By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
One man’s loss is another man’s gain. Andre Villas-Boas has long lived in the shadow of Jose Mourinho and the Portuguese pair are very much under the spotlight again this summer – this time over Luka Modric.
As the Croatian midfielder packs his bags to leave London for Madrid, Andre is the loser once again in this particular and constant comparison. Jose, as usual, is the winner.
Mourinho hasn’t had things all his own way in Madrid. Criticised for neglecting the club’s homegrown heroes, for failing to bring in a Spanish core, and even receiving the wrath of the Bernabeu boo boys for his side’s perceived pragmatic play last term, the Portuguese has endured a rough ride at times in the capital. The 49-year-old, however, has stuck to his principles – and reaped the results.
The former Porto, Chelsea and Inter boss knows more than most when it comes to winning. And after a slow start in Spain, he is beginning to prove his worth in La Liga, too. Having claimed the Copa del Rey in his first season, Mourinho’s Madrid dethroned Barcelona in the Primera Division last term with a record 100 points and 121 goals. Ever the perfectionist, though, the Portuguese wants more.
With an already-ample playing squad and a range of oustanding options from the bench, improvement on last season seems a tough task for a man who earlier this week requested he be dubbed ‘The Only One’ due to his unprecedented collection of titles in England, Italy and Spain.
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Not for Mourinho. When he took over at the Santiago Bernabeu in the summer of 2010, the Portuguese identified central midfield as one of the key areas he needed to strengthen. And he did so with the acquisition of Germany pair Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil.
Both have impressed, although Ozil plays further forward and Khedira is more of a holding midfielder and cannot be expected to create from deep like team-mate Xabi Alonso.
With that in mind, Mourinho made Nuri Sahin his first summer signing last year, hopeful the talented Turk would complement both Khedira and Alonso, either together or separately.
But just 12 months on, the former Dortmund darling is heading for a hasty exit, having barely featured in 2011-12. Again, Mourinho has been criticised for his management of the midfielder, but whatever he has seen in training and in games, clearly he has not been impressed.
So the 49-year-old set his sights on Modric this summer and, following a lengthy saga, the deal finally appears imminent. Madrid fans will now hope Luka was worth the wait.
He should be.
On the face of it, £30 million seems an incredible investment for a player who rarely scores and does not directly assist many goals, either, but Modric makes Tottenham tick. He is the heartbeart of the north London side, the orchestrator of Spurs’ purposeful attacking play. And he will be sorely missed at White Hart Lane.
Mourinho will hope the Croat can transfer that form over to Spain, where he will likely be a frequent starter in either a two or three-man midfield. That depends on the rival; in La Liga, Mourinho may decide he can get away with Luka and Alonso in a 4-2-3-1, but expect Khedira to start too against stronger sides like Barcelona and in the Champions League.
Modric has already played at the Bernabeu in Europe’s premier club competition, but saw his dreams denied dramatically as Tottenham were reduced to 10 men early on in the sides’ 2010-11 quarter-final following the dismissal of Peter Crouch and subsquently succumbed 4-0.
Back then, he was one of the shining beacons in a Tottenham team punching above their weight. Now, he arrives in Madrid as perhaps the last piece in the puzzle as Mourinho’s men seek a coveted continental crown. Expectations will be high.
Villas-Boas had been eager to snap up Modric for his Chelsea side last summer, but was left frustrated as Tottenham vowed to keep the Croat. This time, though, he is on his way and the Portuguese is now set to miss out on coaching the 26-year-old for a second time.
How Spurs now fare without Modric may depend on how they replace him, although Sandro and Scott Parker could operate together in a two-man defensive shield, behind Gareth Bale, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Aaron Lennon, while Wednesday’s England debutant Jake Livermore and the returning Tom Huddlestone will also be in contention.
Without Modric, Villas-Boas wasn’t able to make it work at Chelsea, but he will need to fare better at White Hart Lane.
Losing one of the world’s best midfielders is an inauspicious start for the younger Portuguese, however. For his former mentor and colleague, meanwhile, Modric’s move may yet define this project. Tottenham’s loss is very much Madrid’s gain. Only time will tell just how much.
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