Luka Modric has told France Football he and his Real Madrid teammates did not expect Cristiano Ronaldo or Zinedine Zidane to leave the club last summer.
Ronaldo ended a nine-year association with the European champions by joining Juventus while Zidane stepped downfrom his role as coach after masterminding a third successive UEFA Champions League triumph — and Modric said the two pieces of news came as a shock to the Madrid dressing room.
“I didn’t expect it for either of them [to leave],” Modric told France Football. “I didn’t think Zidane was going to leave, same thing for Ronaldo.
“Actually, when the rumour about Cristiano came out, we made bets between us in the dressing room and we were convinced that he would stay in the end. But everyone makes their own choices in life.”
Modric has just started his seventh season in the Spanish capital following his 2012 switch from Tottenham Hotspur.
The 33-year-old will be hard pushed to emulate the success of his past 12 months in which he played a central role in Madrid’s 13th continental crown before underpinning his country’s run to the FIFA World Cup final and winning the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player.
After picking up FIFA’s The Best award last month, he is now among the frontrunners to end the decade-long stranglehold Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have had on the Ballon d’Or when the winner is revealed in December. But the 33-year-old is refusing to let himself get carried away.
“Truth be told, I don’t like that way of talking and saying: ‘Yes, it’s me who deserves the Ballon d’Or’,” he said. “The important thing for me is to be on the pitch as I have been for months now.
“This year, 2018, has undoubtedly been the best of my career and my only objective is to keep going on this path, on this trajectory. You’re not going to get me to say: ‘It’s me who should win it.’ That is up to the experts who vote. It’s in their hands.”
While Modric is many people’s favourite to win the Ballon d’Or, another nominee, Kylian Mbappe, is the overwhelming pick to claim the inaugural Kopa Trophy awarded to the planet’s best Under-21 player.
Despite having witnessed the 19-year-old French forward end his World Cup dreams in Russia last summer as he helped Les Bleus to a 4-2 victory in the final, Modric remains a fan of the Paris Saint-Germain forward.
“Mbappe is an extraordinary talent, a magnificent promise for the future,” Modric said. “But someone who is already at a great level.
“He’s really very special. I remember my international teammate, Danijel Subasic, said to me one day: ‘There’s a young player at Monaco, you’ll see, he’s incredible, and one day he’ll be one of the best in the world.’
“He was talking to me about Mbappe before he was known about. I’m sure Kylian is going to keep improving.”