Harry Redknapp, the Spurs manager, did not play the Croatia midfielder in the club's first Premier League fixture, at Manchester United, because his head was "not in the right place" and he revealed that, only hours before the second, at home to Manchester City, Modric had told him that it remained off kilter and he did not want to play.
Redknapp forced him into that game, which ended in a second dispiriting defeat and, in the aftermath, he talked of the club enduring "a terrible pre-season … there's been a feeling round the place – for me, it's not been right – with people going and people wanting to go".
The transformation since the closure of the summer window, in both Modric and Tottenham, has been staggering. The 26-year-old, who was held to the terms of his five-year contract, will step out to face Chelsea at White Hart Lane on Thursday night with his reputation as the club's best player restored, even if his open goal miss against Sunderland on Sunday had him cringing.
Tottenham have taken 34 points from an available 39 to present an argument that they are the strongest squad in the capital. Redknapp bridled at the notion that they were the favourites against Chelsea and he lamented injury doubts over Ledley King, Gareth Bale, Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor, but he did note that Tottenham, "only a few years ago, were not sitting here talking about an even game". The Chelsea support would mockingly refer to "Three Point Lane".
Redknapp has mixed sympathy with worldliness and calculation in his handling of Modric and there is an argument that he has played a key part in the player's rehabilitation, which that has yielded one of the the keys to the season. H, though he would have none of that. Regular Redknapp watchers have heard the same sentence time and again "He's a great lad, Luka, you couldn't meet a nicer fella … he's not been a moment's trouble."
But Redknapp's decision to side so publicly with Modric and even to agree that he could "understand where he was coming from", in terms of his desire to switch to a Champions League club and treble his salary brought him into conflict with his chairman, Daniel Levy. If Redknapp's canny man-managerial stance has served to keep his prized asset on side, and playing for him, then his comment that "you can't say he is worth £40m and want to pay him the wages of someone who is worth £5m" went down a treat with the rest of the dressing room. "I could have caused myself a problem with the club," said Redknapp. "At one stage, I did [side against Levy] because I said I could understand where Luka was coming from. It was a great opportunity for him to treble his wages."
Redknapp, though, might have enjoyed Levy's bad cop to his good cop, which succeeded in keeping Modric and he endorses a continuation of the policy that says the player is not for sale. The rumours persist that Chelsea will try again, possibly in January, and at no point has Modric said anything about how delighted he is to have stayed at Tottenham. The talks aimed at rewarding him with enhanced terms have still to reach resolution.
"I don't expect Luka to want to go anywhere," Redknapp said. "No matter what Chelsea offer, he ain't going to Chelsea in January. No one is leaving here that we don't want to get rid of."
André Villas-Boas, the Chelsea manager, lavished praise on Modric at his pre-match press conference, describing him as "one of the greatest talents in the world". He said: "In future, I don't know about Modric. We're not looking at him at the moment."
The prospect of Champions League football with Tottenham might not be sufficient to sate Modric. "If you're getting 35 grand a week and someone's going to offer you 100, it's still massive," said Redknapp. "It's difficult to turn that down."
Tottenham Hotspur 4-4-2 Friedel; Walker, Kaboul, King, Assou-Ekotto; Modric, Parker, Sandro, Bale; Van der Vaart, Adebayor.
Chelsea 4-3-3 Cech; Bosingwa, Ivanovic, Terry, Cole; Ramires, Romeu, Meireles; Sturridge, Drogba, Mata.
TV Sky Sports 1, 8pm.
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