Among the players and transfers Chelsea have missed out on in the last decade, the failed pursuit of Luka Modrić in 2011 surely ranks right near the very top.
It’s one of those inflection points that would’ve very much changed the club’s history — perhaps for the better (André Villas-Boas’ team struggled mightily at times), perhaps for the worse (Chelsea’s miraculous Champions League triumph that season probably doesn’t happen with any of the initial conditions changed).
The then 25-year-old midfielder was not only one of the best players in Europe and the best player at his position in England, he was a key player for Spurs. Signing him would’ve made Chelsea much better — our transition form a one-deep three-man midfield to a double-pivot was far from graceful — and would’ve made Spurs a lot worse, though as Modrić himself reflects, Chelsea still prevented Spurs from playing in the Champions League by virtue of winning the competition, which will never not be extra hilarious. (That rule was changed soon after, which adds further amusement.)
“Unfortunately, a new campaign in the elite competition was taken from us because Chelsea, who ended sixth, won the Champions League. As defending champions, they qualified directly for the next season’s group stage, while Tottenham competed in the Europa League.”
That quote is part of a larger extract in the Guardian from Modrić’s new autobiography, in which he details the aforementioned failed transfer in the summer of 2011.
There were super yacht visits:
“[Abramovich] wasn’t beating around the bush and said: ‘We know you are a quality player. I’d like you to sign for Chelsea.’ I had come to his yacht to talk, so it was evident I wished the same.”
Low-key shots at Spurs:
“My feeling was that it was time for a move — I wanted to fight for trophies and win titles, and I felt this wouldn’t happen if I stayed at Tottenham. I wanted to move to a more ambitious club.”
Playing the media game, badly:
“Both Vanja and I were impressed by the meeting, but deep inside I knew Tottenham’s chairman Daniel Levy wouldn’t want to hear about it.
“Before pre-season, English reporters called me and asked if it was true that I wanted to leave. I was honest, and probably naive, when I said I thought it was time for a step forward in my career. That created a lot of fuss, which didn’t quieten down until the end of the transfer window. Levy made a public statement saying that there was no chance of letting me leave and that I had a firm contract.”
Tense talks with Spurs chairman Daniel Levy, who probably would’ve stuck needles in his eyeballs before selling to Chelsea.
“I arrived in London before pre-season training and went to talk to the chairman. There were no harsh words or insults as the media said, but the conversation was tense. He reprimanded me for publicly announcing I wanted to leave and repeated that Tottenham had no intention of selling at any price. A stressful period followed.”
“[...] Despite all the turbulence, I always had a good relationship with Levy. [...] However, I resented him because on a couple of occasions he had promised to let me move to a bigger club and then broke his promise. For me, one’s promise and one’s word are more important than anything.”
“[Harry Redknapp] did everything he could to please me and make me stay. During our pre-season tour in South Africa, he even made me captain. But my head just wasn’t there, so I handed in an official transfer request.
“Chelsea kept coming back with improved offers after Levy’s every rejection. All of this aggravated me.”
We certainly shared that aggravation, but alas, it was not meant to be. Levy’s coup de grâce to the Blues would be to sell Modrić to Real Madrid instead the next summer, for £5m less than what we had offered in 2011. Almost a decade later, that still stings a bit.
Chelsea could’ve come back for Modrić in 2012 of course, but by then, we had shifted gears and were looking to rebuild. That summer saw the arrivals of Eden Hazard, Oscar, César Azpilicueta, Marko Marin (awww), and Victor Moses — as well as Andreas Christensen, Charly Musonda, and Thorgan Hazard — to the home of the Champions of Europe, while Modrić would head south, where he’d collect plenty of trophies and titles, just as he had wished while stuck in North London.
At least we now have his “little brother”.