Tottenham Hotspur's Gareth Bale.
Gareth Bale is the kind of player every club would love to sign.
The 23-year-old set the Premier League alight this season and his performances for Tottenham Hotspur saw him win the PFA Player of the Year, PFA Young Player of the Year and the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year awards.
His scintillating displays for the White Hart Lane side are equally loved and lamented by the club’s supporters—loved for his skill and the impact he’s had on the team and lamented because Bale is now on the wishlist of every big club in Europe.
But how did Gareth Bale become such a hot commodity and when did Real Madrid start their pursuit of Tottenham’s No. 11?
Here, we look back at Gareth Bale’s ascent at White Hart Lane and chart the evolution of transfer speculation linking him to Real Madrid.
Gareth Bale signed for Spurs on a four-year deal in 2007, for an initial fee of £5 million, as reported on Reuters.
He also scored a week later in Spurs’ 1-3 defeat at the hands of North London rivals Arsenal.
However, the rest of the season did not go so well. Bale was part of the club’s lineup just eight times in total, with a torn ankle ligament keeping him on the sidelines for most of the campaign.
Gareth Bale, pictured in action for Spurs against Udinese in 2008.
In August 2008, Gareth Bale signed a four-year extension to his deal at White Hart Lane, as seen in the Telegraph.
Bale played as a right-back at this stage and made 16 Premier League appearances for Spurs in 2008/09.
Bale also got a taste of European football where he made seven appearances and bagged two assists in the UEFA Cup.
Gareth Bale, pictured in Spurs' Premier League meeting with Burnley in 2009/10.
Bale got a good run in the side after knee problems kept him out for the start of the 2009/10 season. But he wasn’t without his critics after it was noted that he’d started 24 games that had ended winless for Tottenham Hotspur.
The Telegraph’s Steve Wilson went as far as suggesting it was the "Curse of Gareth Bale."
The Welshman was branded a flop and was valued, according to the Daily Mail, at £3 million.
But after 25 games, Bale got his first Premier League win with Tottenham, in a 5-0 defeat of Burnley.
As the Daily Mail put it: "Gareth Bale is a winner for Tottenham at last - two years, three managers, 25 Premier League games and 1,533 minutes after signing for them."
Bale scored three goals that season and made five assists, while Spurs ended the Premier League season in fourth—in one of the qualifying spots for the Champions League.
Former Tottenham Hotspur manager Harry Redknapp.
Former Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp must be credited with his part in Bale’s climb to the top.
His faith in the player, despite a patchy start, ultimately paid off. In 2010, Redknapp was quoted in the Guardian as saying:
I can't think of a better left-sided player [in Britain], really. That left foot of his is amazing, he can run all day and he can head it – he's 6ft 2in. He's got everything. You couldn't even put a value on him. Almost any club in the world would want to buy him–in fact, I know they would.
Bale scored seven goals and made two assists in the Premier League in 2010/11, including a volley against Stoke City, which was voted Goal of the Month on the BBC’s Match of the Day.
However, it was his performances in the Champions League that made the football world sit up and take notice.
In nine games, 21-year-old Bale scored four goals and four assists. Three of those strikes came against Inter Milan, away at the San Siro.
In the return leg, Bale also turned in an incredible performance. BBC Football’s Phil McNulty said:
Bale ran Inter ragged time and again with a performance laced with unstoppable power, pace and a devastating end product that left Inter without any answers.
Bale signed a further extension to his contract, which would keep him at the club until 2015, according to UEFA.com.
However, despite the new contract and assurances from the player, as reported in the Daily Mail, it was inevitable that speculation was about to begin…
Bale, pictured in Spurs' 2010/11 meeting with Real Madrid.
In 2011, Gareth Bale won his first PFA Player of the Year award, reported here on the BBC Football website.
And his displays for Spurs in the Champions League had attracted interest from Inter Milan and Real Madrid, according to the Guardian.
Elsewhere, the Daily Mail claimed that Jose Mourinho said he did not want to sign Bale at Real Madrid, despite rumours linking him with the La Liga side.
Meanwhile, a report on Goal.com claimed that Manchester United were also targeting the Spurs man.
Gareth Bale, pictured in action for Wales in 2011/12.
In 2011/12, Bale made 36 appearances for Spurs, registering 10 goals and 14 assists—his best return for the side at that time.
For the second year in a row, he made it into the PFA Team of the Year.
Tottenham were unable to qualify for Champions League football for the following season, so throughout the summer he was again the subject of mounting speculation.
But Bale soon signed a new contract, with his valuation now in the region of £40 million, according to an article in the Independent. Bale said:
I've been here for five years now and I've enjoyed every minute.
The fans have been great to me and I'd love to repay them and do the very best for them.
The club is progressing and I want to be a part of that, so it was great to get the deal done.
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.
Gareth Bale, Tottenham Hotspur's No.11.
Gareth Bale’s gradual progression from left-back to the left wing has seen a meteoric rise in both his valuation and his contribution of goals for Spurs.
Under manager Andre-Villas Boas, Bale scored 21 goals and made nine assists in the 2012/13 season.
The Welshman also got a new shirt number, swapping the No. 3 for No. 11, befitting his new role in Villas-Boas’ attacking 4-2-3-1 formation.
With the goals came interest from Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea, as reported in the Mirror.
Overseas, Madrid tried to sign Bale—making him the subject of a £33 million bid, claimed the Telegraph.
However, in the Mirror, it seemed that Spurs valued their player at £60 million.
Meanwhile, Real Madrid's Luka Modric, formerly of Spurs, was quoted on the BBC Football website telling Bale that he should make the move to the Bernabeu.
Zinedine Zidane - Apparently a fan of Gareth Bale.
Due to his outstanding performances for Spurs in 2012/13, Bale was voted PFA Player of the Year, PFA Young Player of the Year and the Football Writers Association Player of the Year.
Who else has been named all three in the modern era of the game? Cristiano Ronaldo, who moved from Manchester United to Real Madrid for a world record £80 million in 2009, as reported in the Telegraph.
Madrid are now going to make Gareth Bale a replacement for Ronaldo and their next record signing, claims the Daily Mail.
Former Real Madrid great Zinedine Zidane, who is now the club's sporting director, has also been involved. He is quoted in the Guardian as saying: "He is more than good enough. All talented players can go to Real Madrid."
Spurs responded to this by saying their prize asset is not for sale at any price, as suggested in the Telegraph.
The most recent reports coming out of the Gareth Bale camp suggest that his advisers may be willing to listen to offers, according to the BBC.
The 23-year-old’s agent says that his client is better than Neymar, who recently signed for Barcelona for a fee thought to be in the region of £49 million.
Agent Jonathan Barnett was quoted in the BBC article as saying: "Bale is better than Neymar. He's proved himself in the best league in the world. Listen, it's crazy, but whatever Neymar cost, Gareth Bale is worth more."
Real Madrid president Florentino Perez followed up Barnett’s comments by saying that Bale was born to play for Madrid, reported here in the Guardian.
And the Sun claimed this week that Madrid will soon make a concrete bid to acquire Bale's services.
One thing is certain—this transfer rumour will take many twists and turns over the coming months.