Examining Gareth Bale's Situation at Tottenham Hotspur
Going by the second consecutive pre-season of rumors and maneuverings that surrounded Luka Modric, this was a nuisance well avoided by both club and player.
But as demonstrated by a story in the Sunday Mirror newspaper this weekend, talk about one of football's most highly-rated young stars is unlikely to abate, with Barcelona and Real Madrid in particular looking like they are keen to make a move for the Welshman.
Three months into the 2012-13 campaign and with around 40 days until the January transfer window opens, it is as good a time as any to assess the lay of the land in regards to Bale.
Beginning with an assessment of his form thus far, we also take a look at what it may take for Tottenham to keep him in the case of an approach, and contemplate the arguments for cashing in on their winger.
Whether you rate Bale as one of the next big things of world football, an overrated diver or somewhere in between, there is no denying he is going to be the focus of plenty of attention for some time to come.
Bale's Form This Season
Bale's showing in his team's 5-2 loss to Arsenal on the weekend was representative of the best and worst traits of his game.
The goal that temporarily gave Tottenham hope of getting back into the game was an example of his thrilling ability to take a game by the scruff of the neck and yank it back into play.
Minutes later Bale's inconsistent decision-making was there to see when a superb run that should have resulted in an assist for a Jermain Defoe tap-in was squandered with a shot fired wide.
In different ways both situations were markers of the 23-year-old's progress—the combination of talent and the impertinence of youth in scoring that goal, followed by the folly of inexperience that blinded him to a better option.
Bale's season so far has shown him to be a player very much a work in progress.
When Spurs have been at their best he has been one of their key players, matching dashes down the left flank with threatening forays inside, his speed and skill a startling menace to behold when in full flow.
Bale has not yet found a way to influence games on a consistent basis, and while in part that has not been helped by failings elsewhere in the Tottenham team, a player aiming for the levels he aspires to might be expected to contribute more when his team is backed against a wall.
For a player who first emerged as a left-back, there remains concerns over his defensive contributions, with a tendency to switch off, leaving his full-back isolated at times—though the return of Benoit Assou-Ekotto, a defender he has teamed well with before should help here.
His main stats of five goals and two assists (altogether) can be improved upon, however overall the good has outweighed the bad, and Bale remains one of Tottenham's shining lights.
Tottenham's Long-Term Battle to Keep Bale
What was surprising about Bale extending his contract in June was its contradiction of the somewhat modern thinking that revolves around players of his ilk—that they must move onto bigger and better things as soon as possible.
Maybe there were no inquiries this summer (put off by Tottenham's high price-tag perhaps?), but even if there were, the decision spoke of Bale's understanding that he is a player still learning, who for now is better at a club he is comfortable at.
It was coupled with enough intelligence to realize too that Spurs have some potential of their own, telling the club's official website that he thought "the Club is progressing and I want to be a part of that".
"I love the Club and the fans and I want to play my part in trying to get us back into the Champions League - where we belong," Bale added.
"We’ve a good, young squad and we need to work together to get back on the biggest stage again."
As welcome a show of faith as it was, how long he will remain a believer is unknown.
There is clearly some investment on his part in this project, but the resolve to stay so invested will be tested should they not qualify for the Champions League, or at least make notable progress.
The latter would certainly entail a trophy, and strong enough form in the latter stages of the season that a belief can be fostered that momentum can be carried beyond by the players and manager Andre Villas-Boas.
A significant addition or two to the squad would help here too, but the problem is this and so many aspects of a better future is nearly completely reliant on Champions League football.
Despite the club's poor form over the last month, they are not out of contention for the top four and this week can also keep alive their hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages of the Europa League.
But there is the feeling when watching Spurs that, despite some good new signings and other good players remaining, the departures of Ledley King, Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart (and indeed Harry Redknapp) really did mark the end of a relatively successful era
Those three are genuine top-class players, ones who were so important to the team that any attempt to replace them and build a new side is going to take time.
Bale would undoubtedly be a hugely valuable part of this future, and until the end of the season there is little to no chance they would let him go when he is already so integral to their present hopes.
The contract extension allows that much, and should also ward off any fellow English clubs making a bid as Tottenham will not want to sell an asset to teams they regard as rivals.
But come next summer, an offer to test himself with either Barcelona or Real Madrid might just be a proposition to tempting to pass up.
Both clubs see in him a player with the necessary ability to flourish in their respective systems and play a part in their hunt for success.
Despite Bale's rawness, the quality he possesses is there to see.
Regardless of who you support, the prospect of watching him in a team with either Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi is a superlative-fest waiting to happen.
Is There Are an Argument for Selling Bale?
What this season might boil down to for Tottenham, is a realization that before they move forward they might well have to take two or three steps back.
That is something of a bitter pill to swallow for a club that in recent seasons has experienced the Champions League and reveled in the experience of being regarded as one of the Premier League's best four or five teams.
But change within the club, and elsewhere too, sometimes means conceding ground for the time being.
And that is not a bad situation to be in when you could just as easily drop out of contention altogether with the division's elite.
As stated on the previous page, to have Bale as part of any attempts to maintain or re-engineer Tottenham's top-four credentials would be ideal.
But knowing that in the current market (with three-and-a-half years left on his contract) they could quite feasibly earn upwards of £40 million (around $63 million) for him, selling the winger might be worth considering.
In contemplating that option you have to run the risk of selling one of your best players and possibly undermining your team in the meanwhile with getting considerable addition funds with which to improve your squad.
That is not going to happen in January (barring a truly ridiculous offer), but come next summer Villas-Boas might not turn his nose up at the idea of being able to invest so substantially in new players.
On the flip-side, to be able to use that money on genuine, top class footballers would require Spurs being in the Champions League for them to be able to attract them (as they certainly don't have the wage structure to make money alone tempting, à la Manchester City).
In which case Bale would likely be happy to stay and Villas-Boas would not want to get rid of one of his best players.
But the fact is a Bale departure could be well something forced upon them, in which case the positive is that there is good money to be made.
Next summer is a long time away, but things move quickly in football (just look at Bale), and this is a story to keep an eye on as we move into 2013.