In July, the world watched in awe as Croatia battled their way through the 2018 FIFA World Cup and made it to country’s first ever championship. Though Croatia lost to France in the finals, the team’s accomplishments were widely celebrated, and much of the team’s success can be attributed to the nation’s “Golden Generation,” a group of powerhouse players like Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic, Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic and Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric.
As the Croatian team’s captain, Modric showed tremendous leadership, providing excellent passes and crucial motivation during the team’s several overtime appearances. Now, he’s been awarded the prestigious Ballon d’Or, a prize given to the world’s best soccer player by FIFA as determined by national team captains, national team coaches and journalists from participating countries. Cristiano Ronaldo came in second place for the title, according to the BBC.
“Modric’s tireless running, key goals and outstanding leadership qualities helped guide Vatreni to the Final against France, his nation’s finest performance at the global finals,” writes FIFA.
“In my career I’ve realized that hard work and persistence in difficult moments sets the foundation to show your talent,” Modric said, according to BBC. “One phrase I like to say: ‘The best things never come easy.’ For me to achieve all this, nothing was easy.”
The superstar may have developed these leadership qualities during his uniquely challenging childhood. When Modric was just six years old, his family became refugees. Yahoo Sports recounts that Serbian militants attacked Modric’s hometown of Modrici, on December 8th, 1991. His grandfather was shot, his home was burned to the ground and his family was forced to flee for their lives.
Premium: Luka Modric of Croatia
Luka Modric of Croatia during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Semi Final match between England and Croatia at Luzhniki Stadium on July 11, 2018 in Moscow, Russia.Jean Catuffe/Getty Images
“When the war started we became refugees, and it was a really tough time,” The Sun reports Modric saying in 2008. “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 being uprooted from their home, Modric and his family moved to the city of Zadar, Croatia, and struggled to make ends meet. “We lived in a hotel for many years as we struggled financially, but I always loved football,” he recalls. “I remember my first shin pads had the Brazilian Ronaldo on them, and I loved them.”
According to Canadian media organization The Loop, Modric grew up practicing soccer in empty parking lots and remembers hearing grenades in the background. But despite these difficulties, the captain says he is stronger today because of the challenges he has faced.
“The war made me stronger, it was a very hard time for me and my family,” reports The Sun. “I don’t want to drag that with me forever, but I don’t want to forget about it either.”
This is an updated version of a post that originally published on July 14th, 2018.