Newcastle United did not win at the San Siro this week, but the goalless draw against AC Milan marked a return to the forefront of the European game following so many years mired in mediocrity.
Indeed, the Magpies had spent two decades away from the Champions League before the PIF club takeover rewrote the narrative on Tyneside, with the subsequent appointment of manager Eddie Howe proving to be a masterstroke of equal distinction.
While a fleeting trip to continental competition did occur in 2012, built on the unforgettable 2011/22 campaign under Alan Pardew, with Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse wreaking havoc on hapless Premier League defences, this proved to be a one-time date and the subsequent campaign proved unsuccessful, finishing 16th.
The Magpies would suffer relegation before seeing the upper echelon of the English top flight again, but now, the club are poised for a lasting position among Europe’s elite, boasting affluence and diligence to ensure the increments continue to be made.
It all could have been so different, however, with one Luka Modric nearly signing for the Toon way back when, before joining Premier League rivals Tottenham Hotspur instead.
Had the Croatian midfielder made the move, it all could have been so different, with years of malaise replaced by a sustained spot in and around European contention.
Did Newcastle nearly sign Luka Modric?
According to former Magpies manager Sam Allardyce, he was pushing to sign Modric from his homeland outfit of Dinamo Zagreb before despised owner Mike Ashley pulled the plug in 2008, citing concerns over the somewhat exorbitant price tag.
He said: “I was then on the way to getting Luka Modric from Dinamo Zagreb, but by then, Mike saw the scale of the full debut and put the clamps on, so I had to make do with Geremi from Chelsea.”
Geremi, aged 28 at the time, joined the Magpies in his stead and proved to be a colossal failure, notoriously receiving harsh rebuke from an angry St. James’ Park faithful against West Ham United in 2009 before joining Besiktas for just £1.5m after failing to impress.
Modric would likely have been a transformative signing, stopping the club from suffering relegation in 2008 and instead instilling confidence and quality throughout the squad.
Ultimately, it was Tottenham that won the race for the highly-rated prospect, beating competition from Newcastle – as well as Arsenal and Chelsea – for his signature and completing a £15m transfer in the summer of 2008.
How good was Luka Modric at Tottenham?
Today, Modric is a prominent name and one of Europe’s foremost midfielders, but when Spurs took a punt on his precocious skill set, he was an unknown, if talented, commodity.
Across four campaigns, the ace would make 160 appearances for the Lilywhites, scoring 17 goals and supplying 25 assists, integral for his side and praised by Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson in 2009, who said that “he could play in any team.”
The 168-cap international (staggering numbers, right?) never saw his Premier League match rating drop below an impressive 7.30 across his final three campaigns in English football, as per WhoScored, with his pass success rate always above 86%.
Chelsea attempted to sign him in 2011, with Modric even handing in a transfer request to force through a move, but Daniel Levy proved characteristically obstinate, refusing to allow him to join such a heated rival.
However, this ended his Premier League career, with the calling of pre-eminent European juggernauts Real Madrid resulting in his £30m sale, beginning an illustrious journey that has yet to drape the curtain.
Is Luka Modric one of the greatest midfielders?
Undoubtedly, Modric is not just one of the finest midfielders of his generation, but one of the greatest players across any position, captivating in his seamless, effortless ball-playing skills.
A player of superlative technicality and undeniable class, he has been heralded as a “legend of the game” by the likes of writer Usher Komugisha.
Despite now perching in his twilight years, aged 38, the phenom still ranks among the top 3% of midfielders across Europe’s top five leagues over the past year for passes attempted, the top 5% for progressive passes, the top 2% for shot-creating actions and the top 14% for progressive carries per 90, as per FBref.
A maestro and bona fide prodigy, in 2018 Modric proved to be the first man not named Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo to win the Ballon d’Or since Brazil icon Kaka gleaned the prestigious honour in 2007.
Luka Modric honours, via Transfermarkt
Champions League (x5)
Ballon d’Or (x1)
FIFA Best Men’s Player (x1)
Copa del Rey (x2)
UEFA Best Player in Europe (x1)
FIFA Club World Cup (x5)
Croatian Player of the Year (x5)
Spanish Super Cup (x4)
UEFA Super Cup (x4)
A born leader and a “world-class” sensation – as he was dubbed by journalist Liam Canning – Modric was the centrepiece, winning the Player of the Tournament, as Croatia came second at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and was once again integral last year as the European nation came third in Qatar.
Had Newcastle succeeded in securing Modric’s signature, they might have nurtured a star with a bigger legacy than Paul Gascoigne, who is revered as one of the finest players to ever don the Toon shirt.
‘Gazza’, as he was affectionately known, was one of the most exciting, mercurial players to have ever graced the English game, with Barcelona legend and current manager Xavi once saying he’s “one of the best midfield players” he has ever witnessed.
Born of ridiculous talent but plagued by off-field troubles, Gascoigne completed 104 matches for Newcastle, his boyhood club, before departing for Tottenham in 1988, where his career really took off.
Winning only one FA Cup with Spurs and several honours in Scotland with Rangers, the one-time England international might be held in the highest regard by those on Tyneside but given Modric’s tremendous career, awash with honours of all shapes and sizes, he might just have eclipsed Gascoigne had he joined the club, especially as he might have kept the club up and contributed instrumentally on the European stage.
It’s a career soaked in success, having won countless club honours with Los Blancos, catalysed Croatia’s exploits in the most prosperous era of the nation’s history and even been the man to halt the unstoppable Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi from adding to their abundant Ballon d’Or accolades, Modric is truly a legend.
It’s a shame Ashley didn’t see the value in securing his services all those years ago. Just imagine what might’ve been…