Gareth Bale could leave Spurs in the summer.
If Gareth Bale decides to leave Tottenham Hotspur this summer, there are arguably just four clubs across Europe in the running to sign him. Ironically, one of them, Bayern Munich, could do Spurs a small favour in their efforts to keep him at the club.
If the guarantee of Champions League football is assuredly the best chance Spurs have of keeping Bale, then Arsene Wenger’s pre-match press conference on Monday may have evoked an uneasy sense of déjà vu for fans of the North London club.
After the weekend’s defeat to Blackburn Rovers—the first time in his reign Arsenal lost to lower-league opposition in the FA Cup—the Champions League is the last trophy the club can win this season.
A year ago, Chelsea were in a similar state of discord. André Villas-Boas was under severe pressure before his side went to Italy to face Napoli in the last 16. A 3-1 defeat led to his sacking and Chelsea’s season looked over. Incredibly, though, a run that included over 100 shots conceded to the opposition in the final three games ended in European glory and denied Spurs Champions League qualification.
At the moment it looks like a battle between the two North London sides for fourth place in the league this season.
And it would be a sequel to trump the first installment for horror were Arsenal to win the trophy and Spurs finish fourth in the league.
It’s simply unthinkable at the moment that Arsenal’s first trophy in eight years will be the European Cup. Bayern have been absurdly good in the league this season. They’ve scored 57 goals in 22 games and conceded just seven; they hold a 15-point lead over the defending champions Borussia Dortmund.
But, then again, it was unthinkable that Chelsea would go to the Nou Camp, have a player sent off after 37 minutes and come from two goals down to knock out Barcelona. It was equally as implausible that they would recover from 3-1 down in the final penalty shootout to deny Bayern.
If the German side overcome Arsenal it will eliminate the prospect of Spurs losing out on Champions League football in the same fashion two years running.
However, even if they then hold off the Gunners to finish fourth, there is no outright guarantee Bale will stay.
Here, we take a look at where he is likely to end up and who will make the best use of him.
Bale has spoken of his admiration for Cristiano Ronaldo.
Realistically, the four clubs in the market for Bale are Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United and Bayern Munich. There are others—such as Paris St Germain—who could afford him, but Bale doesn’t strike you as the type to put money at the top of the pile of reasons to join a new club.
Indeed, if his public admiration for Cristiano Ronaldo is anything to go by, a move to Real is a big possibility (from ESPN). It’s hard to think of a more potentially devastating attack in contemporary times than Ronaldo + Bale + one other superstar striker. Ronaldo, Christian Vieri and Alvaro Recoba at Inter Milan, maybe. Ronaldo, again, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho for Brazil in 2002, possibly.
Bale has never hid his ambition and the prospect of overtaking Lionel Messi, alongside his idol, would appeal to him. And, despite the intense pressure that exists at the Bernabeu to win everything every season, Bale has shown he has the mentality to cope with such demands.
Pep Guardiola may pursue Bale for Bayern.
With the acquisition of Pep Guardiola, it will be intriguing to watch the development of Bayern next season.
The former Barcelona boss will be given millions to re-shape an already outstanding squad of players.
Despite some close calls and for all the talk of their brilliance, Bayern have won the European Cup just once in 37 years.
They look unstoppable in the league this season. However, they consistently fail in Europe, having lost five finals to their one triumph in that time.
They weren’t clinical enough against Chelsea in last season’s final, having had 34 shots on goal and taken the lead with just seven minutes to go. Bale would give them even more directness and is a better player than Frank Ribery who is currently first-choice on the left side of a front three.
Bale may not fancy playing left-back at Barca.
With Barcelona committed to the all-Catalan philosophy promoted by the club, it’s unlikely that they will pursue Bale in the summer.
Were they to sign him, the Welshman could very well find himself playing in defence, albeit in a typically advanced role.
Despite playing left-back earlier in the season against QPR, it seems ludicrous to think of him as a defensive player now.
In addition to choosing a new club based on trophy-winning potential, Bale will want to continue his development as a forward of devastating ability.
In that sense, Barcelona may not be the ideal destination.
Bale and United could be the ideal fit.
For all its famed reputation, Manchester United’s youth system has under-delivered for the past decade.
If United were to sign Bale in the summer it would continue the trend of recruiting young talent at huge costs. In the past decade, Alex Ferguson has deployed almost limitless spending means to sign some of Europe’s best young players. In the current squad there is a group of players signed when they were in their early-20s for combined fees of over £200 million.
Bale fits Ferguson’s ideal: a team of players committed to free expression in the attacking third, particularly in the Premier League where they relentlessly pour forward.
United have tried to replace Ronaldo and Ryan Giggs but still need a player for the long term on the left.
Alex Ferguson is also often over-credited with his influence on young players but making a success of things at Old Trafford depends more on the mentality of the player than on the boss’s influence.
Bale’s ability and ambition might make him an ideal fit for United.
Follow John Kelly on Twitter @JKelly1882