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Luka Modric remembers playing despite war in Croatia

FOOTBALL By AFP | September 6th 2020
Football - World Cup - Semi-Final - Croatia v England - Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, Russia - July 11, 2018. Croatia's Luka Modric in action. [REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov]

The alarms are ringing and Luka Modric is running because soon the bombs are coming. He is eight years old, wearing full kit and boots, and he has a football under his arm. 

When he arrives at the underground shelter, the rest of his team-mates jogging in behind him, he has to wait. 

Sometimes minutes, often hours and occasionally overnight, sleeping on the floor and staying until it was quiet, meaning it was safe to go outside. But Modric still had the ball. 

"I was with it all the time," he tells AFP in an exclusive interview. "When I went to the shelter I took it with me and I played with my friends, with everyone. I organised games. It meant everything to me." 

The Croatian War of Independence forced his family to leave their home just outside Zadar in 1991 but in the Hotel Kolovare, where they lived for seven years, Modric still played.

"I broke so many windows at the hotel and of people's cars, everyone was always mad at me," he says. "My father had to pay for it," he grins. "It was expensive." 

Football - World Cup - Group D - Croatia vs Nigeria - Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad, Russia - June 16, 2018. Croatia's Mario Mandzukic celebrates with Luka Modric and team mates after Nigeria's Oghenekaro Etebo scores an own goal and their first. [REUTERS/Matthew Childs]

Football offered an escape. "I remember the fear," he says. "We played football and the alarms went off. It was normal." 

Two decades later and still nobody can get the ball off Modric, Real Madrid's dancing playmaker, who can twist away from an opponent or wriggle through them, a midfield metronome described by his Croatian team-mate Ivan Rakitic as "one of the best ever in his position". 

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Modric writes in his autobiography, 'My Game', which came out last month, that he is calm, obedient and "fears nothing".

He says is "shy but not afraid". 

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