With Gareth Bale’s latest injury setback likely to keep him on the sidelines until after Christmas, both the Welsh forward and Real Madrid are running out of options ahead of next summer’s transfer window.
Bale arrived in Madrid as the Galactico to mark the new Florentino Perez era, he was the first one signed, much of the work on deals for Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka had been done when he arrived, and as such the club president was believed to prefer the Welshman to his Portuguese teammate.
Initially things were good for Bale following his then world record transfer from Tottenham Hotspur, he has lifted three European Cups, a La Liga title and two Club World Championships, however injuries have been as much a part of his time in Spain as trophies.
He has suffered 19 separate injuries since arriving in 2013, across all of his five seasons with Los Blancos he has missed a grand total of 95 matches and this tally will continue to grow as a consequence of his latest adductor injury.
Zinedine Zidane was one of the driving forces behind bringing the former Southampton academy graduate to the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu; everybody remembers how the former Juventus midfielder suggested that the best player in Europe wasn’t even in the Champions League when talking about the Welshman during the 2012/13 campaign.
Ever since he has taken the coaching position with the club, Zidane has made it clear that Bale is one of the most important players at the club and when he is fit, he is essentially a guaranteed starter. Unfortunately for the French coach, he simply hasn’t been able to rely on Bale’s fitness for any extended period of time.
Los Blancos can thank Bale’s ankle injury in the 2016/17 season for facilitating the rise of Isco, the Spanish midfielder has recently signed a new contract and is established as one of the very best midfielders in world football, yet less than 12 months ago he was living in Bale’s shadow and hardly getting minutes in La Liga, it was expected he would leave for the Premier League.
However, whilst the club’s footballing fortunes haven’t been too adversely impacted by Bale’s absences, they make for a very troubling fiscal situation.
Manchester United and Ed Woodward have followed the 28-year-old for years; they made a desperate late play to sign him in 2013 but never really stood a chance. Woodward likes the idea of Galactico signings and the idea of a British one is even more exciting for the club from a marketing perspective. Until then recent emergence of Harry Kane, there was no single bigger British sports star that Gareth Bale.
Even as recently as this past summer, United were trying to grease the wheels with the Spanish giants in the hope of securing a deal for Bale in the closing days of the summer transfer window. Jose Mourinho had rather publicly made apparent his desire for an additional wide player and on the eve of the UEFA Super Cup against his former club suggested that if Bale didn’t start the match, he would try and buy him.
This was seen as a direct challenge in Madrid, Florentino Perez has quite happily handed control of the club’s transfer operations to the French coach, at least in the sense of he decides what players can leave and which ones he wants to come in. Few coaches have ever held this power under the Spanish engineering mogul, yet he was not going to let his star signing leave the club.
Most within Valdebebas were concerned about the player’s fitness issues, nobody expected him to enjoy an injury free season in 2017/18, selling Bale last summer wouldn’t have been a disaster.
It would have allowed Perez to really push to secure Kylian Mbappe’s signature and the fee received for the Welsh international would have been upwards of £70 million.
Now if we look at the situation again a few months later, there is even less proof that Bale can keep himself fit, if anything it is actually the opposite. Los Blancos have barely been able to use him this term; he has played 9 matches in all competitions.
When he has played he has shown his ability, his goal-scoring performance against Borussia Dortmund in late September was a prime example of how good he can be, it is just unfortunate that he hasn’t kicked a ball in anger since.
Teams are put off by this, in a time where transfer fees are increasing monumentally every move is a risk, if Manchester United can spend £89 million to sign Antoine Griezmann, they will not have a hard choice to make if Bale is the alternative. You have to bring in players you can rely on and Gareth Bale, unless something radically changes, cannot be relied upon.
Real Madrid will look to sell him in the summer but it hard to find takers who will pay a premium fee. Chelsea are rumoured to be interested but it will be difficult for the Blues to pay more than £50 million, Arsenal will need to replace Alexis Sanchez in the summer and will have cash to spend but it is unlikely Bale will want to drop out of the Champions League.
Manchester City are sorted in attacking areas, especially once the aforementioned Sanchez is added, PSG are in a similar position whilst Bayern Munich will look to go in another direction once a permanent coach is hired.
A Tottenham Hotspur return seems the only viable option for both Bale and Real Madrid, the North London club wouldn’t pay over the odds yet Los Blancos wouldn’t have much trouble persuading the winger to return to his previous club. Under Mauricio Pochettino’s stewardship Spurs are becoming a Champions League regular and the injection of a player of Bale’s talent could tip them over the edge with regards to a Premier League title challenge.
Obviously there are obstacles, the funding of the new stadium at White Hart Lane could prevent such a financially expensive deal, Pochettino would have to find a way to fit Bale into his team on a regular basis and finally there are absolutely no guarantees over his fitness.
It is unfortunate that what appeared such a perfect transfer back in 2013 looks to be ending in such difficult circumstances, Bale simply wants to get back to playing football; unfortunately his club can’t ever plan for a future with him involved due to injuries.
The lack of options for all parties is abundantly clear and it seems as though Perez should have dealt in the summer, he now faces making one of the biggest losses of his presidential term.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @cmwinterburn
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