It is a transfer saga that has so far merely been simmering in the undercurrent of the transfer window tumult, but on Tuesday flames were ignited under the story of Gareth Bale’s potential departure from White Hart Lane. Cited as Real Madrid’s leading target throughout the familiarly schizophrenic summer, Marca, a publication with close links to the Spanish giants, has now claimed that a six-year contract has been agreed in principal between player and club. Increasing the temperature still further, Bale is said to have informed Tottenham that he wants to leave.
If accurate, the news will certainly come as a blow to Manchester United. The Premier League champions are still looking to make a statement signing to usher in the David Moyes era at Old Trafford and had been linked with a £60 million bid for the Welshman in recent days.
However, Madrid still have plenty of work to do to secure one of Europe’s top performers last season. Indeed, the task of persuading Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy to sell his prized asset will doubtless prove an arduous and perhaps still fruitless one. Certainly, Madrid will be expecting nothing less.
Just 12 months ago, Los Merengues finally prevailed in a battle to pry Luka Modric away from Levy’s grasp, but only after a painfully drawn out affair. The deal also only came after Levy had stubbornly rejected attempts by Modric to force his way out of the club the previous summer. With Bale having yet shown no signs, regardless of what he may have been said in private, of publicly advocating for a move, there looks to be a long way to go in this affair yet. And Madrid will need to stump up a massive fee to have a chance of getting their man.
Marca believes that Tottenham will only consider selling the 24-year-old for more than the current all-time record transfer fee -- £80 million paid by Madrid to Manchester United for Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009. Yet, paying a similar amount for Bale would represent a much greater leap of faith on their part than with the almost guaranteed success Ronaldo represented.
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When the Portuguese star was sold he had proven his ability in a World Cup, two European Championships and in several seasons of the Champions League, including being the pivotal presence in Manchester United’s run to the trophy in 2008. In contrast, Bale has never played in a major international tournament and has just one season of top level European competition under his belt. Admittedly, it was in that 2010-11 Champions League campaign that Bale came to wider attention with two scintillating performances against Inter Milan.
While direct comparisons in goal-scoring are perhaps a little unfair on Bale, given that Ronaldo on occasion occupied a central striking role at Old Trafford, they are certainly relevant given the close similarities in what each player brings to the side. Unlike Ronaldo, who had three successive seasons with at least 17 Premier League goals -- including one with 31 -- before Madrid’s purchase, Bale had never even reached double figure before finding the net 21 times last season.
There is a strong argument that it would be best for all parties to wait a year before deciding on the massive move. Madrid would find out whether Bale was capable of consistently replicating last season’s performances, while Bale would get another season to develop under the intense glare of the Bernabeu and Madrid press and Tottenham, of course, would get an extra season of their star player.
It could also be argued that Bale does not fulfill a particular need at Madrid. With Ronaldo, Angel di Maria, Isco, Mesut Ozil, Kaka and impressive youngster Alvaro Morata all capable of playing in advanced areas around a central striker, the addition of Bale would make competition incredibly fierce next season (unless Carlo Ancelotti is considering playing either Ronaldo or Bale through the middle).
Madrid, though, appear unwilling to wait. And there are certainly justifications why Zinedine Zidane, now on Madrid’s coaching staff, has apparently convinced his club that Bale is the player they need, whatever the price. Indeed, perhaps only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo were as influential on their teams across Europe last season. It bordered on the absurd how often Bale would pop up with not just crucial goals but also strikes of breathtaking quality.
Certainly, Levy will also argue that the transfer market has inflated since Ronaldo’s move, largely as a result of the increasing number of nouveau-riche clubs. The transfers of Edinson Cavani and Radamel Falcao, players at least two years Bale’s senior and with similarly limited Champions League experience, for £55 million and £50 million, respectively, will doubtless be justifiably cited by Levy.
In a summer of extraordinary transfer deals, where Financial Fair Play has appeared a laughable notion ignored by clubs as if children told not to spoil their dinner when given access to the cookie jar, Bale’s transfer would be the most eye-catching. But it won’t happen without resolute determination on the part of Madrid and Bale to make it happen.