Two and a half years have passed since then, and the 35-year-old is still pulling the strings in midfield for the Vatreni, as captain and the team’s leader. Modric reached a new milestone on Saturday when he earned his 135th international cap in the 1-0 World Cup qualifying win against Cyprus to overtake Darijo Srna as his country’s record appearance holder.
FIFA.com chatted to Modric about that achievement, his next objectives and Croatia’s bumpy start to Qatar 2022 qualifying.
FIFA.com: Luka Modric, how do you feel as Croatia’s new most-capped player?
The feeling is great, I’m happy and proud. It’s a great honour to break such a record, even though I haven’t given it much thought. Other national team goals were more important. However, when I came close to this number, I wanted to reach the top. Luckily, I’ve managed to do it.
You are now 35. Will the UEFA EURO be your last major tournament?
We’ll see what happens after the EURO. At the tournament, Croatia have to be strong as a team since we are in a tough group. Despite some retirements, I believe we have quality in our team and that we can play a significant role. It is difficult to promise anything, but we’ll go to the EURO with ambition and hope, and mindset to justify the high reputation we have already earned. We need to represent Croatian football as it deserves.
Are you satisfied with your career or is there something still lacking?
Regardless of previous achievements, both at club and international level, you always want more. When you win a trophy, or achieve something big, you want to repeat that triumph. As long as I play, I will have objectives and ambition. With Croatia, I want another major success, and at club level I want to fight for trophies as long as I have a chance. I prepare and work accordingly, and we’ll see how long this will last.
Croatia finished as runners-up at the last World Cup, but have started the qualifying campaign for Qatar 2022 with a win and a defeat. Are you disappointed?
Croatia did not start this qualifying campaign in the best possible way, considering both the performances and the outcomes. It’s more difficult to play after the World Cup achievement: every opponent is more motivated against us, and we have to maintain the level of performance from Russia, the high level of the Croatia national team. The start wasn’t perfect, but it’s the finish that counts. I’m convinced that we have the most quality in this group and that we’ll prove that during the qualifiers.
Modric by numbers
Born: 9 September 1985
Position: Central midfield
Clubs: Dinamo Zagreb, Tottenham Hotspur, Real Madrid (since 2012)
National team: 135 caps (16 goals)
Honours (selected): World Cup runner-up (2018), adidas Golden Ball winner (2018 World Cup), The Best FIFA Men’s Player (2018), European Footballer of the Year (2018), UEFA Champions League winner (2014, 2016, 2017, 2018), FIFA Club World Cup winner (2014, 2016, 2017, 2018)
What others say about Modric
“I’ve said it before: Modric is almost at the same level as Zidane, and Zidane was one of the best players of all time. These players see things we don’t even see on replays.” Casemiro to journalists after the Club World Cup final in United Arab Emirates in 2017
“It seems like they both came here from a different planet to play football with us mere mortals. Both of them are among the best players of all time in their positions.” Ivan Rakitic on Modric and Andres Iniesta at a press conference after the group stage of the 2018 World Cup in Russia
“Luka makes it look easy, but believe me, it’s very, very difficult to play football like that. But with him it looks like the most normal thing in the world. It’s like a dance for him.” Kaka to Omnisport
“When your team are under the cosh, there is no better player to handle the pressure. Modric is always willing to receive the ball and will keep hold of it to take the sting out of the game. That is the mark of a brave player.” Jamie Redknapp in the Daily Mail