Mateo Kovacic’s performances for Chelsea in recent months have helped establish him as one of the world’s leading midfielders.
He has been singled out by manager Thomas Tuchel as one of the Blues’ best trainers, treating each session as if it were a match, and is now set to be rewarded with a starting berth in Saturday’s Champions League final against Manchester City.
Taking to the field in Porto will be particularly satisfying for Kovacic. The Croat has three winners’ medals from his time at Real Madrid but he never featured in a final.
So, when asked in an exclusive interview with Goal if victory this weekend would mean more than those past triumphs, Kovacic replies, “Yes, for sure.
“Bu, at the end of the day, this is not tennis. It is a team sport. We are 25 players and every player does his part. It was amazing to be part of that Madrid team, winning three titles in a row.
“It was disappointing that I never got a minute in a final, though. From my point of view, I thought I deserved it because I gave a lot to that team. There were many players who got a chance but I did not.
“But that’s football. It is life. And you learn from disappointment as well. You want to show that you can make it there again.
“We are a good team and we will try to bring the cup to London. It would be amazing for the team, but for myself as well.”
Kovacic and his wife Izabel have recently welcomed a newborn son into their lives and the World Cup finalist has also been working quietly out of the spotlight to improve the lives of children back home in Croatia, with a focus on those living with Down Syndrome.
“As a child, I used to say to my father that if I become a football player, I would like to help other people,” the 27-year-old says of the Mateo Kovacic Foundation.
“When I lost a game, I was upset, but my parents would say ‘Look at other people – they don’t have a house or they are not healthy.’ I always realised that I was blessed to be healthy and doing the best job in the world.
“It is amazing the life we lead, so to share and help other people is satisfying and nice.
“We started the foundation because my wife’s sister has a child with Down Syndrome. I wanted to help these people and these children, who had problems with their health.
“I see that people have different living situations. We are blessed to play football and have a healthy family; other people are not so lucky and they struggle with their problems.
“It is difficult to talk with them about it but you share your moments, they share theirs and we talk. And if I can help, I want to always be there. You know you can’t help everybody but to help even one or two is good.
“There are tough situations everywhere in the world. But I try to do the best for my country. The foundation is not big but we are growing.
“I usually don’t like to talk about it and I don’t read newspapers. I do it mostly for myself and the people close to me, but I want people to know about my foundation now and to help too.
“I want it to grow, maybe beyond Croatia even.”