Luka Modric could win the Best FIFA Men’s Player award ahead of Ronaldo and Salah, but Newcastle didn’t think he was even good enough for the Premier League
Former Magpies boss Kevin Keegan had the chance to sign the Real Madrid and Croatia ace ahead of Spurs in 2008, but those in charge of recruitment thought he was too ‘lightweight’ for England’s top flight
Luka Modric could beat Cristiano Ronaldo and Mohamed Salah to FIFA’s prestigious ‘Best’ award and if he does, it will hammer home his status as one of football’s best midfielders.
The 33-year-old playmaker has been a key man for both club and country over many years and has been tipped by many to win the gong at the star studded event in London.
He was the best player at the World Cup where he captained Croatia to the final and has been the creative hub in Real Madrid’s three consecutive Champions League successes.
However, 10 years ago, Newcastle‘s head of player recruitment Tony Jimenez passed on the chance to buy him for reasons that left manager Kevin Keegan in shock.
In his new book, Keegan describes his return to the dugout at St James’ Park in 2008 and the circus that formed the club boardroom where Jimenez had a lot of influence. This is a man who, according to Keegan, revealed he had never heard of Per Mertesacker, then of Werder Bremen, during a discussion about potential transfer targets.
“At one point I took a call from Luka Modric’s agent to ask if I would be keen on signing the player from Dinamo Zagreb,” he wrote. “Modric had already been speaking to Spurs and his agent was honest enough to explain the move to White Hart Lane was likely to happen. Yet it was clear there might still be a chance to gazump that deal, otherwise the agent would never have bothered getting in touch.
“‘Mr Keegan, I’m a massive fan of yours and I’d very much like to discuss it with you,’ he said. Dinamo Zagreb wanted £16million and the wages were quite high, but it was still within our budget and, at 22, Modric had his best years ahead of him. He was exactly the kind of player I wanted to see in a black and white shirt.
“It was an opportunity to sign one of the outstanding young footballers in Europe and, to begin with, I was making decent inroads. I explained what a great club Newcastle was, how the supporters would adore Modric and how we were looking for someone to spark us off.
“Then Jimenez piped up. ‘Can I come in here?’ he said. ‘I don’t think Luka is good enough for the Premier League. He’s too lightweight. He’s decent, but he’s not good enough.’
“The agent looked shocked. ‘What do you mean?’ he asked. ‘Are you saying my player is not strong enough? Luka’s a very strong boy, I can assure you.’ ‘That’s exactly what I mean,’ Jimenez continued.”
The Magpies’ loss was Tottenham‘s gain and fans loved the little genius during the four years they shared together. His displays eventually saw Real Madrid part with £33m to take him to Spain in 2012. There he has won La Liga and been on the winning side in four Champions League finals.