Modric forcing the issue at Spurs: Let’s listen to Levy’s tiny violin

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Last year, Spurs squeezed another season out of their best player, rebounding to finish fourth in England after drama surrounding star midfielder Luka Modric (right) thrust the club into an early season funk. Daniel Levy held out, keeping rival Chelsea at goofy giant check’s length, though most assumed unless Tottenham did something remarkable (compete for the league title, make Champions League), the diminutive Croat was going to bounce.

Most except Levy assumed, that is, though we’ve seen this before. In fact, we seem to see this every time Levy wants to hold on to a player, mostly notably four summers back, when the Tottenham chairman did everything short of file a human right complaint with the United Nations to condemn Liverpool and Manchester United poaching Robbie Keane and Dimitar Berbatov (respectively). If that playbook’s being dusted off for Luka, expect Spurs to convene a tribunal to examine Real Madrid’s adherence to Geneva Conventions. Is tapping up the soccer world’s version of enhanced interrogations?

That victimization syndrome is an overly-complicated way of getting as much money as possible out of El Real. It’s a ploy you’d expect from a man too embittered to pick up a phone and get down to business. Now, the tactic’s gone too far. One day after reporting to Spurs following his Euro 2012 sabbatical, Modric skipped Tottenham practice. With Spurs set to leave Saturday for their U.S. tour (having a Tuesday match in Los Angeles against the Galaxy), it looks like stateside supporters will have to deal with Modric’s departure before it officially happens.

Modric’s decision will infuriate many. He’s under contract, after all, though the view is ultimately a very self-serving, selective view of reality. When these players sign long deals with their clubs, they often have very little leverage. I’m sure if Modric knew Real Madrid would come knocking in 2012-13, he would have negotiated accordingly, but given the option of cashing in at 22 while playing with Dinamo Zagreb, his reasoning was probably closer to “five years? Sure. That’s how this works, right? I assume you have direct deposit?” It’s the product of a system where players don’t enjoy the benefits of scarcity until they reach the far right end of the game’s talent spectrum (where they’re then recruited by the likes of Real Madrid).

Obviously, the clubs are part of this equation. The ask force long deals because they want cost certainty, hope to maximize the value of a player they think will improve beyond his initial wages, and seek to leverage the back end of the deal in a potential sale. A club’s certainly within its rights to hold firm to the contract (as players almost always do), but to blubber indignation as a star seeks a move is a cynical publicity ploy, one that panders to the tiresome envy of those who use “I’d play the game for free” as an argument relevant to a multi-million pound negotiation. Hopefully we won’t see it here.

Regardless, it’s not hard to see why Modric is staying away from Spurs. He gave in last year, stayed around, and had a very good year. He pushed Tottenham to fourth place, with only the freak nature of Chelsea’s European title keeping Spurs out of this year’s Champions League. But they are out, they’ve changed managers, and they don’t look any stronger than last year. Most importantly, they’re not Real Madrid. Perhaps playing last year under the assumption it would be his last in North London, Modric may have already mentally checked out. Retuning may be untenable.

Andre Villas-Boas says Modric will be allowed to leave if an acceptable offer comes. The Guardian says acceptable starts at £40 million, with Real Madrid offering closer to £25 million. Given the depth of Real Madrid’s midfield (where they start Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira, and Xabi Alonso), what incentive do they have to bend> Particularly when the player’s doing the heavy lifting? With or without Modric, they’re one of the best teams in the world.

For Tottenham, you can’t help but think back to the day Fabio Capello resigned as England coach. Spurs, then a title contender who looked a lock for Champions League, fell on their face as the Harry Redknapp for England campaign evoked memories of Rupert Murdoch pushing the Tories under Margaret Thatcher. Had Spurs finished third and stayed closer to Manchester United than Arsenal (who eventually passed them), Harry Redknapp would still be manager. Then, Levy’s got a case to make to Modric.

Instead, Spurs start Europa League on September 20, probably without Modric.