Tottenham's chairman Daniel Levy delighted the club's staff and supporters yesterday by playing hardball over the Croatian midfielder Luka Modric, who has said he wants to join Chelsea.
Modric, voted Spurs' player of the year, had optimisticallyhoped to leave on friendly terms for one of their greatest rivals. He also cited an agreement that Levy had promised to consider any bid for him, but after receiving an unwelcome offer of £22m from Chelsea last Wednesday, believed to have been increased to £25m with add-ons, due consideration was followed by an aggressive statement reinforcing Tottenham's determination to keep all their best players.
"I wish to make it absolutely clear, as I have said previously, that none of our key players will be sold this summer," Levy said. "We are building a team for the future to consistently play at the highest level and retaining quality players is crucial to that. In respect of Luka Modric, we are not prepared to sell, at any price, to Chelsea Football Club or any other club. We made our stance on this issue abundantly clear in writing to Chelsea. They chose to ignore it and then subsequently made the offer public. For the avoidance of any doubt, let me reiterate that we shall not enter into any negotiations whatsoever, with any club, regarding Luka. We now consider this matter closed."
Spurs' manager, Harry Redknapp, was particularly pleased with the robust response, having expressed fears that despite reaching the Champions' League last season, they would be regarded as "just a selling club basically" if Modric was allowed to leave. In past seasons Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Carrick have joined Manchester United and Robbie Keane moved to Liverpool. The more pessimistic Tottenham supporters pointed out yesterday that Levy had made similar noises about Berbatov three years ago, before selling him on the final day of the transfer window, although the difference was that Juande Ramos, the managerat the time, said he had no desire to keep an unsettled player.
Modric was signed from Dinamo Zagreb for £16.6m that summer and Redknapp values him so highly as the squad's most creative player that he believes him to be "irreplaceable". West Ham's Scott Parker remains a target, though he is a very different type of midfielder, whom Redknapp wants to complement the Croatian, not replace him. Modric's appeal to Chelsea as someone to make the bullets for Fernando Torres to fire is equally obvious.
Now the player and his agent must decide whether to increase the pressure by making a formal transfer request, which Modric had initially admitted would be "disrespectful". Doing so would encourage Chelsea to make a further bid, as well as convincing the two Manchester clubs about how serious he was. Like Chelsea, United and City are in the Champions' League next season, and all three will be more strongly fancied to challenge for the domestic trophies than Spurs. Modric cited those two things as his only reason for wanting to move, insisting that the prospect of doubling or even trebling his wages from a reported £40,000 a week was not an important consideration.
"I don't want to fight and argue with Tottenham to leave," he said in one newspaper interview, adding in another: "Chelsea are a big club with an ambitious owner. They have great players and they have ambitions to fight for the title and win the Champions' League ... It is normal for a player to dream about playing for a bigger club." His team-mates' response was summed up by the young midfielder Danny Rose, who said: "I'll be devastated if he goes."