On Monday, Luka Modric’s ‘head was not in the right place’ for him to play against Manchester United according to Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp. The press instantly interpreted this staple line and ran with the real message: Luka Modric was on strike.
Modric is not the first player to attempt to force through a move by refusing to play but his situation raises eyebrows because he is so highly regarded for his professionalism. Redknapp has spent much of this transfer window saying that you couldn’t meet a nicer lad and he just wants to get on and play his football and so on and so forth. Resorting to such drastic action is a move that seems out of character, but more importantly it raises yet more questions about player power and the ever-increasing irrelevance of contracts.
This is Modric’s final move. When the first bid from Chelsea arrived he stated that he’d love to play for them, then he handed in a written transfer request and now, after a third, improved bid has been received, the only bargaining chip he has left is his most fundamental, refusing to play. It is a deeply disappointing development and shows an absolute disregard for his contractual commitments but in modern football it is nothing new.
In truth, this should not affect Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy’s stance. Modric still has four years remaining on his contract and it is highly unlikely that once the window has closed he would continue to strike. Redknapp would certainly want him back in the team.
Modric’s bargaining power is actually diminished by his reputation as a nice guy. Were he to kick up a huge fuss and create carnage in the dressing room then Levy may be forced to reconsider keeping him, but he seems incapable of this behaviour. His refusal to play will only serve to destroy his popularity with the fans and with his teammates, it does not necessarily make Chelsea’s bid more appealing to Levy and may just strengthen the chairman’s resolve.
The real worry here is that Luka Modric is regarded as a decent guy. Even if his strike were motivated by a personal ambition to win trophies rather than to make more money, he has still displayed a disregard for his contract and his club which tarnishes him. If a player of Luka Modric’s apparent integrity is prepared to make such a ruthless and self-motivated move then what hope is there for football clubs trying to keep their players?
If Levy holds onto him and he starts playing again then there is hope. If Modric bites the bullet and realises his obligations and actually sticks to them then this will be a victory of sorts for chairmen and managers. If Levy lets him go, (which he has no good reason to do), then contracts are well and truly irrelevant and players will just refuse to play whenever they want a move. I sincerely hope that Levy stands his ground.