Was Luka Modric right to ask not to play?

The Guardian reported after Sunday’s match against Manchester City that Tottenham midfielder Luka Modric asked manager Harry Redknapp not to play. Allegedly, the Croatian said his “head was not right”, echoing Redknapp’s own words on the player from only a week before.

That Spurs were defeated 5-1 at home (by a rampant City) is relevant, no matter how much players like Benoit Assou-Ekotto insist that Modric’s desire for a move to crosstown neighbours Chelsea has not distracted them. Captain Ledley King has stated that such speculation doesn’t help steady a ship destabilised by a summer’s pursuit by Russian money and Champions’ League football.

Looking at his request in the most generous light, he asked his manager to omit him knowing his head was turned and he wouldn’t be able to give his full efforts. Looking through the selfish window, he left his teammates out to dry – as arguably Spurs’ best player and chief midfield creator.

Which position was correct is still up for debate. Whether this influences any potential move also remains to be seen. Knowing the wiles of agents, there is likely a connection between the request and any impending transfer.

Sochaux forward Modibo Maiga has also recently refused to play for his team as he angled for a move to Newcastle United. While a very different situation, he too must ask if he will enjoy his teammates confidence should he play for Les Lionceaux again.  Once such a drastic move is made, questions of repetition are often asked much, much later should similar circumstances present again.  Form is a powerful indicator.

Certainly a player should have the right to withdraw his services from a game should he feel not psychologically prepared to play. In such a situation though, he should prepare to forfeit a percentage of his wages – as this unpreparedness is partly as a result of a professional desire to move employers. Many of us don’t wish to continue working for our current employers, yet have to front up to work every day, lest we are punished or replaced.

However, it is his responsibility to be prepared to play – mentally as well as physically. Potential replacement Scott Parker chose to play last year only days after the death of his father. Teammate Jack Collison did so a year prior. If ever a player is to be unable to give his best, it is surely in circumstances such as these. Whatever happens between now and deadline day, Luka Modric will be at a successful club, a multi-millionaire and key player for his country. While his move will disadvantage him somewhat, it won’t in any way kill his career – especially as there are future transfer windows.

It’s also a situation that could well have been avoided. This is a multifactorial situation in which Redknapp, whose comments can’t really have helped his player; Daniel Levy, who has refused to sell the jewel in his transfer crown; and a Chelsea administration who have made a series of bids for the player. Levy has once before held on to a wantaway star, when he sold Dimitar Berbatov to United for a little over 30 million pounds – however, the constant speculation cost the team a positive start to the season and Juande Ramos his job.

Due to the complex nature of this problem, it is impossible to judge whether Modric was correct in his assertion that his head wasn’t in the right place. Should it prove a posture in a transfer negotiation, his words will reflect poorly on him. If he really cannot get his mental framework in sufficient order to avoid aggravation in this situation, it’s probably correct to evaluate his mental toughness in a new light.

Whether his teammates are willing to endow him with their full trust is very much down to the individual. It’s likely all have some sympathy for his stance and his headspace. They are all aware now – if they weren’t before – that it is unlikely they share the same goals.

As a player, Luka Modric deserves Champions’ League football, but like an NBA title, World Cup winners’ medal or just a domestic title, such honours don’t complete players. It’s time for us, as a football public, to stop using trophies or awards won as the best method of evaluating players. Trophies are great. But so are teammates and good club, and only (at best) the players from twelve clubs will actually really compete for a title this season across the four major European leagues.

Perhaps only his performances – for Chelsea or Spurs – in the next few weeks will finally reveal how distracted he has been. Either way, by keeping him past the deadline, Spurs are gambling – on a return-to-form, sell-on price not falling and his continued happiness.

Matthew Wood contributes regularly to Soccerlens.  You can find more of his analysis and commentary at Balanced Sports, or follow him on Twitter @balanced_sports

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