Newcastle in move for £20m Modric

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Newcastle United have made the first moves in an attempt to sign the highly-regarded Croatia international Luka Modric.

It is understood the 22-year-old midfielder, accompanied by the Dynamo Zagreb vice-chairman, Zdravko Mamic, was on Tyneside this week to discuss a prospective move to St James' Park. Modric visited the club's Darsley Park training headquarters after holding talks with the executive director, Dennis Wise, and the vice-president, Tony Jimenez, at the stadium.

Reports from Croatia have suggested the left-sided player is on the verge of completing a £20m move to Newcastle, although Dinamo value him at some £5m in excess of that. Either fee would smash the club record £17m they paid for the England striker Michael Owen almost three years ago, and it remains to be seen to what extent the club's owner, Mike Ashley, is prepared to fund his manager Kevin Keegan's rebuilding programme.

The club's negotiators would hope for some movement on the asking price, although the player's wage demands are also likely to be significant.

Barcelona and Chelsea are among the clubs also being credited with an interest in Modric, and there will be some disquiet on Tyneside that their own interest in the player has been made public, perhaps in an attempt to encourage the other clubs to show their hand.

There is little doubting the midfielder's quality – he was instrumental in Croatia's successful Euro 2008 qualifying campaign, which culminated in a 3-2 win over England at Wembley which effectively brought an end to Steve McClaren's reign as manager. He is just the type of player Keegan wants to target as he attempts to build a successful future at St James' Park having saved the club from a relegation fight since he took over.

Newcastle came perilously close to being dragged into the battle for survival in the wake of Sam Allardyce's departure in January. However, a six-game unbeaten run has seen them collect 14 points from a possible 18, and last weekend's 2-0 derby win over Sunderland sends them to West Ham tomorrow with a top-half finish a real possibility.

Keegan has been impressed with the quality of the players he inherited from Allardyce if not the quantity, and has predicted summer moves for four or five top-class performers. However, the market in which he spends will depend upon the funds he is allocated by Ashley, who allowed his predecessor to spend a net figure of only around £10m last summer as he carried out a thorough review at the club.

Any move for Modric could signal the end of Frenchman Charles N'Zogbia's spell at Newcastle with the talented 21-year-old having found himself marginalised in recent weeks. The former Le Havre midfielder has been unsettled all season after being linked with Arsenal and Keegan has promised to review his situation at the end of the campaign.

He has not been involved in the 16 for the last four games, and while the manager is reluctant to lose one of the most naturally talented players in his squad, it appears that matters may be coming to a head. N'Zogbia joined the club as a teenager under Sir Bobby Robson in September 2004, and the Magpies were forced to fight a lengthy compensation battle with Le Havre.

Elsewhere in the Premier League, Zat Knight has called striker John Carew Aston Villa's "man mountain" and believes the Norwegian international is unstoppable when in the kind of form which destroyed Birmingham City.

The Villa manager, Martin O'Neill, has sometimes called for Carew to show greater consistency in his level of performance since moving from Lyons 15 months ago but Carew is still the club's leading scorer this season with 12 goals and he tormented the Blues' defence during last Sunday's 5-1 win at Villa Park. "I train with John every day and he is so strong and quick. He has got the quality to be a world-class striker and we are lucky to have him," Knight said. "It is hard to stop him when he is in the kind of mood he was against Birmingham.

"John showed the same against Newcastle a couple of months ago when he scored a hat-trick and hopefully he can carry it on for the rest of the season. He is like a man mountain. I played against him at the start of this season for Fulham and he was a handful, and to train against him every day is only going to make me a better defender."