By Ewan Roberts
With every pulsating burst of acceleration, every lung-busting run and every left-footed thunderbolt from long-range, Gareth Bale’s exit from Tottenham increasingly becomes a case of when, not if.
The Welsh international has been utterly superb for his side this week, virtually singlehandedly claiming four points for Spurs with two dazzling goals; the first was a 50-yard run and shot against Norwich that earned a point, the second was a venomous strike that secured victory against West Brom.
It may only be February, but Bale has already posted the best goals return of his career so far, notching 11 times in 22 Premier League appearances this season, and his graduation from hot-and-cold winger to consistent match-winner has Europe’s elite clubs ready to make a move.
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And he has duly flourished, establishing himself as Britain’s most devastating footballer. But as Bale’s pedigree has risen, Tottenham’s chances of hanging onto him have decreased.
Goal.com recently reported that the north London club had resigned themselves to losing the 23-year-old, and have already begun planning for life after he has gone. Though the club are reluctant to sell, chairman Daniel Levy will let Bale go – as he did Michael Carrick, Dimitar Berbatov and Luka Modric – if the price is right.
That would probably rule out any clubs in England, with Levy asking for significantly more from domestic rivals than clubs on the continent – a sort of ‘English club tax’ – and would expect as much as £60m.
Moreover, the Premier League’s top clubs have more pressing concerns than Bale. Manchester City, sans Mario Balotelli and with Tevez clamouring to return to South America, are in need of a striker, while Manchester United have already spent £17m on Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha.
As such, Bale’s likely destination is Spain, with both Real Madrid and Barcelona competing for his signature, and the former Southampton starlet has never hidden his desire to play for one of the European powerhouses.
“If you said to any young player that you could play for Barcelona or Real would they turn it down? Probably not,” Bale said last year. “If a bid was accepted you would obviously have to seriously consider it.”
While no bid has yet been submitted, both clubs have had informal discussions with Spurs and Bale’s representative – though, since the summer, talks have almost exclusively been with Los Blancos. Barcelona’s interest in the Welshman has waned somewhat; the Catalan club see him as a left-back, a position which Jordi Alba has made his own at the Nou Camp.
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Bale is also a huge admirer of Cristiano Ronaldo – “He is one of those players that everyone aspires to and I’d love to be half as good as him,” Bale said recently – and would undoubtedly relish the opportunity to play alongside him.
But Tottenham fans shouldn’t say their goodbyes just yet, with the Welshman’s departure far from a foregone conclusion. Levy is under no pressure to sell his prized asset, with three years still remaining on Bale’s contract, while few clubs can meet Spurs’ eye-watering valuation with Financial Fair Play around the corner.
Should Real Madrid part ways with Jose Mourinho - which isn’t unlikely given their fructuous relationship - the new coach may not want Bale; the winger would excel in Mourinho’s powerful, direct, counter-attacking side, but a new manager may revert to a more cultured, possession-orientated style, with play confined to the final 22 yards of the pitch, which doesn’t suit the Welshman.
Ironically, Chelsea and Manchester City’s possible pursuit of Mourinho could be the key to Bale staying in north London, and if the Citizens also move for Ronaldo, Madrid – currently sitting in third place in La Liga, 16 points adrift of Barcelona – may seem a considerably less appetising proposition.
But any hopes Spurs have of keeping Bale hinge on qualifying for the Champions League – another year of Europa League football would guarantee his departure from White Hart Lane. Bale’s coruscating brilliance deserves to be showcased on the biggest stage and, with Barcelona and Real Madrid sniffing, Spurs fans ought to cherish him while they still can.
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