Luka Modric's incisive attacking midfield play was a feature for Croatia at last summer's UEFA EURO finals until a quarter-final loss to Turkey - but a summer move to Tottenham has seen him lose his way.
With Croatia having lost at home to England to dent their FIFA World Cup™ qualifying hopes, Modric is at a crossroads and said his compatriots have to dig deep Saturday against Ukraine. Of the Turkish defeat he says: "It's a match none of us will easily forget but we have to push it to the back of our minds."
Modric could easily have ended the game a national hero as he set up a goal for Ivan Klasnic a minute before the end of extra-time - only for the Turks to fight back in the dying seconds. And to add insult to injury, Modric missed his spotkick in the ensuing shootout.
Slaven Bilic's "little genius", who wears the No14 shirt in honour of his hero Johan Cruyff, then had to endure last month's 4-1 home thumping by England, a result which makes three points a must for the Ukraine match. "In time it will be easier to talk about it - but we have to leave this painful business behind us during the qualifiers for the World Cup," insists Modric.
He and his teammates were shaken by Croatia's first loss at the Maksimir stadium in Zagreb to an England team buoyed by Theo Walcott's sparkling hat-trick.
And now they will hope that Modric, the sole Croatian chosen in the UEFA team of the tournament at the EURO, can begin reproducing the form of last summer and escape the trough into which he has fallen at White Hart Lane. "I am sure that qualifying for the World Cup would erase all the bad memories of the evening against the Turks and once we get there I hope to show the kind of form I did at the EURO," says the slightly-built dynamo.
Modric is candid about his form at Tottenham, who are rock bottom of the English Premiership after taking just two points from seven matches. ". The problem has been a knee problem - it's been causing me pain," he explains.
Aware that a crisis of confidence for Modric could sap team morale generally coach Bilic recently came over to London to check on his star. "I am worried about the results at Tottenham, where some of our key players are playing - defender Vedran Corluka and in particular Luka Modric," Bilic admitted.
Modric arrived with a glowing reputation for a transfer fee of 21 million euros, a record for a Croatian. "Luka is aware the situation is not good," says Bilic. "He is aware that more is expected of him and that he has to lead the others. "One of the things we must do at team headquarters is help set him on the right road."
Modric has the chance to repay Bilic's faith in him on Saturday in Kharkov before applying himself to the task of belatedly kickstarting Spurs' season.
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