Pressure on Bale to justify world-record fee

Posted by Rob Train

What do the following five players have in common -- Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane, Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale?

During their careers, all have at some point been transferred to Real Madrid for a fee that broke the previous world record, in this case each simply picking up the mantle from their predecessor as part of Florentino Perez's grand design.

Kaka's reign was, of course, short-lived: Real signed Ronaldo shortly after acquiring the Brazilian in 2009. In each case, though, the fee was consummate to the status of the player. Kaka may not have lived up to expectations at the Bernabeu, but he arrived with quite the CV; a World Cup, a Champions League title and the 2007 Ballon d'or.

Examine the list again. What stands out? In every case of the historical transfer fee being smashed by Real, Figo Zidane, Kaka and Ronaldo had at least a Ballon d'Or to their name, and a fair few international, continental and domestic garlands as well.

So the question needs to be asked: is Bale worth the reported 100 million euros Real has just parted with, considering the precedents? Will he be a Figo, Zidane or Ronaldo, or is he set to join Kaka on a list of ambitious transfers gone awry?

Another primary difference between Bale and the rest of the recent bank-breakers is they all arrived in Madrid as very much the finished article. Bale has one spectacular Premier League season under his belt, fewer than a dozen Champions League appearances and not much in the way of top-notch international experience with his Welsh national side.

During the drawn-out process of securing Bale's signature, it has been noted, not least on these pages, that breaking the world transfer record for a player who is essentially unproven in Europe is quite the gamble on Perez's part.

Certainly, Bale is a phenomenal player who on his day can perform to the standard of the aforementioned players, but he has yet to prove the consistency that prompted Perez to part the purse strings on those previous occasions. The transfer smacks of the Real president going for the prettiest girl at the dance to impress his peers, regardless of the costs he will incur to take her out when the dry ice clears and the lights come back on.

The construction of a stage to welcome the player to Madrid before anything had been agreed might have pumped the price up by at least a few million: Daniel Levy does not take kindly to being led up the yellow brick road.

Bale has reportedly signed a four-year contract worth an eye-watering 350,000 euros a week. Levy apparently inserted a clause to the effect that if Real sold Bale back to the Premier League during that period, Tottenham would receive compensation of 10 million pounds. For the sake of all parties, this better work out, otherwise the divorce is going to be very messy indeed.

Aside from the financial implications of the deal, there is the small matter of where to slot Bale into the team. He is obviously not going to warm the bench for longer than it takes him to regain match fitness, which at least buys Carlo Ancelotti some time: his current blueprint is reaping rewards. Real failed to inspire in its first two league encounters but looked vastly improved against Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.

Ronaldo and Isco have forged an understanding and Karim Benzema, despite the protests of the Bernabeu, has proved his worth as a provider as well as scorer.

Someone is going to have to make way. Bids are apparently on the table for Benzema, Angel di Maria and Mesut Ozil, and the obvious solution would be to play Ronaldo through the middle with Bale on the left, the Portuguese having more two-footed prowess than the Welshman. That would certainly solve the lack of cover at center forward following Gonzalo Higuain's departure, but is hardly likely to make Benzema any keener to put in the yards that the crowd demands of him from the bench.

Far from being the missing piece in a puzzle that Ancelotti is close to solving, Bale is a whole new conundrum with infinite ramifications on Ancelotti's current squad. It's unlikely Perez will not want some of Bale's fee back in the bank before the window ends. Monday night's deadline cannot come soon enough for the Italian. Had the transfer been concluded earlier, Bale would have had time to find his feet in Madrid. He will not be allowed much of that to make an impression, and the pressure will be unlike anything he has experienced to date.

As Hristo Stoichkov said the other day: "If Bale is worth 100 million, then I was priceless." The Bulgarian wallflower has a point, and an uncomfortable one for Ancelotti. Bale is a clear sign of intent the president expects the long sought-after Decima (10th Champions League title) this season.

Figo and Zidane delivered number nine for a similar outlay, combined, in 2002. Few fans of the game cannot be excited by the prospect of Bale and Ronaldo in the same side, but If Perez's latest vision of a footballing masterpiece goes wrong, it won't be the Real president footing the price for its failure.


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