Best Croatian Footballers of all time: Croatia has a strong soccer history, with two remarkable generations of talented players over its 30-year existence. The first golden generation achieved third place in the 1998 World Cup in France, and the second golden generation won the silver medal in the 2018 World Cup in Russia, also reaching the top four in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Best Croatian Footballers of all time
Now, let’s look at the top 10 Croatian footballers of all time, considering both generations. These players were key contributors to the success of the Croatian national team. The suspense lies in discovering who will take the top spots.
Winning a Ballon d’Or or being the top scorer in a World Cup is a rare accomplishment, so you can probably guess who holds the highest position in this ranking.
No. 10: Darijo Srna
Darijo Srna bid farewell to the Croatian National Team in 2016, having made an impressive 134 appearances and scoring 22 goals. He holds the record for the most appearances in the team’s history and is also the fourth-highest scorer for the Vatreni. Srna, much like Jarni, was versatile, playing as a winger or full-back, specifically on the right side. His playing style drew comparisons to the legendary Brazilian player Cafú.
During his time with Croatia, Srna participated in six international competitions, including four Euros and two World Cups. He eventually became the captain of the national squad before passing the armband to Luka Modric.
On the club level, the footballer, born in Metkovic, spent the majority of his career with the Ukrainian club Shakhtar Donetsk from 2003 to 2018. With Shakhtar, Srna achieved remarkable success, winning numerous titles (27 in total), including the prestigious 2009 UEFA Cup.
No. 9: Robert Jarni
Robert Jarni was part of the Croatian National Team from 1990 to 2002, earning 81 caps and scoring one memorable goal. This goal played a crucial role in Croatia’s 3-0 victory over Germany in the Quarterfinals of the 1998 World Cup in France, a moment that will be etched in history. Notably, he was the sole player from his country to play in all the matches between the 1998 and 2002 World Cups, totaling 10 games.
Jarni showcased his versatility by playing as a left winger or winger. He began his football journey in Croatia with Cakovec and later joined Hajduk Split. Moving on to Serie A, he played for various teams, with Juventus Turin being the most prominent.
The pinnacle of his career came in the 1998-99 season when he signed with Real Madrid, following a successful stint with Real Betis Balompié. He earned admiration, even from fellow players like “El Torero” Joaquín, who chose to wear the number “17” as a tribute to Jarni.
No. 8: Niko Kovac
Niko Kovač, born in Berlin, Germany, spent most of his football career in Germany. Despite being born there, he represented Croatia at the international level. His international career spanned from 1996 until his retirement in 2009, paving the way for the emerging talents, including a certain Luka Modric, who would later lead the Croatian team. Kovač played a vital role in the midfield of the Vatreni.
Throughout his international career, Kovač made 83 appearances for the Croatian team, scoring 14 goals. He participated in two World Cups (2002 and 2006) and two European Championships (2004 and 2008).
In the early 2000s, Kovač played for Bayern Munich, winning the Bundesliga, the German Cup, and the Intercontinental Cup in 2001. Eventually, he concluded his playing days with RB Salzburg in Austria, adding a domestic title to his list of achievements.
No. 7: Alen Boksic
Alen Boksic is widely regarded as one of the greatest Croatian forwards, making a significant impact from the late 1980s to the early 2000s. His peak performance was in the mid-90s, notably scoring 50 goals in 157 games for Lazio in Serie A, a feat that contributed to winning the Serie A title in the year 2000.
Before his successful stint with Lazio, Boksic was part of the 1993 Champions League-winning Olympique de Marseille. This achievement earned him a fourth-place finish in the Ballon d’Or race that year, behind Roberto Baggio, Dennis Bergkamp, and Eric Cantona.
On the international stage with the Croatian National Team, Boksic played 40 games, scoring 10 goals. Unfortunately, an injury prevented him from making history with the national team at the 1998 World Cup in France.
No. 6: Robert Prosinecki
Robert Prosinečki was an international footballer for Croatia from 1994 to 2002, scoring 10 goals in 49 appearances. Remarkably, he is one of the rare players in the football world who had the privilege of playing for both Barcelona and Real Madrid, achieving success and winning trophies with both prestigious clubs.
Prosinečki’s football journey wasn’t limited to the club scene. He was a key part of the Golden Generation of Yugoslavia that won the 1987 U-20 World Cup title, forming an impressive attacking lineup with Suker, Boban, and Mijatović. Prosinečki even won the Ballon d’Or of the competition held in Chile.
His international career with Yugoslavia’s senior team included 15 matches, three of them in the 1990 World Cup in Italy. After Croatia became an independent nation, Prosinečki played 49 matches with the national team. One of his most significant contributions came in the 1998 World Cup in France, where he scored two goals in five games, making a notable impact on the tournament.
No. 5: Mario Mandzukic
Mario Mandžukić is undoubtedly the best center forward to emerge from Croatia in the last decade. He not only excelled on the international stage but also played for some of the top clubs in Europe, including Bayern Munich, Juventus, and Atlético de Madrid under the guidance of “Cholo” Simeone. Over the course of his career, “Mandzo” scored an impressive 230 goals in 565 games at the club level.
Focusing on his contributions to the National Team, “Súper Mario” scored 33 goals in 89 games. He participated in two World Cups (2014 and 2018) and two Euro Cups (2012 and 2016).
Notably, Mandžukić shares a unique achievement with legends Gerd Müller and Zinedine Zidane—he is the only player in history to score goals in both a Champions League final (2013 with Bayern and 2017 with Juventus) and a World Cup final (Russia 2018).
No. 4: Ivan Rakitic
Ivan Rakitić, a prominent midfielder, has earned his place in the spectacular Top 10. Currently active with his beloved Sevilla FC, he returned to the club after achieving significant success with FC Barcelona. Notably, he took on the challenge of replacing the legendary Xavi at Barcelona, showcasing his skills and contributing to the team. Rakitić even scored in a UEFA Champions League final in 2015 and shared the field with Lionel Andrés Messi in 311 games.
Before his successful stint at Sevilla FC, where he won the UEFA Europa League in 2014, the Swiss-born player had played for Basel and German side Schalke 04. His move to FC Barcelona brought him immense success, winning a total of 13 titles (10 national and 3 international), including the historic sextet in 2015.
Rakitić, known for his dynamic and classy style in midfield, was recognized as the Footballer of the Year in Croatia in the magical year of 2015. With the National Team of Croatia, he participated in two World Cups (2014 and 2018) and three European Championships (2008, 2012, and 2016). In total, he played 106 international matches and scored 15 goals.
No. 3: Zvonimir Boban
Zvonimir Boban, a celebrated figure in Croatian football, initially gained recognition at Dinamo Zagreb in Croatia. His journey then led him to Serie A, where he joined AC Milan and remained for an impressive 9 seasons. Although he spent the first year on loan at Bari, Boban found success with the “rossonero” team. His football career concluded in the Spanish League with Celta Vigo during the 2001-2002 campaign.
Boban’s time with AC Milan was particularly fruitful, as he secured a total of 9 titles, the only ones in his club-level career. This included the memorable 1994 UEFA Champions League victory against Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona in one of the most iconic European finals, where Capello’s Milan triumphed 4-0.
On the international stage, Boban achieved significant success, winning the 1987 U-20 World Cup and securing Third Place in the 1998 World Cup in France. He captained the surprising and joyful Croatian team that captivated the football world. Individually, he was honored as the Best Croatian Footballer of the Year in 1991 and 1999. Boban made 51 international appearances and scored 12 goals for his national team.
No. 2: Davor Suker
Davor Suker was Croatia’s football ambassador before the emergence of Luka Modric as a global star. He had an incredible scoring record, netting 45 goals in just 69 games for the Balkans, showcasing an impressive scoring average.
One of Suker’s most significant achievements was being the top scorer at the 1998 World Cup in France, where he scored six goals. This remarkable feat led him to be the runner-up in the race for the 1998 Ballon d’Or, standing alongside the great Zinedine Zidane, who had a stellar performance in the World Cup held in Suker’s home country.
Suker had a successful club career, playing five seasons for Sevilla, three for Real Madrid where he became the champion of the 1997 League, scoring 24 goals. He also won the UEFA Champions League and the Intercontinental Cup in 1998 as part of the Madrid team. Towards the end of his time with Real Madrid, he spent a season at Arsenal (1999-2000), another prestigious European club. In total, Suker scored 240 goals in more than 500 club-level games.
On the national team level, Suker, known as the “Wizard of Osijek,” not only won the Under-20 Championship with the extinct Yugoslavia in 1987 but also scored 9 goals for Croatia in major official competitions. This included 6 goals in France 98 and 3 goals in the European Championship in England in 1996.
No. 1: Luka Modric
In a closely contested battle with Davor Suker for the title of the best Croatian footballer of all time, Luka Modric ultimately claims the throne due to his outstanding contributions at both the club and national team levels, especially in terms of individual honors. His achievements include winning the Ballon d’Or at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the France Football Ballon d’Or, the UEFA Award for Best Player in Europe, and the FIFA The Best Award in 2018. These accolades marked the pinnacle of his football career.
Modric, often dubbed “The Cruyff of the Balkans,” has been an exceptional midfielder since his debut in 2003, directing the midfield with finesse even at the age of 35. While he may have fewer goals than the legendary Johan Cruyff, his impact on the game is undeniable.
Making his debut for Croatia in 2006, Modric has earned 133 international caps and scored 16 goals. Two of these goals came in the recent World Cup, where he led Croatia to a surprising runner-up finish against all odds. Despite playing in three World Cups and three European Championships, Modric shows no signs of stepping aside.
Although he showcased his talent at Tottenham, Modric experienced a true breakthrough at Real Madrid, winning an impressive 17 titles. Notably, he played a pivotal role in four Champions League victories in five years (2014-2018), starting in each decisive event. His stellar performances earned him a place in France Football magazine’s Ideal XI of the Decade (2010-2020), forming a diamond midfield with Barcelona’s Andrés Iniesta and Xavi Hernández.