It is that time again.
Gareth Bale’s future is creeping into gossip columns, and the obvious suggestions are that the Welshman will return to the Premier League. That part is pretty clear, but only because no one else would pay the eye-watering fee that Real Madrid would demand for the once most expensive player in the world.
Bale is now 28. Far from succeeding Cristiano Ronaldo to the Los Blancos throne, he has been squeezed into near-irrelevance by the emergence and development of Marcos Asensio and Isco respectively.
His injury record has held him back as much as Ronaldo’s stubbornness to remain at the top. Since moving to the Spanish capital, the Welshman has started more than 24 league games in once in a season.
His Real Madrid career has been a success of sorts, however. His humiliation of Marc Bartra in the Copa del Rey will live long in many a memory, and he has been pivotal in a return to the top of European football for the club. Zinedine Zidane has changed shape, and injuries have forced the team to fit into a Bale-less mould, however.
Moving back to England has been touted almost every window since he left Spurs in 2013. With each passing year, though, it becomes a more realistic prospect. Premier League money is inflating further, and Bale’s need for change is growing.
Despite being frustratingly injury prone, Bale is still one of the world’s best attacking players. His arrival for any club would be enormous, and it is the type of marquee signing that will have Premier League boards pondering. He is a temptation for the decision-makers at Premier League clubs, a temptation that it has become inevitable one of them will succumb to.
Any transfer comes with risk, but a player of Bale’s poor fitness record and gargantuan transfer fee comes with greater jeopardy. There’s then the small matter of fitting him into a team.
Manchester United perhaps remain the most natural fit, but their already crowded attacking options mean it would probably need to see a couple of players leave. It would limit opportunities for Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, too.
The frontrunners for Bale will no doubt change during the remainder of this campaign. His return to the Premier League, though, coincides with the resurgence of English football in Europe. It would be unjust to suggest signing a player of his calibre will be a panic buy, but there’s a decent chance that a team who disappoints this year will thrust money in Real Madrid’s direction next summer.
The Premier League will be a better place for the return of Gareth Bale. Whoever takes that costly leap will be gambling.
Gambling on whether he plays 15 or 40 matches in a season, and gambling on their manager’s ability to incorporate a player who was allowed almost complete freedom during the heights of his brilliance.
Written by Sam Cox
Follow Sam on Twitter @SamRCox_
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