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Thursday 14 December 2017

Modric: Harry's temper Spurs us on

Tottenham playmaker credits yin and yang attitude of his boss for club's transformation

AS a 10-stone lightweight who stands at 5ft 7in in his boots, Luka Modric could be forgiven for shrinking from the physicality of the Premier League, but only one aspect of life at Tottenham Hotspur gives him the shivers: the temper of Henry James Redknapp.

Modric credits the man better known as 'Harry' with transforming a side who went two months without winning a Premier League game after the Croat's arrival to the brink of Champions League qualification and an FA Cup semi-final in the space of 18 months, although it has not always been a straightforward process.

Despite this consistently upward curve the Tottenham manager has read the riot act to his players on several occasions in almost two seasons there, revealing a side to his personality that could not be further removed from his cheery public persona.

Modric is no stranger to receiving half-time dressing-downs, particularly from Slaven Bilic, the wild-eyed Croatia coach, but he claims that Redknapp's team-talks are even scarier.

"Harry is very similar to Bilic, but is scarier in the dressing room if we're losing at half-time," Modric said.

"They both talk a lot to the players; they're great motivators and know exactly what to say. Harry may be a little bit scarier, but every coach whose team is losing at half-time is not in a good mood.

"I have freedom going forward, but also need to work hard in defence. I know what Harry expects and don't want to let him down. Every coach has bad as well as good moments. If we play badly, he lets us know."

The yin to Redknapp's angry yang lies in the confidence he has given his players to express themselves, with Modric being afforded more freedom than most.

Redknapp quickly identified Modric's creativity as the key to his prospects at White Hart Lane and decided to build the team around him, first from a free role on the left of midfield but increasingly playing him through the centre, and the 24-year-old has responded with the most consistent performances of his career.

As for the physical demands placed on his slight body, Modric has no complaints, with his surprising robustness partially explained by the season spent on loan at Zrinjski Mostar as a teenager in Bosnia-Herzegovina's notoriously tough league. Modric names Javier Mascherano of Liverpool as the most difficult opponent he has faced in England, but does not share Arsene Wenger's concerns about the nature of the tackling in this country.

"The Premier League is a fast and physical competition," Modric said.

"I know everyone suspected I was too soft for this league, but I think I've shown it's not a problem. I'm not scared of anybody.

"I wasn't supposed to be able to handle those things, but it's not worked out like that. I like playing here. I watch a lot of football on television from all over the world and the Premier League is the best."

Modric will only be truly satisfied if Tottenham qualify for the Champions League, a competition he has yet to grace despite coming to international attention in a qualifying tie between Dinamo Zagreb and Arsenal four year ago. Modric's ambitions go beyond mere qualification, however, and he believes that Tottenham's squad can compete for the Premier League title.

"If you look at our squad, I think we deserve to be in the Champions League, especially the way we've played this year," he said. "Everyone believes we deserve to be there, but that's just the start.

"We should be fighting for the (Premier League) title soon. I hope in the future we can win it. This season is the start of something big."

©The Times, London

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