Mateo Kovacic will succeed Luka Modric at Real Madrid - Darijo Srna
Former Croatia captain Darijo Srna says that the "incredibly talented" Mateo Kovacic will succeed his Real Madrid teammate Luka Modric as the "best midfielder in the world."
Kovacic, 22, has been a squad player at Madrid since joining from Inter Milan for €30 million in summer 2015 -- but has filled in regularly this season and impressed when scoring his first La Liga goal in a recent 3-0 La Liga win at home to Real Sociedad.
Speaking to Marca from Shakhtar Donetsk's winter camp at La Manga, the veteran said that Kovacic has improved a lot in a short space of time and still had plenty more to give.
"I am sure that [Kovacic] will succeed Modric as he has incredible talent," Srna said. "I adore him. Although he has improved a lot, we have not yet seen all he can give. But we will. He is the future of Madrid. He needs time as just three years ago he left Dinamo Zagreb to play at Inter and then Real."
Srna said that his successor as Croatia captain Modric, 31, was now the No. 1 midfielder around, and added a concern for Madrid with the ex-Tottenham player not sure to return from a muscle problem in time for the Champions League round-of-16 first leg at home to Napoli on March 15.
"Although he is my friend, [Modric] is the best midfielder in the world at the moment," he said. "I have no doubt, I do not say he is one of the best, I am sure that he is the best. Luka is improving with the years, I believe he is at his best now. Since he arrived he has been improving with the team. Madrid are having a great run of results, but without Luka they would have problems."
The reported January target for Barcelona said that he had no doubt another countryman, Ivan Rakitic, would come through a difficult period of form which has seen him in and out of the XI at the Camp Nou this season.
"[Rakitic] has shown his quality many times," he said. "He scored a goal in the Champions League final! I am sure that he will work hard to get back to his best. I have a lot of faith in Rakitic."
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan