Plenty of headlines, column inches, blog posts and any other medium of print have been dedicated to Tottenham’s Gareth Bale, the quintessential transfer story of the summer. Every window has one of these major player stories, but the breadth and scope of this particular drama has been particularly overwhelming.
As August begins, the stories coming out from the papers indicate Bale will be on his way to Real Madrid. How the deal shakes out, who is wanted and for what price—the Guardian, Mail and Mirror all have different takes to name a few—is the next frontier.
Hanging in the balance is a medley of items that will be debated for some time. Is Bale the heir apparent to Cristiano Ronaldo? Does it matter that the Madrid club needs a forward more than other positions? Can Tottenham challenge the top four without Bale? Will Spurs find replacements in time?
While the above are valid questions that drive the hard copy in the papers and online, there are three overarching themes that are concurrently driving the stories. Because of past history, the men involved and the possibilities that lie beyond the summer, the transfer of Bale has become a fascinating focal point for the final month of the summer transfer window.
History at Stake
One of the key things kicked around so far in this titanic struggle is the provision of “world record transfer.” It is no small matter that the headline keeps popping up so often in discussion.
Currently, Madrid is the club that has had this distinction by the throat. The Mail has a handily compiled list of the world record transfers, and it does not take long to notice that the Bernabeu has been home to the last four world record transfers.
The policy of buying the superstar names is the brainchild of Madrid president Florentino Perez, dubbed the Galacticos policy. The strategy is fairly straightforward: Perez decides what player he wants, the club and media associates woo the player while throwing larger and larger sums of money at the player’s current club and eventually sign said player.
Pressure is the key constant. Once the wheels have begun turning, the intensity does not relent until the matter is resolved in Madrid’s favor. It took a couple of summers before Manchester United finally caved in on Ronaldo, though the £80 million price tag took a little of the sting out.
What is facing the current target of Madrid’s “affections” is that Bale is likely to become the new holder of the title “world’s most expensive footballer.” At the same time, Madrid would continue their grip as the “world’s most powerful club.” Tottenham would then become the club with the “world’s most lucrative transfer.”
These items are not insignificant. For the entirety of history, man has always wanted to be the best at whatever it is they do. We often, as a collective sports body, debate the merits of player X against player Y from different generations. The current crop of players want to be in that discussion, and aspects like being at one time the world’s most expensive man help in that bid for immortality.
Bale clearly understands the magnitude such a move would create for any sort of brand purposes. The trademarking of his celebratory hand of hearts is the first sign that the winger wants to be known as more than just a player.
Madrid, needless to say, has a much larger platform to build a brand on than Tottenham does. Combined with the litany of faces that are already household names, Bale would immediately catapult himself into the same categories reserved for only the handful of players that truly are elite.
Thus, there is a want for purposes other than football for the Welshman to ply his trade in the Spanish capital. That said, there are two colliding ideologies that will ultimately decide whether that is to be the case or not.
Pride and Prejudice
There is not a room in the world big enough for both Perez and Daniel Levy to be seated in.
Maybe the two are not the most flamboyant people who have ever been involved in the boardroom. Perhaps neither has the ego of, say, Donald Trump. Both men, however, are businessmen of a very high caliber and do their work in two very different ways.
Money is no object to Madrid and Perez. The club has a tremendous revenue system and one does not break the world record for transfer four times on the trot thinking about the bottom line too often.
Levy, as has been credited over the last few summers, is a bargain-driving stickler. One only needs to watch the way the Tottenham chairman dealt with Dimitar Berbatov and Luka Modric recently to figure out Levy is a fierce negotiator.
In theory, this should not hinder a deal. The two would sit down, bargain, haggle and generally try and get the best deal possible before reaching a number both would live with. After a handshake, a few calls and some well-crafted PR paragraphs, all would be done and dusted.
But this is no simple deal. Spurs are effectively handing over the fatted calf if they sanction a deal. Having done that once last summer, there is bound to be resentment every step of the way.
That would short sell Levy’s position, however. On one hand, Levy would probably be reluctant to sell Madrid a bubonic-plagued squirrel. At the same time, he is a businessman first and foremost. A deal near the £100 million mark is likely too hard to turn down, no matter how emotionally attached Levy might be to the player.
That matters little to Perez. Simply put, Madrid sees themselves as the be-all and end-all of the profession. If they want a player, they get the player. Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Manchester United, Juventus, etc. are all second-tier clubs in the shadow of the Bernabeu.
Perez uses that mentality ruthlessly in his bidding. In a sense, the club’s persona is almost an extension of the president personally. Any actions against the club take on the life of a personal insult to the president, and any success the club has becomes his success.
Neymar's transfer to Barcelona is one such injury. Madrid made the Brazilian a target over the last year, along with Manchester City and anyone else who had money to burn. When the forward chose the Catalan club, one can only imagine the rage Perez was infected with.
With the hit his ego must have taken, Perez has now made it a personal crusade to insure that Bale is wearing Madrid's fabled whites rather than the Lillywhite of Tottenham by the time the new campaign starts. If nothing else, the Madrid president needs his ego soothed and to batter someone else.
For anyone to deny Perez his desired player, that club becomes a target that deserves the maximum amount of pressure applied to it. Levy is feeling the brunt of that force now.
Perez, given the recent reports above to start August, might feel like he has won the race and that he again will be the man standing on the top of the heap. Of course, the deal still needs to be done, and that is where Levy holds one final card in the deck.
The Price of Failure
Former Madrid president Ramon Calderon said that there is a desire for the Bale deal to be done now because the fear of Cristiano Ronaldo leaving is greater than what is being let on.
I think the president has put all he has on the table (for Bale) just in case he cannot get the renewal of Cristiano…He is afraid that, at some moment, Cristiano will go and that would be very bad news for Real Madrid.
What we know is he [Ronaldo] is not happy at all with the attitude and behaviour of the president. At the start of last season, he tried to talk to the president about the renewal of his contract and the talks did not go well.
Now I understand he is asking for €20 million net every season. That is going to be difficult for Real Madrid to accept because it is around €40 million every year for the club to pay and that is the situation now.
Ronaldo’s desires can be met by only two or three clubs in the world. The things is, with Bale in line, Madrid have no need to change their position, and Perez will pressure Ronaldo the same way he has done every other player.
Calderon has never been Perez’s biggest fan. But maybe Calderon was right, just not for the reason the former president thinks he is.
What were to happen if Bale for whatever reason did not leave Tottenham this summer? Certainly Levy would try to set up a new contract, and Bale would insist there be a buy-out clause inserted.
Regardless of finish, Bale would almost certainly take a deal to leave Spurs after the 2013-14 season. Surely Madrid would have no problem stumping up the money then if they’re willing to splash it out now, right?
But it is precisely a buy-clause that Madrid loathes. Why exactly?
Remember that idea that only two or three clubs can afford Ronaldo’s wages? If they’re willing to stump up that kind of money just on a wage packet, throwing it around for a transfer is not a big deal either.
There is no guarantee that Madrid could sway Bale in the future if three or four clubs all match a buy-out clause. Madrid would then be forced into a competitive fight and, as the Neymar race showed, Madrid does not always win a sprint.
If the blow landed by Barcelona with the Brazilian was not bad enough, imagine if Madrid were forced to go without a major signing this summer and miss out on their latest Galactico next summer. It would be unthinkable, which is why Perez wants a Bale deal taken care of now. The landscape in 12 months could change dramatically by then.
Not only that, but Perez's ego desires it. The club's history demands it. Fear of the possible drives it.