In the London Hall, ceremonially decorated and ready for the great event, there were two guests who understood everything that was said. The first one spoke, and the other, when listening to him, had tears in his eyes. Luka Modrić, who was selected and named the best player in the world by the world football organization at its great event, thanked in his ceremonial response. And everything would have been in line with the celebration regarding the perfect peak of the player’s career if he had not said the key sentence. They could overhear or superficially understand it as a kind of gesture of civility and respect, or only attribute it to the celebratory atmosphere.
Modrić, obviously, very thoughtfully, said that he wanted to especially thank the man who was his life and sport role model, the captain of the football team that won the bronze medal in 1998 at the World Championship in France, Zvonimir Boban. And I looked at both of them, Modrić, who was standing on the stage, as well as Boban, who was sitting among the officials and crying. Both, Modrić, the world’s best player and Boban, the most influential man of all that has happened or will happen in the world football, probably at that very moment knew that the third man was not mentioned.
The day after the award, Modrić returned to Madrid and supplemented his London speech at the reception. He added another third name. He said that Predrag Mijatović had a very important role in his football rise to Olympus, and that the part of the credit for this great reward he received was his as well.
Three big footballers are not merely associated by the chosen game, in which, each in their time, they were the best. Nor just the 1998 world championship, in France, where Boban’s team won a medal for the third place, and Mijatović missed the decisive penalty in the match with the Netherlands and stopped the team of former Yugoslavia before the quarterfinals. Modrić, at the time of his celebration, does not mention this just for that.
We could be satisfied with the explanation that Modrić speaks in such a special way about Boban and Mijatović primarily because of his memories and respect, and in order to understand the whole story, we have to make a step forward from football.
The president of the Republic of Croatia, Dr Franjo Tuđman, liked, after tennis and good dinner, to play the preference card game. Usually, his teammates were well-known Zagreb gynaecologist Velimir Šimunović and insurance company Croatia osiguranje president, Suad Rizvanbegović. Some spectators and primarily listeners usually sat around them. Tuđman’s tennis partner, Bruno Orešar, the president’s confidant and the head of the football club Croatia, Zlatko Canjuga, Zagreb high-ranking city official and president of the Croatian Football Association, as well as the excellent storyteller of jokes Branko Mikša, and the football coach Miroslav Ćiro Blažević.
At one of these card game conversations, it was at the beginning of November 1997, Tuđman asked Blažević whether he could reveal to him the planned list of the national team players for the match with Ukraine. Additional qualifications were played for participation in the upcoming World Championship. In the first game, at the end of October of that year, Croatia won with the goals of Slaven Bilić and Goran Vlaović. Tuđman was interested in the coach’s solutions that evening (the decider match was held on November 15, 1997 in Kiev). Blažević began to talk more or less cautiously that goalkeeper Marjan Mrmić would be at the goal and he had to, immediately, shut up. Tuđman threw cards at the table and shouted: “No, no, Ladić will keep the goal, remember, Dražen Ladić.”
Of course, that is how it was.
Tuđman was the owner of the Croatian football. He had the ambition he considered as part of his own political doctrine to make Croatian football successful in Europe and world-wide. Part of this project was also the football club Croatia, later renamed Dinamo again. It should have become one of the most prestigious European teams. That is why Zdravko Mamić was brought in the club, as an operative and financial expert who will take care of that there is no lack of anything, and primarily the money needed for the team for such a venture.
After Tuđman’s death, he took over part of his powers. He appropriated the football. As well as Modrić.
The first who dared to publicly condemn such an appropriation of football was Boban.
The legendary Croatian journalist, a football researcher, a reputable writer, a connoisseur of secrets, even those hidden from themselves. Tomislav Židak wrote that the voice of Zvonimir Boban, every time he was heard, upsets the whole Croatia.
That was the case in the autumn of 2015, when Boban accused the owner of the Croatian football. Mamić directed all his skill and energy to the dangerous and wrong place. His actions are a state embarrassment, he said.
Now, many years later, Mamić is suspected of various criminal acts, so he fled to Bosnia and Herzegovina a few months ago, just before the pronouncement of the verdict and the beginning of the world football championship in Russia.
On June 13 this year, Modrić was interrogated in front of one of the Croatian courts, which investigated Mamić’s financial malversations and tax evasion. He had to explain the details of his financial contract on transfer from Zagreb’s Dinamo to London’s Tottenham Hotspur in 2008. Namely, then he had to sign with Mamić a special contract on the division of the salary, to pay him around ten million euros, and to, as the state prosecutor demonstrates, falsify the date of signature and put it a few years back.
At the June trial, he tried to somehow protect Mamić, until the state prosecutor warned him of the danger of false testimony.
That is why Modrić’s bow to Boban, at the big London celebration and the announcement of the world’s best football player, was also a bow to Boban’s assessment of the role of Mamić in the Croatian football. Both of them in the London Hall knew that.
The third to whom Modrić thanked was Predrag Mijatović. Also a special player. At the end of his football career, in 2006, Real Madrid president Ramon Calderon appointed him as the sports director of the club. Mijatović was the one who did everything that was needed, together with the less well-known to the public, although skilful and influential in European football, Vlado Lemić, for the later transfer and reception of Modrić to the royal football club.
In the first days of August this year, Mijatović and Lemić were guests of the Gallia Hotel in Milan. Of course, they were no tourists, nor casual visitor to the galleries and exhibition fairs, and even less buyers in a number of stores with tempting shop-windows. At the hotel, where the transfer agreement are made in the first half of August, they were awaiting the decision on a possible new Modrić’s club, the Milan Inter.
This year’s London manifestation was, according to Modrić’s decision, dedicated to the great three. Of course, first to himself, to the guest of honour and to the best player in the world, then to Boban, the key man of the world football, and to Mijatović, without whose knowledge nothing surprising in football can happen.
The speech of the London guest of honour, Luka Modrić, after the great award, was carefully thought-out.