Luka Modric (left) and Harry Kane are the star men for World Cup semi-final opponents Croatia and England.
Luka Modric (left) and Harry Kane are the star men for World Cup semi-final opponents Croatia and England.

Hard road to the top for Kane, Modric

THEY are two of the world's biggest stars who got their lucky break in Europe's most unfashionable leagues.

England's League One and the Bosnia and Herzegovina Premier League are hardly renowned as fields of dreams, but Harry Kane and Luka Modric's journeys to world soccer's summit serve as great lessons for the world over - especially Australia.

Tottenham's cold-blooded sharpshooter Kane is the World Cup's golden boot leader (six goals) while Real Madrid's Modric has been Russia's Minister of Distribution - putting on a string of passing and playmaking clinics.

Both were rejected by big clubs - "chubby" Kane by Arsenal and Spurs first time round and "minuscule" Modric by Hajduk Split - before they were picked up by Tottenham and Dinamo Zagreb respectively.

Talented yes, but even their "breakthrough" clubs had reservations. Unsure if and when first-team opportunities would present themselves, they were both loaned out.

While the lower entry barrier of Croatia has meant that most of their squad got early exposure, England's 23-man squad has represented 93 clubs in 46 different loan spells - headlined by Kane.

Third-tier Leyton Orient handed Kane his senior unveiling, followed by spells at Championship sides Millwall and Leicester City, accumulating 65 games (and 16 goals) by age 20, when he broke into Spurs' first-team squad - from there he had to wait another season to break into the first XI.

"When Tottenham sent me out on loan for two years, there were so many moments when I questioned whether I'd ever get the chance to score even one goal in the Premier League,'' Kane wrote in Players' Tribune.

"I also learned a lot of great lessons during those years. I remember going to Millwall in 2012, and we were in a relegation dogfight.

"You start to realise that some people aren't just playing for the sport. It's for their family's livelihood, you know? My experience at Millwall made me realise that I just couldn't be a kid anymore."

Modric was loaned to Bosnia, regarded at the time as perhaps the most brutal league in Europe - politically charged, with tension emanating from the terraces onto the pitch, summer and winter extremes plus host uncompromising opponents.

But his family's refugee upbringing clearly prepared him for the challenge.

"Someone who can play in the Bosnian league can play anywhere," Modric said.

He didn't just play, he won the player of the year, age 18, as 22 games for Zrinjski Mostar supplemented by a loan at Croatian top tier side Inter Zapresic (along with ex Spurs and Croatia teammate Vedran Corluka) rounded out his apprenticeship.

Dinamo unleashed him just shy of his 20th birthday, with 40 games' experience, with the added hard edge enabling him to make a sudden impact.

He's never looked back, with the likes of Paul Scholes, Andriy Shevchenko and Croatia great Robert Prosinecki labelling Modric one of the game's greats.

In Australia, this is not possible - clubs have been unable to loan players out while there is no second division.

With Football Federation Australia only promising to expand by two teams despite receiving 15 A-League bids, they have never been in a stronger position to add a second tier.

Kane had played 142 games by the end of 21, plus a host of England youth internationals.

Modric and Kane were not always destined for superstardom, with question marks about Kane's best position and whether he was capable of being England's leading striker.

Spurs paid a club record $29.5m (£16.5m) but manager Juande Ramos' lack of faith - he played him on the left - and poor results led to his sacking, with Harry Redknapp's trust and Modric's street-smarts seeing him evade and outwit the Premier League's midfield hard-men.

They are each on the verge of World Cup glory, and if either's team goes all the way - they loom as the favourite to break Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi's 10-year monopoly on the coveted Ballon d'Or.

Leyton Orient and Mostar will have every right to rejoice in the delight.


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