How Long Has Gareth Bale Got Left at Real Madrid?
Here we go: Another transfer window with Gareth Bale's future being discussed.
An injury-hampered 2016/17 season ended with a place on the substitutes' bench for the Champions League final. Now, as hype continues to grow over the potential signing of Kylian Mbappe, we are left wondering what the future holds for the Welsh wonder.
I have been looking into the situation to get a better grasp on exactly how long we should expect La Liga's most expensive player to remain in Spain.
And while my immediate discovery was that he will not be leaving Real Madrid in this transfer window, that does not mean he will definitely see out the remaining five years of his contract.
A Great British Export
Bale's move to Madrid has been a dream.
Since his transfer from Tottenham four years ago he has won the Champions League on three occasions, while also collecting a winner's medal in La Liga and the Copa del Rey.
"His time in Spain has been an overwhelming success," said Phil Cadden of The Sun, who has been covering Bale for most of his career in the Wales national team.
"He can't have wished for much more. Bale moved from Tottenham to Real Madrid for a then-world-record £86 million fee to win trophies—and I think he will go down as one of the most successful Brits of all time to play overseas."
There are not many other places he could play and match that type of success, so the next move is always going to prove difficult in terms of maintaining this level.
His Role at the Bernabeu
Bale would not be willing to accept a role as a bit-part player, and, at this stage, he does not expect that to happen.
He knows that Isco's superb form meant the Spaniard deserved a starting spot ahead of him against Juventus in Cardiff. He also knows he will always be judged more harshly than almost any other player at the club.
Bale started just 24 games last season, as ankle and calf injuries left him sidelined. Bale remains a key part of Zinedine Zidane's plans...but the rise of another player adds a new layer of confusion.
Marco Asensio, 21, is a young star that fans want to see more of. If Bale is in the team and underperforming, it will not take long for whistles to echo around the Bernabeu.
"Bale's relationship with the Madrid fans has been one of highs and lows," Kieran Canning, a Spanish sports correspondent for Agence France-Presse, based in Madrid, told me.
He explained: "Bale's first season brought great success, with goals in the Champions League and Copa del Rey finals. In his second he was jeered on the field and abused as he left the stadium following a Champions League exit against Juventus.
"At the moment patience is wearing thin due to his struggles with injury, but he is just about getting the benefit of the doubt. Publicly he did himself a big favour by coming out and killing the debate ahead of the Champions League final by recognising he wasn't fit enough nor did he deserve to start ahead of Isco."
Bale has superstar status, and, for now, that gives him the edge to begin next season as a starter.
Madrid's Pursuit of Mbappe
If the form of Isco and Asensio makes things complicated, then imagine how the arrival of the most exciting teenager in world football would shake things up.
It is no secret that Madrid are trying to sign Kylian Mbappe and the belief of most sources I speak to is that the Bernabeu will be his next destination. The main question is: When he will arrive?
The most likely scenario seems to be that Mbappe will join Madrid next summer. It is important for the player to continue to develop and one more season at Monaco could be crucial.
That means Bale should not see any added reason to leave at this stage.
"Much will depend on the comings and goings at the Bernabeu this summer," Canning said. "It seems every season is tagged this—but it really does seem to be the make or break season for him."
Don't forget Eden Hazard is a long-term target, too. He could be on the radar for a year's time.
Bale is great, but he is not irreplaceable.
Linking Up with Mourinho
This is one to seriously look out for in the future.
If Bale is to one day leave Madrid and return to the Premier League, then I am told that Manchester United will be his first-choice destination.
A contact close to Bale told me he has been open to it since two years ago, when there were genuine concerns about where his career in Spain was heading.
Of course, he proved the doubters wrong back then, but United will be in the frame whenever they get a sense Bale is available for transfer.
Each summer United are looking to add a marquee signing as they bid to get back to being England's best side. Last year it was Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and this year it was supposed to be Antoine Griezmann.
That plan did not work out, and it seems Alvaro Morata will become their biggest signing. I'm told Bale is highly unlikely to move to United in this window, but in the future, it is possible.
Interest from PSG
PSG are always on the lookout for game-changers. And, yes, they are one of the few clubs in the world that could match the financial demands of a Bale deal.
But no transfer is going to happen here because the club simply will not have the same appeal to Bale of other elite sides.
It's a problem the Paris outfit have when top players are at a big club and still motivated by factors other than money.
European football expert and Bleacher Report writer Andy Brassell told me: "The QSI project has always been desperate to attract a bona fide A-list megastar but—as with Neymar last summer—always just failed to pull the trigger. It's hard to see Bale biting at the moment with PSG working hard to rebuild the sporting leadership of the club, and as it stands, being a clear step down from Real Madrid."
Interestingly, PSG also have a desire to sign Mbappe from Monaco, so Bale could be more of an afterthought.
Jonathan Johnson, ESPN FC's French correspondent, said: "Bale would fit the bill in terms of bringing a bit of stardust back to Parc des Princes that has been missing since the departure of Ibrahimovic.
"However, the issue with Bale is that he would only be potentially within reach if Real land PSG's main summer target: Mbappe.
"Paris want Mbappe not only because he is a phenomenal talent, but because he is in line with their initial project vision of buying the best young talent and assembling a team capable of winning the Champions League more so than Bale is."
What Does the Future Hold?
Sources close to Bale seem in no doubt that he will be staying in Spain this summer, but it is down to the Welshman how long he will remain a Galactico.
He has to bounce back from last season's disappointments.
Fitness and form are going to be key to him remaining at the Bernabeu, and if he cannot provide on both accounts, we can expect him to head back to England.
It's possible that in a year's time we will be reading more transfer rumours about Man United and Bale—and this time they will be legit.
But before then, Bale is beginning his latest mission. He's at his ideal club, winning the trophies he always dreamed of.
He does not want to come home—so once again he must prove he is worthy of his place at the world's biggest club.
All quotes and information obtained firsthand unless otherwise indicated.