While the architect of Chelsea’s recent Champions League exit may have been four-goal hero Karim Benzema, the man pulling the strings in both legs was fellow veteran Luka Modric, with the Croatian again defying logic to produce another sensational display at the age of 36.
One moment, in particular, encapsulated his unerring quality, the former Tottenham Hotspur man picking out teammate Rodrygo with an outrageous outside of the boot assist to help drag his side level in the tie, leaving Thierry Henry to dub him “outstanding” after the match.
In some alternate universe, however, the diminutive playmaker could well have been producing that magic in a Blues shirt to help steer Thomas Tuchel’s side into the last four, with the west London outfit having twice missed out on his signature in the past – a fact that may still wrangle with both club and supporters, alike.
The club’s interest in the midfield maestro stretches back to 2007, with a report at the time suggesting that the then Dinamo Zagreb man was on his way to Stamford Bridge, having caught the eye at international level under Slaven Bilic.
Despite those links, however, no move ever materialised, with the player himself revealing in his book (quotes via Croatian outlet Vercernji List) a few years ago that the two parties had “practically been in agreement” before a deal subsequently collapsed.
As it was, just a few months later the central midfielder was on his way to London rivals Spurs, joining the Lilywhites in a £15m deal in the summer of 2008 and going on to make 160 appearances for the club over the next four years.
So enamoured with the player were Chelsea, however, that they again attempted to secure his services in 2011, placing a succession of bids – including one for a fee of £40m – in a desperate attempt to try and lure him away from White Hart Lane.
Much like three years earlier, however, that interest ultimately proved in vain, with the four-time Champions League winner having since revealed that it was the stubbornness of Spurs’ typically tough negotiator Daniel Levy that put paid to any deal.
Speaking to FourFourTwo back in October 2020, the 5 foot 8 genius explained why that move never came to fruition:
“Tottenham didn’t want to sell me to them, that’s why!
“To be honest, I didn’t have big expectations that it would happen – it was always really difficult that Tottenham would sell me to Chelsea, especially because they’re rival teams from the same city.
“It was nice to know that they were interested in signing me because it showed that I was doing well, but it didn’t happen simply because Tottenham just didn’t want to sell me.”
He went on to add that he even met with now-disgraced owner Roman Abramovich on his “amazing yacht”, although the Russian – nor his club – could persuade Levy into selling one of his prize assets.
Having been denied a move to a fellow top-flight side, Modric eventually secured a move abroad a year later, making what has proven to be an astute switch to the Spanish capital in 2012.
Despite a rocky first campaign in the Bernabeu – in which he was voted La Liga’s worst signing of the season by supporters – the £275k-per-week star has since gone on to win countless major honours as well as forming part of what Carlo Ancelotti described as an “extraordinary” midfield trio alongside Toni Kroos and Casemiro.
Also dubbed “spectacular” by his current boss, the former Dinamo man has now racked up 101 goal contributions in 428 games in all competitions for his current side, while he remains the only player other than Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to have received the Ballon d’Or since 2007.
Modric has also gone on to win two LaLiga titles, four Champions Leagues, a Copa del Rey among many other accolades since swapping north London for Spain.
As was evident in the loss on Tuesday night, Chelsea are likely ruing missing out on arguably one of the finest midfielders of the modern era.