Mateo Kovačić won his 50th cap for Croatia on Thursday in a 2-1 win over Azerbaijan.
The Chelsea midfielder, on loan from Real Madrid, hasn’t always had it so easy and described his journey from Croatia to becoming one of the better midfielders in the world to Chelsea’s official website.
“I was born and grew up in Linz in Austria. I have played football since I was three or four years old when I played with my friends from nursery.
“One friend of mine started playing when he was five and told his mother that I was good.
“His mother talked to my mother, and she took me to my first training session when I was five years old. I was younger than everybody.
“…The first team I played for was a small club in my village for one year. Then I moved to LASK Linz who are now in the First Division in Austria and doing very well. It’s a big club in Austria.
“I am still in contact with some of the people I played with at that time. I remember all my friends from then. They were a big part of my life.
“When I was 10 years old, I played a game for Linz against Dynamo Zagreb in Zagreb.
“They liked me, they got in contact, and for two years I went with them to tournaments and played with them. In the end they decided to bring my family back to Croatia. It was one of the happiest days in my life.
“…I broke my leg when I was 14. That was a part of my career that was difficult. It was difficult for me, but not just me, also my family.
“They had moved and sacrificed everything, and then maybe it was over. It was a huge punch for us, but we believe in God and we knew I would come back for sure.
“And I did. I came back very strong, and when I was 16 I went to the first team. That was my first step in professional football.
“My senior debut for Dinamo Zagreb was really special. It was a long time ago now! I scored in this game. It was a day to remember.
“My father was the happiest person because he suffered a lot when I was injured, and this goal was for him. I think he is now the proudest dad in the world.”
You can read the interview in full on Chelsea’s official website.