Gareth Bale to Madrid: What Happened to Rules Against 'Tapping Up' Players?

Ryan BaileyFeatured ColumnistJune 18, 2013

ORLANDO, FL - JUNE 11:  In this handout image provided by Universal Orlando, player of the year and Tottenham Hotspur player Gareth Bale is making the most of his end of season break with a day at Universal Orlando Resort on June 11, 2013 in Orlando, Florida. Gareth and his childhood friends enjoyed a kick about in front of Universal Studios Florida's newest attraction, TRANSFORMERS: The Ride - 3D.  The blockbuster mega-attraction will open June 20, 2013.  (Photo by Sheri Lowen/Universal Orlando via Getty Images)
Handout/Getty Images

It is safe to assume that Real Madrid president Florentino Perez isn't well versed in post-war British cinema.

If he were, he might be familiar with the 1953 classic The Great Game, starring James Hayter and Thora Hird. It's the tale of fictional top-flight club Burnville Utd, whose chairman makes an illegal approach to the star of a rival team. The authorities discover this wrongdoing and the chairman is suspended in the ensuing scandal.

It's a cautionary tale against the practise of "tapping up," the act of persuading a player to join another team without his current employer's knowledge or blessing.

While tapping up can take the form of direct player approaches or secret meetings with agents, the rules are also violated when representatives of a rival club publicly express their admiration of a rival player.

Thanks to the way in which Real Madrid's presidency is essentially a popularity contest, it has always been Los Blancos' modus operandi to promise the arrival of players they have not yet negotiated contracts for.

It happened with David Beckham. It happened with Luis Figo. And now, it's happening with Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez.

At the end of May, Perez was quoted by Spanish paper Marca (translated by The Guardian) as saying "Bale was born to play in Madrid."

A few days later, Director of Football Zinedine Zidane—Madrid's equivalent of Newcastle's Joe Kinnear!—effectively told the Welsh sensation that he should demand a move. The Daily Mail reports:

"I think Real Madrid have made their admiration of Gareth Bale very clear - and it has been made clear that we would not be put off by the cost of the player," Zidane told the Sunday People.

"But if Gareth feels now is the time to move then he has to have a private discussion with his club and express that he wants to leave."

As if by coincidence, according to The Guardian, former teammate Luka Modric has also recently claimed Bale would "fit perfectly" at Madrid.

Short of landing a helicopter on his roof and kidnapping him, how much more do Real Madrid need to do to be found guilty of tapping up? Why haven't Tottenham reported the Spanish giants for blatantly trying to unsettle a player who is under contract until 2016?

Spurs, of course, aren't the only ones with a player having their head turned toward the Spanish capital.

Luis Suarez has been gunning for a move away from England for some time and was probably enthused when he heard Perez tell Spanish radio station Cadena COPE that "[he] is a great player and I'm sure every team in the world would like to have him" (translated via talkSPORT).

The Uruguayan has taken several opportunities to flirt back with the La Liga side ("Real Madrid is a great team and every player dreams about them," quotes Simon Jones of The Daily Mail), and that is something he may not have done if he wasn't so confident that they were pursuing him.

It's an exchange that must be infuriating for the upper echelons of Liverpool FC.

Of course, this article isn't intended as a tirade against Real Madrid's practises—they are by no means the only club tapping up. It is rife at this time of year, with dozens of clubs doing it every day.

This week, for example, Borussia Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc told the Ruhr Nachrichten newspaper (translated via "We are interested in the signature of Kevin De Bruyne."

Despite no official approach to Chelsea, he added that he is "able to confirm the player does want to make a transfer to our club."

Chelsea, incidentally, are one of the clubs who have actually been reprimanded for tapping up. Ashley Cole, Jose Mourinho, Chelsea and Cole's agent were all punished when the defender moved across London from Arsenal via illicit meetings. The Blues were also given a transfer window ban for "inducing" Gael Kakuta to break his contract with Lens in 2007.

In 2012, Liverpool were forced to apologize to Fulham after being reported for tapping up Clint Dempsey. Meanwhile on the continent, Phillippe Mexes and Roma were punished when the Frenchman and the Italian side agreed a transfer without his employer's (AJ Auxerre) knowledge.

Granted, publicly stating interest in a rival player is not a crime on the scale of surreptitiously organizing a transfer, but it is definitely tapping up. It has become customary for big clubs like Madrid to behave like this, unfairly influencing and unsettling players who do not belong to them.

Either we accept that this is part of the modern game, or FIFA needs to wake up and start enforcing its own rules.