For a short while after the end of last season, Gareth Bale invariably reaffirmed his commitment to Spurs whenever he was asked. At the time it seemed he meant it. Why store up trouble for himself with false protestations of loyalty if all along he was planning to move? Far better to say nothing and let reporters read into his silence what they will.
But in the last few weeks Bale has gone silent, just as the noises coming from Spain about a possible move to Real Madrid grow ever louder. Even the most optimistic Spurs fan -- if that's not an oxymoron -- can't help but feel that the Welsh winger will have left White Hart Lane by the beginning of September. Something -- or rather someone -- has turned Bale's head.
By their own high standards, Real Madrid had a poor season last year. It was compounded by reports of rifts between players and manager that ended with Jose Mourinho walking out to have a second bite at the Chelsea job. Madrid can't afford another season like that. More importantly, the club can't afford not to appear as if it is prepared to throw money at the problem to get a quick fix as its supporters would demand nothing less. So making what might seem like a ludicrously high bid of 100 million euros for Bale, as has been widely suggested in newspaper reports, has a semblance of business sense.
Which isn't to say that the Spanish club's interests necessarily coincide with Bale's. Bale is well-settled at White Hart Lane and in Andre Villas Boas he has a manager who understands him, reassures him -- the confidence AVB has generated in Bale is a largely unacknowledged factor in the Welshman's annus mirabilis last season -- and is prepared to build a team around him. Just as important, Bale's wife and baby are also well settled and are unlikely to be enthusiastic about uprooting to a foreign country where they know no one and don't speak the language. At Madrid, Bale will be just one megastar among many -- it's hard to imagine Ronaldo being too thrilled by his arrival -- and the pressure to deliver from the very first game will be intense. The Madrid crowd won't be nearly so forgiving of a poor game.
So who has apparently changed Bale's mind? The finger inevitably points to his agent, Jonathan Barnett, one of the shrewdest and toughest operators in the game, as the only thing that does make sense about this deal for Bale is the money. Barnett knows that Real Madrid are never likely to be this desperate again in the near future. Whether Bale moves to Madrid or not, Real will almost certainly be a lot closer to their archrivals, Barcelona, this season. Come next year, then, when there is a little less panic and a bit more common sense in the Spanish capital, Bale's price will probably go down by at least 25 percent.
Then there is also the question of injury. No player likes to be reminded of this, but every time he takes the pitch he is only one bad tackle away from the end of his career. What's more, players like Bale, whose game relies so much on pace, are seldom the same again after an injury that sidelines them for a season. Put all this together and you can see why this looks like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Bale and Barnett to cash in.
What's stopping the deal from going through is almost certain to be the legendary intransigence of Spurs chairman Daniel Levy, who can't bear the thought of being outmaneuvered in a deal. Stubbornness is his default mode, and the more Real Madrid go on about how much Bale wants to play for them and how much they have offered for him, the more Levy is prone to saying that Bale has a contract with Spurs and he is going nowhere.
This, though, is one occasion when he should swallow his pride and let Bale go. Keeping a footballer who doesn't want to play for you is invariably counterproductive, as Levy should know, having forced Luka Modric to stay at White Hart Lane for an extra year. Modric started his last season in a sulk, raised his game for a while in the middle, before looking moody and uninterested once more over the last three months of the season as the speculation of his transfer grew again. You could also argue that it was Modric's lack of enthusiasm that was partially responsible for Spurs losing what looked like a certain Champions League spot that year.
The killer detail is the money, though. Even in an era of overinflated price tags, Bale is simply not worth 100 million euros. That's the equivalent of six Paulinhos. The price is a madness that only makes sense to Real Madrid. So Levy should accept the money with alacrity and wish Bale well on his travels abroad. Everyone at White Hart Lane will be sad to see him go, but there are some offers you can't refuse. Levy should pocket the money as soon as possible and use it to secure the services of Roberto Soldado at whatever price Valencia want.
But if Levy really wants to bargain with Real then he could insist on a part exchange. Bale and Ronaldo play in near-identical positions these days, so it's not easy to see them fitting into the same starting XI. So how about Levy asking for a part exchange of Bale for Ronaldo plus 30 million euros. That really would be a steal.