By Greg Stobart
Tottenham have finally opened talks with Real Madrid over the €115 million sale of Gareth Bale, with club officials increasingly convinced the Welshman will leave this summer.
Spurs chairman Daniel Levy has been adamant all summer that the club's prized asset would not be sold under any circumstances.
However, Madrid's concerted campaign has borne fruit in the last couple of days, with their most recent tactic - a warning to Bale and his advisors that it is 'now or never' for him to force a move - prompting the 24-year-old to privately declare in a meeting with Levy that he wants to join the Spanish giants.
That has led the Spurs chairman, whose 'no sale' policy had been fully backed by owner Joe Lewis, to open dialogue with Real in the last 24 hours, with a meeting between Levy and Madrid president Florentino Perez expected to take place on August 6 in Florida.
Even now Levy will only sanction a sale if the deal - cash only - smashes the world record €91m fee Real paid for Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009. Tottenham are keen on Blancos left-back Fabio Coentrao, in particular, while Angel di Maria is also seen by many as a good like-for-like replacement for Bale.
But big-money player exchange deals are a complicated matter, and Levy is keen that he realises the full monetary value for a player who still has three years left on his contract, preferring to keep any follow-up bid for Coentrao and Di Maria separate.
Though it is not a foregone conclusion that the transfer will go ahead - as recently as Monday, Tottenham were insistent no bids had yet even been formalised - Levy and manager Andre Villas-Boas are now making plans for the coming weeks to bolster the squad in Bale's absence.
Roberto Soldado is expected to arrive in a €28m deal from Valencia, joining fellow big-money recruits Paulinho and Nacer Chadli, while Romanian defender Vlad Chiriches is also expected to sign in an €8m deal from Steaua Bucharest.
It looks increasingly likely, though, that they will not be lining up alongside Bale next season, with Real pulling out all the stops to land a 'Galactico' summer signing to rival Barcelona's €57m capture of Neymar.
Despite telling Spurs of his desire to leave the club for Real, Bale has been keen to underline his happiness at the north Londoners and could yet play a part in a behind-closed-doors friendly against a non-league opponent on Thursday.
Further still, should negotiations with Madrid break down, it is still expected that the former Southampton youngster will play a full and committed part under Villas-Boas in the 2013-14 campaign as Spurs aim to claim a place in top four of the Premier League.
But with Levy now willing to talk to Perez and Real desperate to land their number-one target, a world-record deal is now more likely than ever to be completed in the coming weeks.
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