A combination of pictures shows France's forward Kylian Mbappe (left) and Croatia's midfielder Luka Modric. Image Credit: AFP

This year’s World Cup final is a tale of two stars.

No, sadly for them, it will not be Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi finally getting their hands on the coveted trophy. Instead it will be one of two men who have overcome more adversity than most to become the heroes of this tournament.

Step forward Luka Modric and Kylian Mbappe, this is your moment.


Like many household names we know today, Mbappe - France’s star player at this year’s tournament astoundingly is only 19 - was thrust into football academies at a young age when his talent was spotted by his family members.

He was born in Bondy, near Paris in 1998, six months to the day after France last won the World Cup, led by a team of superstars including Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry and current coach Didier Deschamps,

His father was from Cameroon and mother from Algeria, and as a mixed-race child in France in a climate filled with racial tensions that meant football was an escape. 

The Parisian suburbs were ravaged by rioting but Mbappe focused on only his football and was noticed for his talent as young as four years old. School was pushed to one side as he was thrust full-time into football before he even learnt his times-tables.

It was football and nothing else. If questionable, it paid off and he was recognised at the age of six - yes six - as the most talented youngster in French football.

He made his Ligue 1 debut for Monaco at the age of 16 and soon became a Paris St-Germain star when he was signed as the second most expensive player in history.

Mbappe is an adopted brother to Jires Kembo-Ekoko, formerly of Al Ain and Al Nasr, so to say football is in the blood is an understatement.

Click on the infographic to enlarge

There is much criticism about pressure being thrust of kids to achieve greatness - Messi was in the Barcelona academy before his age reached double digits.

But, right or wrong, Mbappe’s gifts are now on show to the world - and at the age of 19, we should have many more years of his flair to enjoy.  

Modric’s story is somewhat more harrowing.

The Real Madrid midfielder and pin-up of Croatian football suffered a tumultuous upbringing all too familiar for the current crop of Eastern European players. He was born in 1985 in Zadar, Yugoslavia, just before the breakout of the Croatian War of Independence and in 1991 his family fled the area.

Modric was a refugee for seven years and he used football to escape the horrors around him. Stints at Dynamo Zagreb and then Tottenham Hotspur followed before he found the bright lights at Real Madrid. 

It is amazing to think the guy now dubbed the ‘Croatian Cruyff’ (after the Dutchman Johan who created modern football) is on the cusp of greatness the neither Messi nor Ronaldo could achieve.

His determination to win and ability to be the unsung hero - yes, they have them at Real Madrid - could win him the Ballon d’Or as the world's best player this year, signalling a real changing of the guard for the stars of tomorrow on the field.

Modric and Mbappe have overcome more than most and deserve all the plaudits, win or lose, in Moscow on Sunday night.