The last time they held the European Championships, Luka Modrić made a name for himself with sterling four matches. He was touted as one of Europe's next great playmakers with a cultured passing game that could spur a break with one strike of the ball. Now, four years later, he's dropped the great and is simple one of Europe's great playmakers whose passing game is as good as everyone hoped it would be a better.
Tottenham Hotspur signed Modrić just before Euro 2008 and they were smart to have done it before the tournament because his play would have raised the price by millions. This time around, it looks like Spurs will do the selling as opposed to the buying and they clearly learned from four years ago because they are going to wait until after Euro to sell the midfielder. The club are going to make a pretty penny off of the sale too, having bought Modrić for £16.5 million in 2008 and looking at a sale that could fetch as much as £40 million this summer. If nothing else, the price tag is indicative of a tantalizing talent come good in the last four years.
In Ukraine and Poland, Modrić will put his club future on hold. He has said that he will not speak about any possible transfers and that his focus will be squarely on Croatia, which is a good move for the best player on a team that has a legitimate chance to make a deep run into the tournament.
Many overlook Modrić's contributions because they do not show up on the scoresheet. He doesn't score goals and doesn't pick up nearly as many assists as someone would expect for a player with his passing prowess, but his contribution comes before the final ball.
Modrić's ability to dictate a match without ever leaving the midfield is exceptional. When Gareth Bale is scampering down the left wing for Spurs, it is usually because Modrić's early ball has opened up the field for Bale. When Aaron Lennon is cutting in from the right, it is often because Modrić has hit a pinpoint cross field pass that sends the defense scrambling. When his team is panicking, Modrić acts as the outlet and keeps the ball.
Everything Modrić does for Tottenham, he is asked to do for Croatia, only he is even more important for his country. And all of it comes down to one thing: Modrić can hit any ball, from five yards to 50 yards, and drop it on a dime.
Croatia have the chance to go deep into the tournament. With Italy reeling, Croatia could easily top Ireland in their opener then nip the Italians to book a spot in the quarterfinals before they even have to play Spain. If they do, expect the plaudits to rain down on Modrić. His passing will be marveled at, his vision ogled and Spurs will be staring at many more millions should they sell after the tournament.
There is also the flip side. If Croatia struggle, Modric will be blamed. He is the star of the team and one being tipped for Chelsea, Manchester United and any other big club out there. With that kind of profile, the blame will follow Modrić.
Croatia do not have the defense to hold steady if they cannot hold the ball and while Darijo Srna, Mario Mandžukić and Nikica Jelavić can cause serious problems for opponents, Modrić is the only one they will truly fear. Luckily for the Croats, Modric is wonderful.
Modrić is a gem, able to wow observers with the fine, elegant passing that is simply a joy to watch. He opened the eyes of the footballing world four years ago and he has only gotten better since. Croatia, along with every neutral observer, are hoping that to see that on display in Ukraine and Poland and if he is, make sure to put your DVR to work. You won't want to miss it.
National Team: Croatia
Club Team: Tottenham Hotspur
Position: Central midfielder
Role in the Team: First choice central midfielder in a 4-4-2, passing Mr. Everything