With a rare consensus emerging in the Monday newspapers—Real had finally agreed to pay £86 million for Bale, with the player to be unveiled on Tuesday, per Neil Ashton of the Daily Mail—it looked very much as if the transfer was on the verge of completion.
But then came a breathless Sky Sports News report, claiming that Spurs were now considering an offer from a second club for their want-away Welsh winger.
We're told Tottenham considering offers from more than one club for Gareth Bale. No deal yet agreed with Real Madrid. #THFC— Bryan Swanson (@skysports_bryan) August 26, 2013
Then, hot on the heels of that revelation, the same channel claimed that Bale, who had been holidaying in Marbella over the weekend, will return to London on Monday.
He had been expected to fly from Marbella to Madrid, ahead of his formal unveiling as a Real Madrid player on Tuesday, but that now appears to have gone by the wayside.
Gareth Bale returns to the UK today after spending the weekend in Spain - more on this developing transfer story on #SSN— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) August 26, 2013
It is interesting, exciting even, to allow yourself to think that there is a genuine rival bid—that Manchester United (surely the only club who could conceivably have made this supposed offer) have finally decided to go all-in on their long-rumoured interest, or that Chelsea (or even Barcelona!) have decided to further tweak their rivals by emerging into the fray.
But the reality, based on the timing of this "revelation," is that it is almost certainly a carefully controlled leak from Spurs, one designed to press Real into acquiescing to some of their final demands.
According to Jason Burt of the Daily Telegraph, Spurs chairman Daniel Levy has arranged a complicated payment schedule with Real, one that will see the Spanish side pay less than £86m if they honour their debt faster than arranged (with the potential for as much as a £8.6m discount on the fee, reportedly), but more if they get behind on their repayments.
Considering Real still have not fully paid the fee arranged with Spurs for Luka Modric almost exactly 12 months ago, that seems a sensible move from the Premier League side.
Madrid, however, may be reluctant to agree to that structure—perhaps aware that, with it likely to take Bale a while to earn his fee both on the pitch and in commercial ventures, they may be more likely to fall behind on their installments than move ahead, further escalating their outlay.
With Real perhaps expressing some reluctance at the payment structure, the sudden reports that a late rival offer may be on the table could strong-arm them into an agreement on such late sticking points.
Similarly, it might hurry up the formal conclusion of the transfer. There can be no question that, with the season underway, the Bale saga is becoming something of a distraction for Spurs, who have started the Premier League season well with two wins.
Andre Villas-Boas had to face questions on the one absent player in his squad on Sunday, clearly growing tired with all the speculation when meeting the press afterwards:
Whether the transfer will happen or not, hopefully you will have more news in the next couple of days, but at the moment, there is nothing I can tell you. ...
Gareth, unfortunately for us, hasn't been part of our squad, but we have a big squad to choose from. This team can only develop and we look forward towards the future.
With Gareth or without, we can be stronger.
The Portuguese will want to know where he stands with just over a week remaining in the transfer window—allowing him to target his replacements with clarity and conviction.
He has never wanted to lose Bale, a player he seemed to develop a close bond with last season and who emerged as a dominant performer for him. Once resigned to his departure, however, it makes sense for it to be sorted sooner rather than later.
In situations like this, it is constructive to look at who the revelation most suits. The news of a bid would only seem to advance Spurs' agenda, so the most obvious explanation is that the club have leaked a story—that is almost certainly not true—to suit their needs and insert some panic into the Madrid ranks.
Madrid can hardly complain; after all, they have similarly manipulated the press to get to this stage—unsettling Bale with their thinly veiled declarations of interest and then pressuring Spurs consistently once the player declared his desire to leave.
Such is the murky underbelly of modern blockbuster transfers.
But deals of this magnitude take weeks, months even, to get to the finish line—with not just the managers but agents, commercial advisors and sponsors all involved in different aspects of the negotiations. Real Madrid (and Spurs) have already waded through those time-consuming elements; they are unlikely to allow the deal to fall apart now.
Unless Bale has had a change of heart, the move to Madrid will be completed—regardless of this second offer.