Gareth Bale finally closing on Real Madrid exit with Tottenham in talks to sign Wales attacker
Once the world's most expensive footballer, the 31-year-old has seen his dream move turn progressivley more sour
Gareth Bale, once the world’s most expensive footballer and the British player who has achieved more than any other with a club abroad, is close to returning to England and bringing to an end a saga at Real Madrid that turned sour.
Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur, who sold Bale to Madrid for £85 million (Dh402m) in 2013, are hopeful of bringing him back to North London.
Talks between Spurs and Madrid advanced on Wednesday, initially about a loan deal, which has the blessing of Bale, although the player’s representative described negotiations as “complicated”.
The principal sticking points have been the proportion of Bale’s huge salary that Tottenham would agree to fund during any loan. The Welshman, who won four Champions League titles with Madrid before he fell out of favour, is believed to earn around £600,000 per week.
That is well over twice the wage of Spurs’s top earner, Harry Kane, but Tottenham are willing to shatter their salary ceiling for what they consider a unique set of circumstances.
Spurs manager Jose Mourinho has been pushing for the addition of a high-class goalscorer in this transfer window, which is open until early October, and the arrival of Bale would be a popular homecoming in the eyes of many Tottenham supporters.
He became a superstar in the Spurs jersey, having joined the club as a 17-year-old from Southampton, and led a revival, helping Spurs to qualify for the Champions League for first time during his six seasons there.
He was twice voted Footballer of the Year by his peers in England– 2011 and '13, – reward for thrilling performances as an striker with electric speed, strength and poise in the penalty area, and expertise with a dead ball.
“There’s no reason why he can’t carry on where he left off,” said Harry Redknapp, who was Spurs manager during Bale’s rise.
But Bale, now 31, has barely had the opportunity to show he remains world-class over the last 12 months.
Bale's greatest goals for Real
In July 2019, he was told explicitly by Real manager Zinedine Zidane he could leave – “the sooner the better” according to the Frenchman.
Zidane was speaking under instruction from the club, who no longer felt Bale, who in 2016 signed a contract until 2022, was good value for his salary.
Bale was at that stage ready to consider a transfer to Jiangsu Suning in the Chinese Super League but Real would not sanction it because there was no transfer fee involved.
Zidane selected Bale sporadically last season, and in a gesture that showed the coach had no personal issue with the player, picked him to start the first three matches of the 2019-20 Liga season.
In the third of those, Bale scored both goals in a 2-2 draw against Villarreal before being sent off. That was last September; he has not scored a La Liga goal since.
Injuries account for some his absences from the Madrid team last season, and various muscular problems have hampered him during his time in Spain, notably during Zidane’s two periods in charge.
By the time Madrid finished last season, putting together a run of victories in the post-lockdown phase to win the title, Bale was a marginal figure, and on two occasions was photographed looking uninterested in the stands as his colleagues closed in on the Spanish championship.
He has been portrayed in the Spanish media as aloof and distant, as devoted to playing golf, a consuming hobby, as he is to Madrid.
When, after a match for Wales, for whom he continues to shine, he posed in front a banner that read ‘Wales, Gold, Madrid, In That Order,’ a mocking reference to what some madridistas list as his order of priorities, it made a bad impression at the Bernabeu.
Zidane has consistently spoken up for Bale’s professionalism, however, and reminded that “he has done great things for this club.”
He has 105 Madrid goals to his name. In his first season there, 2013-14, he scored a breathtaking solo goal to win the Copa del Rey.
Weeks later, he scored in extra-time of the Champions League final victory over Atletico Madrid, ending Real’s 12-year wait for a European Cup.
Three more followed, including the 2016 triumph, in which Bale scored in the decisive penalty-shoot and the 2018 final, in which he came off the bench to score twice in the 3-1 win over Liverpool, the first of his goals a sensational overhead-kick.
Soon after the final whistle, he openly expressed his frustrations at not having been selected by Zidane to start that final.
More than two years on, Spurs envisage Bale as the sort of impact signing that would galvanise a season that began at the weekend with a home defeat to Everton.
On Wednesday, Mourinho pointedly took the opportunity to recall that, back in 2012 when he was still coaching Madrid, he had pushed Real to sign Bale a year earlier than they actually bought him from Spurs. “I tried and it was not possible,” said Mourinho, “I think Gareth knows that.”
Updated: September 16, 2020 06:50 PM