Where Does Luka Modric Rank Among Croatia's Greatest Midfielders?
The second leg of the Champions League semi-finals marks a jubilee for Luka Modric. When he takes to the pitch in Bayern’s Allianz Arena in Munich, he will record his 100th appearance for Real Madrid.
Modric has also been a stalwart player for Croatia, and his form is the main reason for optimism among the fans ahead of the World Cup, where the team is to meet Brazil, Cameroon and Mexico—and hopefully some other nations if they manage to progress from their group.
Croatia only joined UEFA and FIFA in 1992, a year after the nation gained independence from Yugoslavia, and started competing in 1994. However, since that the country has had more than a fair share of extraordinary midfielders and the national team has been punching above their weight for most of the 20 years on the big stage.
So where does the 28-year-old Modric rank so far among his nation’s best? Over the following pages are 10 best Croatian midfielders, ranked by their impact in that chequered shirt.
10. Krunoslav Jurcic
Position: Defensive midfield Caps: 21 Goals: 0
Goggle-eyed, bony and generally peculiar looking, Jurcic was the often overlooked member of Croatia’s bronze-winning team of 1998, where he played three full games (all of which Croatia won). Whenever the extremely talented creative midfield needed backup and more defensive stability, Jurcic was summoned to restore balance.
9. Ognjen Vukojevic
Position: Defensive midfield Caps: 54 Goals: 4
The arguably underappreciated holder has never been considered a mainstay in the first team, but still managed to amass a remarkable number of appearances. He tends to keep it simple and provides a much needed physical presence in midfield. Vukojevic played his best football for Croatia at the 2012 Euros.
Vukojevic made his name in Dinamo Zagreb. Since 2008, he’s been plying his trade at Dynamo Kiev, with one loan spell with Spartak Moscow.
8. Milan Rapaic
Position: Attacking midfield/Left midfield Caps: 49 Goals: 6
A fan favourite throughout his playing career, the easy-going, fun-loving Rapaic always provided an element of entertainment on the pitch. But he was a very good player as well, blessed with some nifty technical skills.
The pinnacle of his power came during Croatia’s transitional years when the team was not so good and lacking in other creative players. Rapaic had a major role for his nation at the 2002 World Cup and the Euros two years later. He played for Hajduk Split, as well as in Italy, Turkey and Belgium.
7. Ivan Rakitic
Position: All-round midfielder Caps: 60 Goals: 9
Swiss-born Rakitic only recently grew into a top playmaker and is now wanted by several European giants. But even before that, he was an important member of the Croatia squad, used as a utility player in a few different positions. Hopefully his best displays for the Vatreni are yet to come.
Rakitic started his professional career in Basel and then proceeded to Schalke. Since 2011, he’s been at Sevilla, where he became their star player and captain. He’s very likely to change clubs this summer, though.
6. Niko Kranjcar
Position: Attacking midfield/Left midfield Caps: 81 Goals: 16
The wonderfully gifted Kranjcar has been in decline for a few years now, but was one of the key Croatia players in his heyday a few years ago. Even with his evident lack of pace and poor defensive play, he provided a major creative and goal-scoring threat—and can still do that, even if he’s on the margins of the national team these days.
Kranjcar was at the centre of the most controversial transfer in Croatian football, when he left Dinamo Zagreb for their archrivals Hajduk Split in 2005. Later he played for Portsmouth and Tottenham in the Premier League, and now he’s at QPR, on loan from Dynamo Kiev.
5. Aljosa Asanovic
Position: Attacking midfield Caps: 62 Goals: 3
A member of Croatia’s original “Magic Triangle” (with Robert Prosinecki and Zvonimir Boban), Asanovic was something of a journeyman player during his club career, but excelled in that red and white checkered shirt. His displays at the 1996 Euros and 1998 World Cup were particularly memorable, especially his long-range passes that would slice open the opposing defence.
He spent eight years playing for Hajduk Split, but has also graced the pitches in France, Spain, England, Italy, Greece and even Australia. Later he become assistant to Slaven Bilic and the two coached the national team together.
4. Niko Kovac
Position: Defensive midfield Caps: 83 Goals: 14
The current Croatia gaffer was previously their captain and a true leader on the pitch. Although he started in a more advanced position, towards the end of his playing days he was converted into a quality defensive midfielder, a metronome who dictated the tempo and provided a safety net for the likes of Modric, Kranjcar and Rakitic to flourish.
Berlin-born, he spent almost his entire playing career in Germany (Hertha, Leverkusen, HSV, Bayern) before finishing it at Red Bull Salzburg in Austria. After retiring, Kovac first took the reins in Croatia U21s, but was appointed manager of the senior squad last October and will be taking the team—including many of his former team-mates—to the World Cup in Brazil.
3. Luka Modric
Position: Central midfield Caps: 73 Goals: 13
Given his current form, the Real Madrid playmaker could still become the greatest in the nation’s history. For that, he would need a huge result in Brazil—and anything close to repeating third-place finish of 1998 doesn’t look very likely for Croatia. But whatever they manage to achieve will be closely tied with Modric’s performance; he’s their undoubted star man.
Before joining Tottenham and then Real Madrid, Modric made his name with Dinamo Zagreb and has played for the national team since 2006.
2. Robert Prosinecki
Position: Central midfield/Attacking midfield Caps: 49 Goals: 10
The most technically skilled and creative midfielder ever to play for Croatia, Prosinecki was a true fantasista, thoroughly enjoyable to watch in every game. He’s the only player ever to score for two different nations at the World Cup (in 1990 for Yugoslavia and in 1998 for Croatia).
Arguably his finest performance came in the third-place match in 1998 against the Netherlands, as he lead the team to a 2-1 victory, scoring himself in the process.
Among other clubs, Prosinecki played for both Dinamo Zagreb and Red Star Belgrade, Real Madrid and Barcelona. After retirement, he was an assistant to Slaven Bilic in Croatia before moving on to coach Red Star in Serbia and Kayserispor in Turkey.
1. Zvonimir Boban
Position: Central midfield/Attacking midfield Caps: 51 Goals: 12
The captain of the 1998 Croatia squad is still held in highest regard among football fans in his country and elsewhere. He was instrumental for the successes the team achieved over the 1990s as the focal point of their build-up play, but also as an example of dedication and work rate for everyone around him. A true professional.
Boban started his career with Dinamo Zagreb and rose to glory with AC Milan, with whom he won four Serie A and one Champions League titles. After retirement he's stayed in football as an outspoken pundit and analyst for Sky Italia.