MOSCOW • Growing up, Ivan Perisic worked on his father's chicken farm near his hometown of Omis, Croatia, earning him the nickname Koka - hen. When the business was in trouble, he tried to help out by leaving home for France.
"I was just 17 when I had the first opportunity of playing club football in France," he said. "I spent two years and learnt the French language, and my time with Sochaux gave me a lot of experience.''
He never made an appearance for Sochaux's first team though and moved on to Club Brugge, Borussia Dortmund and Wolfsburg before landing at Inter Milan.
Today, he is set to take on France in the World Cup final despite nursing a thigh injury from Croatia's semi-final win over England.
Croatia manager Zlatko Dalic is not quite contemplating the possibility of leaving the midfielder out of his starting XI after Perisic's man-of-the-match performance at the Luzhniki Stadium. The 29-year-old scored the equaliser and provided the assist for Mario Mandzukic's extra-time winner by outjumping Kieran Trippier.
"Perisic has faith in himself, we need the player we saw at (Euro 2016)," Dalic told reporters. "With this kind of a player, we will win the World Cup.
"He is not at the peak of his ability, maybe, because I asked him to help in defence... Now Perisic scored, which gave him even more confidence, and I am waiting for him to show his best in the final."
A PHYSICAL PRESENCE
Perisic is the kind of winger that is different from the others. Normally you look at wingers and they are just fast and creative. But he is also physical, very physical. Fantastic in the air.
JOSE MOURINHO, Manchester United manager and RT pundit, on Ivan Perisic.
Perisic has often been the man his country turns to, having either scored, or assisted in the scoring of, 10 goals for Croatia at major tournaments - the joint most together with former striker Davor Suker.
Perisic starred in the group stage at Euro 2016 in France, particularly in the clash against Spain where he scored and assisted in a 2-1 win over the defending champions.
In Russia, he is Croatia's joint-top scorer alongside Mandzukic and captain Luka Modric with two goals, having also scored against Iceland.
Despite extra defensive duties, the winger has been a threat going forward. He has swung in 20 crosses and dribbled into the penalty box six times. Comfortable with both feet, he often cuts inside from the wing, and has taken 20 shots at this tournament.
His performance against England drew praise from Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho amid media reports that the £45 million-rated (S$81 million) player will be a Red Devil next season.
"Perisic is the kind of winger that is different from the others," RT pundit Mourinho, who reportedly tried to sign the Croat last summer, told the Russian international television network. "Normally you look at wingers and they are just fast and creative. But he is also physical, very physical. Fantastic in the air."
Before potentially flying the coop from Milan, Koka is determined to rule the roost.
"France stopped us in the semi-finals in 1998," he said of the World Cup match he watched on television as a nine-year-old. "We will have some extra motivation because of that, for sure."