they are wrong. Maybe I look lightweight but I am a really strong person mentally and physically,” was his response. And he did prove them wrong, becoming a key player for Spurs before becoming a Galactico and signing for Madrid.

That mental toughness was also apparent when he missed a penalty for Croatia against Denmark in the last 16 of the World Cup, before scoring his penalty in the decisive shootout.

When you have the technique and the vision that he has, you play like you don’t feel pressure. He will ask for the ball even when he is in the tightest of situations, and he still manages to get himself out of it. Having a player like that in the team means you know you will play great football – he has the ability to influence the team just like a caption or a top goal scorer.

Real Madrid do need to find a good replacement for Ronaldo though, because good ball-playing midfielders like Modric need attackers that think and play alike, or they will be lost in who to give the ball to.