Newcastle were on the verge of signing a future Ballon d’Or winner but Mike Ashley decided he wasn’t good enough

Richard Bevan
Richard Bevan
4 Min Read

Newcastle United fans endured a tumultuous relationship with club owner Mike Ashley after his acquisition of the club in 2008. His controversial decisions and apparent lack of investment in the team contributed to waves of discontent among the Magpies faithful. However, brighter days seem to be on the horizon after a takeover in 2021 and recently finishing 4th in the Premier League.

Since the much-anticipated takeover of Newcastle United in 2021, there has been a palpable sense of optimism around St. James’ Park. With new owners injecting much-needed funds into the club and a newfound commitment to building a stronger squad, fans finally have reason to believe their beloved team can compete at the highest levels again. The arrival of fresh management and a clear vision for success has ushered in a new era of hope for Newcastle United.

Despite the renewed hope, Newcastle fans will still be left wondering what could have been, recalling when the club had the opportunity to sign a true footballing maestro, only to have it slip through their fingers. Back in 2008, then-manager Kevin Keegan had been working on securing a deal to bring Luka Modric to St. James’ Park. Keegan believed Modric’s flair and skill would be the perfect spark to ignite the Magpies’ fortunes.

Kevin Keegan expressed his frustration in working with Tony Jimenez (Right).

The prospect of signing Luka Modric was tantalisingly close, as Keegan had arranged a meeting with the player’s agent. He explained the virtues of Newcastle, convincing Modric that the club and its passionate fans would adore him. However, as Keegan laid out his grand plans, Tony Jimenez, the club’s vice president in charge of player recruitment at the time, intervened.

Jimenez argued that Modric was not good enough for the Premier League, citing concerns about the midfielder’s lightweight stature. This pivotal moment shattered the club’s hopes of securing the Croatian star’s signature. Despite efforts to fly Modric to Newcastle and finalise the deal, Mike Ashley ultimately vetoed the move, citing financial concerns and hesitancy to take the risk.

Keegan later lamented, “His agent flew up from London. I explained what a great club Newcastle was, how the supporters would adore Modric and how we were looking for someone to spark us off. Then Jimenez piped up. ‘Can I come in here?’ he said. ‘I don’t think Luka is good enough for the Premier League. He’s too lightweight. He’s decent, but he’s not good enough.

In response to this statement, Tony Jimenez replied, “We flew Modric over to Newcastle, got him to the training ground… Everything was pretty much agreed, but it was down to Mike. He was given the numbers – a £16 million fee and £2 million commission for the agent – and decided he didn’t want to take the risk.”

Modric (Right) signed for Tottenham Hotspur a few months later.

Despite the disappointment of missing out on a potential Ballon d’Or winner, Newcastle United now stands at the cusp of a brighter future. The recent takeover has injected much-needed resources into the club, addressing long-standing recruitment struggles. With newfound financial stability and ambitious plans, Newcastle United is better equipped to attract top talent and compete with the best in the Premier League.

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