COMMENT: You would be hard tasked to find a potential World Cup winning captain more divisive than Luka Modric.
The negativity surrounding Modric stems from a perjury charge he received from Croatian authorities in March. Prosecutors believe Modric lied when he reneged on a previous testimony during the trial of Zdravko Mamic in July 2017. If found guilty, Modric could face six months to five years in jail.
Despite the controversy, Croatian journalist Robert Knjaz believes the majority of people are behind the 32-year-old.
“99% of Croatia are behind Luka Modric. The 1% are the ultras," Knjaz told Tribalfootball. "Croatia doesn't have a problem with Modric, just Mamic."
Mamic was arrested in November 2015 on charges of tax evasion and bribery after a tumultuous twelve-year stint in charge of Croatia's most popular club, Dinamo Zagreb. Authorities claimed that Mamic had embezzled €15m of the club's money and failed to pay $1.8m in state taxes since 2008.
The substantial amount was accrued by Mamic from illegitimate contracts with Dinamo players. These agreements could reach ten years in duration, and include clauses that ensured Mamic would take a percentage of a player's future earnings for the rest of their career and a cut of any transfer fee. The fee would be split between the player and the club, with the player's portion then subsequently passed along to Mamic.
In the prosecution's original investigation, Modric corroborated evidence that Mamic had included the transfer fee clause in his contract after Spurs had already paid Dinamo €21 million in 2008. A reiteration of his original testimony would have provided irrefutable evidence that Mamic had illegally altered the contracts in order to improve his bank account.
But in an Osijek courtroom last year, Modric backtracked on his earlier statements, stating: “That … That I've never said … that … that it was drawn up afterwards. I told you then that I couldn't remember when it had been done." Afterwards Modric stood by his statement, which was then backed up the Croatian Football Federation (HNS).
Failure to cement Mamic's criminality brought uproar from a portion of the public, especially Dinamo supporters group, the Bad Blue Boys, whose feud with Mamic included a stadium boycott from 2010 until Mamic's arrest.
Graffiti in his hometown of Zadar read 'Modric you little s**t'. The hotel in which his family had stayed in as refugees during the Balkan Wars was spray-painted 'You'll remember this one day'. And a mural of Modric in Mostar, a Bosnian city where he'd spent time on loan as a teenager, was defaced.
Only a month ago, prior to Croatia's first opening World Cup match against Nigeria, fans were pictured wearing Modric's number 10 jersey, but with his name replaced with 'Ne sjecam se', which means 'I don't remember' in English.
This is the hotel in Zadar where the Modrić family used to live as war refugees. "Luka, you'll remember this one day" (via @Jutarnji) pic.twitter.com/LcjYcMejyY
— Aleksandar Holiga (@AlexHoliga) June 14, 2017
Mural for Luka Modric in Mostar defaced after he changed his testimony in favour of Zdravko Mamic at the latter's corruption trial. pic.twitter.com/xTbRRygzYP
— Rusty Woodger (@rustywoodger) June 14, 2017
Konačno je i kontra došla na stadion pic.twitter.com/vavQIeuG1S
— strings_kings (@strings_kings) June 16, 2018
Others have sympathised with Modric's predicament of having to finger-point the man who had helped his life and career.
After being made a refugee during the Balkan Wars, Modric grew up in poverty on the coastal town of Zadar. Spotted playing football around the neighbourhood, Modric was eventually picked up by Mamic and brought to Dinamo. Noticing Modric's potential, Mamic took the disadvantaged teenager under his wing by paying his rent, buying him football gear and even his first car.
“People understand why Modric didn't want to get involved with Mamic," Knjaz explained. “This was the man that made him into Luka Modric."
One thing nobody can dispute, however, is Modric's herculean performances in Russia. Having already won three man-of-the-match awards, a win on Sunday will most likely see him claim the Golden Ball, awarded for the tournament's best player.
For Croatia, with a population of just over 4 million people, making the World Cup final alone is an unprecedented feat. And with Modric being the lynchpin of such an achievement, his legacy as one of the nation's greatest footballers is secure, regardless if he spends time behind bars.