LA LIGA

Real closes in on Gareth Bale

Tottenham star predicted to become world’s most expensive player this week

A Times Square billboard of Gareth Bale advertises NBC's coverage of the Premier League. / D Dipasupil (AFP)

The summer off-season likes nothing better than a contract rebel, but Gareth Bale failed to whet the salacious appetite of the sports dailies on Tuesday by turning up for work. The sight of a 24-year-old Welshman parking his car would not normally generate much interest, but Bale has been the main transfer story of the past two months and, if he does finally move to Real Madrid from Tottenham Hotspur, he is likely to become the most expensive soccer player in history.

The story so far is a footballing foresight saga: the rumblings began as soon as the final ball of 2012-13 had been kicked, giving Tottenham fair warning of Real's intent. The standard heralds of the Bernabéu's thinly veiled attempts to draw a player's attention, Marca, drew up the first of a series of front pages designed to find their way into the British press. Real sporting director Zinedine Zidane said how suited to the side Bale is. Coach Carlo Ancelotti managed to transmit that talks were in progress by stating that he was not allowed to talk about other team's players. Sergio Ramos and Iker Casillas were employed to throw a digital warm arm of welcome around the Welshman's shoulder. The result, to Tottenham's annoyance, has been the inevitable turning of Bale's head. Even his hairstyle is dancing to the prevailing tune, in concert with the increasingly ludicrous chops on display at Real.

While the lure of playing for Real should not be underestimated, neither should the lucre on offer. Bale stands to earn more than double anything Spurs can offer; an annual salary that would prop up Spain's wilting economy for a few weeks on its own, before image rights and bonuses are factored in. The sum required to prize the winger from London will also be in the astronomical bracket: anything between 95 and 145 million euros, depending on the day of the week and whether or not Real fancies paying in one go. Of course, it will not take long to recoup much of that initial outlay as Bale shirts fly off the shelves. Ricardo Carvalho's vacated number 11 — Bale's preferred double-digit — has been preserved during pre-season.

Ricardo Carvalho's vacated number 11 — Bale's preferred double-digit — has been preserved

The reported removal of Bale's image from Spurs' official Twitter account and the words of Keith Mills, a club official, on Tuesday have heightened expectation that the deal is to be pushed through this week. "If a player is desperate to leave, it's very difficult to force him to stay. Even if he has a contract, you can't force somebody to play for you."

Real president Florentino Pérez and Spurs chairman Daniel Levy are apparently set to meet in Miami, where Real is on a pre-season tour, to hammer out an agreement. Further fuel to the fire was added through Bale's absence from Spurs' own preamble, although this was reportedly due to a buttock injury. Spurs and Real forged a "partnership" agreement last season when Luka Modric swapped White Hart Lane for the Bernabéu, but the London club stated this should not be seen as carte blanche for Pérez to poach its star player every summer.

But there also seems to be little in the deal to Spurs' benefit; there has hardly been a slew of loan talent from Real or Castilla disembarking at Tottenham Hale station. Real has a tendency to get what it wants, and if Bale wants to leave, the best the London club can hope for is to fill Levy's pockets to the tune of a world record fee.

There are plenty of potential makeweights in the Real squad but Spurs have thus far shown interest only in Álvaro Morata, one of the young Spanish players key to Pérez's plan of injecting youthful national talent into the team.

Question marks over where Bale will fit in are largely irrelevant: Pérez has always had a penchant for stocking the squad with flair attackers while neglecting to bolster the back. Real's Achilles heel last season — high balls into the area — has been evident during the International Champions Cup, the final of which pits Madrid against José Mourinho's Chelsea on Wednesday. Space will be found for the winger, with Ronaldo possibly switching flanks or taking a more central role. The sight of both in the same team will certainly be worth the entrance fee. Whether it is worth a world record one only time will tell.

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