In this era of player power and super clubs, backed by seemingly endless financial power, there comes a point in the career of certain footballers—those at the very, very highest echelons of the game, the genuinely world-class performers—where they become simply unattainable for the vast and ever-increasing majority.
With transfer fees and players earning potential continuing to rise, fewer and fewer clubs are in the position to compete for the most elite stars. Thus whilst footballers are largely seen as a mercenarian bunch, the genuine elite rarely move whilst at the peak of their powers, tending to make a single move (if that) whilst their career is on an upward trajectory, before either seeing out their career at that club or making another move when their career begins to come down the other side of the hill.
Take Cristiano Ronaldo's 2009 move to Real Madrid as a case in point. At the time £80 million was questioned, as it was a world-record figure. At 28, the Portuguese international is at his unquestionable peak. With 146 league goals in 135 La Liga matches, his transfer fee and supposed €12 million annual salary have been worth every cent.
Now, his career has gone stratospheric and following four outstanding goal-filled seasons at the Santiago Bernabeu we are led to believe in his unhappiness in the Spanish capital.
All the news about my renewal with Real Madrid are false.— Cristiano Ronaldo (@Cristiano) June 13, 2013
Almost every club on the planet would love to have him, but very few can actually afford, whilst even less could entice him to trade his place at one of football's super powers.
The Ligue 1 duo of nouveau riche Paris Saint-Germain and mega-money Monaco have the cash, but would he move to Ligue 1, especially considering the latter cannot offer Champions League football in the immediate future. Anzhi Makhachkala could offer just about any financial incentive available, but would he want to live in Moscow and fly to Dagestan for home games? The trio can all offer vast finances, but when your already as financially wealthy as the Portuguese—worth an estimated $130million according to celebritynetworth.com—it's surely more about prestige and being seen as the world's best, than merely money.
Regarding a return to England, Manchester City and Chelsea have the finances, but he'd prefer Manchester United, who would love to have him back according to Ian Herbert of the Independent. But would Real Madrid let him leave for a fee considerably lower than Monaco are said to be willing to offer, and indeed a figure less than their original outlay?
As such, moving this summer for Ronaldo, with two years left on his Real Madrid contract—making it realistically the Spanish club's final opportunity to maximise his value—could all prove rather difficult.
It is the peril of being perhaps one of the greatest ever.
At the other end of the scale, however, perhaps on the verge of emulating Ronaldo, is Tottenham Hotspur's Gareth Bale.
The Welshman has been viewed as a tremendous talent for quite some time, but under the tutelage of Andre Villas-Boas at White Hart Lane this past season, Bale made the definitive move into the fabled "world-class" category.
A mixture of tremendous technical ability, breathtaking speed, fantastic physique and vicious long-distance shooting, Bale continues to develop into an increasingly consistent goal threat and genuine match-winner, as 21 league goals in 2012-13—up from nine in 2011-12—will attest.
From left-wing speed merchant to central attacking threat, his development over the last 12 months has been nothing short of outstanding and with added experience in his new role his trajectory is only expected to continue on an upward curve.
Bale will have turned 24 by the time the new season gets underway, the same age as Ronaldo when he moved to Spain from Manchester United. And similar to their pursuit of Ronaldo, Los Blancos have already begun the charm offensive towards Bale.
Whether it be former teammate Luka Modric speaking to Marca (via BBC Sport), or sporting director Zinedine Zidane—previously the world's most costliest player following his move to Madrid in 2001—the charm offensive is already in full flow:
The talk about Gareth Bale is not a surprise, said Zidane, according to the Daily Mail.
It is impossible to have the season he just had and not be linked with the biggest clubs in Europe.
If any club is going to tempt Spurs, then it will take big money—maybe even record-breaking money.
There are four or five clubs at the moment who have the finances not to be put off by a record-breaking fee like that.
Now none of this is to say that Gareth Bale is a certainty to move to Real Madrid tomorrow. But in the end, it seems like that is the way things are going, whether it's this summer or next.
For apart from the lure of Real Madrid, Tottenham's inability to qualify once again for the Champions League weakens their hand in keeping hold of their star asset. Additionally, not only that they are missing from Europe's premier club competition, but also their failure to compete for major trophies regularly. Real Madrid, with their prestige and size, are always in the hunt for trophies.
Certainly Daniel Levy is a master negotiator and will get the best possible price for his player, as he did with Messrs. Berbatov and Modric, when he does cash in. As he did with Modric, he could play hardball and keep a player whose contract runs until 2016 for one more season (at least). Conversely, he may feel that Bale's value has reached its optimum and now is the right time to do a deal, regardless of what the club says publicly.
And with Bale's jump towards the footballing top brass, it's increasingly likely that his sale will offer Levy and Tottenham greater financial reward than they could have possibly dreamed about when Bale signed at White Hart Lane as a precocious 17-year-old.
Given the player's growth, Spurs financial austerity and the want and power of Real Madrid, it is entirely plausible that Gareth Bale will be the player to break Cristiano Ronaldo's £80million transfer record.