Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Tottenham Show Some Spine

The most recent "Tottenham player leaving to Champions League club" saga does have an air of familiarity about it - it has happened so many times before, after all. Tottenham have been unable to resist selling players like Teddy Sheringham, Michael Carrick and Dimitar Berbatov to Manchester United in recent years.

Tottenham, to be fair, have struck a better deal each time. Sheringham was sold for just £3.5 million, a paltry fee (even back then) considering he played a vital role in United's 1999 Champions League win. Carrick's sale for roughly £18 million was a much better deal - though given what happened to Tottenham's midfield afterwards, he could have commanded an even bigger amount.

Berbatov's sale for a massive £30.75 million in 2008 might be something of a "false" fee - it is possible that the fee was inflated a little by Tottenham's complaint to the FA regarding Man Utd's alleged "tapping up" of the player. Regardless of the circumstances, though, Tottenham did very well out of that deal.

Modric wants Champions League football again, but it seems
Tottenham will repel the advances of England's biggest clubs this summer.

Recently we saw the first bid in what might become something of a bidding war between some of England's most powerful clubs. Chelsea's opening bid of £22 million was miniscule in comparison to Modric's actual worth in the current transfer market. Given the sale of the relatively unproven Andy Carroll for £35 million, one would expect Modric to command a fee that is at the very least on par with that figure, given his value to Tottenham as a club.

Fortunately for Spurs, though, it would seem any deal is not going to happen - not this summer, at least. At no point in previous sagas did Chairman Daniel Levy say as categorically as he has here that a player would not be sold.

 "I wish to make it absolutely clear, as I have said previously, that none of our key players will be sold this summer."
"In respect of Luka Modric, we are not prepared to sell, at any price, to Chelsea Football Club or any other club."

Levy, if nothing else, isn't one to go back on a definitive statement like that. What's more, one should assume that such a statement would also apply to Tottenham's other key players such as Gareth Bale and Rafael Van der Vaart.

One could not be blamed for thinking Modric would be sold soon. He was linked with some of Europe's top clubs even before he transferred to Tottenham, and there have been rumours abound about his transfer to a "bigger" club practically as soon as Harry Redknapp took over and helped make Luka Modric one of the Premiership's best central midfield players.

At the most basic level, one could look at Modric's stats and say he is an overrated player. In a league where midfielders breaking forward into the box has become commonplace, thanks to the great influence of players like Frank Lampard, Modric would appear to come up a little short. He scored only 4 goals in 42 appearances in the 2010/11 season (all competitions), which makes him look average at best when compared to his comrades in that position. His assists figure, also, might seem to be lacking. When you consider both his position and his purported passing expertise, it is surprising that Modric only notched 3 this season.

But it is in other departments that Modric excels. Modric moves smoothly across the ground, keeps the ball brilliantly and his passing is a phenomenon. A look at this graphic shows his worth to Tottenham in arguably their biggest game last season:

53/59 pass completion, or just shy of 90%. For reference, this is the kind of record that Xavi Hernandez, Barcelona's lauded passmaster, gets so much praise for. At the 2010 World Cup, Xavi completed 89% of his passes. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not implying Modric is the better player on the whole, because he can't churn out phenomenal stats like that every week in the manner that Xavi does. Modric, however, is faster along the ground and much tougher than he looks.

So it's not just a case of end product (whatever that means now) Luka Modric is the fulcrum of this Tottenham side and to lose him, with Tottenham in the position they are currently in, would be just as devastating (if not moreso) as the losses of Carrick and Berbatov were.

It is possible that Chelsea's derisory opening bid is what prompted such a swift and decisive statement from Levy; had Chelsea opened with a more appropriate offer, we might not have seen Levy move so quickly to shut down the rumours. I doubt this Modric saga is over - Manchester United and Manchester City are both likely to launch bids to try and get the £ signs to appear in Levy's eyes once again. But it looks like, after a worrying weekend for the Tottenham faithful, the board will hold firm this time.

This is a key moment in Levy's stewardship of the club. He has seemingly resisted the advances of one of the Premier League's top dogs for the first time. Quite honestly, Tottenham have no need to sell Modric; he recently signed a five-and-a-half year contract. When Robbie Keane (who was on a deal of a similar length) maneouvered himself out of the club in 2008, the fear among the Tottenham management staff was that Keane's positive influence in the dressing room would turn into a negative one had he been forced to stay. This would not be an issue for the quiet, unassuming figure of Modric - though one can see why he would want to play with strikers of Fernando Torres' calibre, as opposed to Roman Pavlyuchenko or Darren Bent.

The announcement of the fixtures this week has seen Tottenham face an assortment of tough matches to start the season. In addition to whatever far-flung corner of Europe they are sent to for the first round of the Europa League, Tottenham face matches against Everton (who they have beaten once in their last seven Premier League meetings), Man Utd, Man City, Liverpool and Arsenal in their first seven matches. It would be wise, then, for Tottenham's annual transfer drama to be concluded early for once, and Levy's attempt to shut the door on a Modric transfer is a big step towards that.

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