Gareth Bale’s proposed move to Real Madrid increasingly appears that it will be the dominant transfer saga of this particular summer of frenzied activity and schizophrenic speculation. Madrid appear so desperate to land the Welsh attacker that they are ready to break the transfer record to land their man. Tottenham are apparently so desperate to hang onto him that they are prepared to reject it. The combination of a club with little qualm about breaking the bank and a player that wants the move almost always results in the transfer transpiring. Except, that is, on occasion when Tottenham chairman and negotiator-extraordinaire Daniel Levy is involved.
While the speculation continues, a question that has barely surfaced is whether the deal makes sense for Real Madrid. Under the Galacticos era, then and current president Florentino Perez had no hesitation about spending what it took to attract the world’s hottest player each summer because of the belief that they would almost pay for themselves in a financial sense even if that didn’t prove the case on the field.
It is easy to see that Perez believes Bale’s marketability would offset the huge initial outlay in a few years. That strategy may also explain why Madrid are so focused on signing Bale and appear to be ignoring a player that would arguably better fit Madrid’s current needs, would be significantly less expensive, but has a less than polished image in Liverpool’s Luis Suarez.
Having sold Gonzalo Higuain and with just the sometimes frustrating Karim Benzema and youngsters Alvaro Morata and Jese as options for Carlo Ancelotti up front, a new striker would appear to be a priority. And given that Madrid have already added Isco to an array of talent that can play wide or behind a striker that includes Mesut Ozil, Angel di Maria, Luka Modric, Kaka and, of course, Cristiano Ronaldo, Bale would not appear to fulfill an immediate need for a club that is desperately chasing a 10th European Cup.
The key question is whether both Bale and the man whose transfer record he could well eclipse, Ronaldo, can both flourish in the same side. Both players have similar attributes -- lighting pace, unusual strength for their position and the ability to change the face of the game with something truly spectacular out of nowhere. Aside from their penchant for hair-styling, they have also made their name playing in the same left-wing position. There is an admitted caveat to that fact with Bale having produced arguably the best form of his career in the second half of last season when he was given more of a free role behind a striker, but what is true is that the former Southampton youngster and Ronaldo have thrived when they were the focus of a team’s attacks.
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It is possible to imagine Bale still making an impact, although less prominently than at Tottenham, even if he has to at best share top billing. There must be questions, though, about whether Ronaldo would be prepared or able to accept having a bona fide and similarly skilled superstar playing in such close proximity to him. For a Madrid side that was hardly lacking in star power, Ronaldo had by some distance the highest average number of shots per game in Europe’s top leagues last season, according to stats compiled by Who Scored. Bale was also not far off in fourth place on the list. Interestingly, while Bale enjoyed his best scoring season last term, he only managed four assists.
Given the makeup of their squad if Bale arrived and the quest of finding the best way to accommodate him and Ronaldo, it could well be that the Portuguese star is given the role of leading the attacking line. Ancelotti has tried Ronaldo in that position in pre-season, prompting speculation that it is being done with Bale in mind. Ronaldo has performed that role before with Manchester United to some success and with Portugal to less success. Ensuring that the 27-year-old saw enough of the ball to make his talent count and that he didn’t become visibly and destructively frustrated would be a significant hurdle to overcome in such a system.
Undoubtedly any manager in the world would want to have two players of the quality of Ronaldo and Bale at their disposal. Ancelotti, though, would likely face a real test of both his player management and tactical acumen to get both to maximize their abilities in a way that best helps Madrid’s quest for La Decima.