Real Madrid’s blockbuster attempt to make Gareth Bale the most valuable player in soccer history has captivated Europe all summer long, but it was in a luxury hotel in the United States where a seemingly inevitable world record deal was thrown into jeopardy.
Bale, Tottenham Hotspur’s superstar left winger, has been in the news and in the spotlight ever since Spanish giant Madrid voiced interest in him, setting off negotiations between the two clubs that began cordially but gradually became messy.
A deal that could see Tottenham receive anything up to $180 million (Cristiano Ronaldo held the previous high mark of $131 million when Madrid bought him from Manchester United) is still not inked, despite the new Premier League campaign beginning on Saturday.
Bale will sit out this weekend, officially with a sore foot but in reality with a frazzled mind after his dream move hit the skids in an unlikely location.
Two weeks ago, it appeared that Bale was poised to trade North London for the Spanish capital and was mentally preparing himself for the challenge of playing for one of the world’s biggest clubs.
With media scrutiny in England and Spain omnipresent, officials from the two teams decided to conduct final negotiations in Miami, away from the constant glare and where Madrid was playing in the International Champions Cup, a preseason tournament featuring teams from Europe and Major League Soccer.
And somewhere overlooking South Beach is where things started to turn. Tottenham’s owner, Joe Lewis, played hardball, gambling that Madrid’s determination to get its man would lead them to pay the maximum price possible. Madrid, possibly nursing some financial issues despite having the lending support of some of Spain’s biggest banks, started to stall. It was no coincidence when a series of stories in Madrid-friendly Spanish papers began to emerge, questioning whether the asking price was too high and if Bale was really worth the money.
Transfer sagas such as this are not a new phenomenon in European soccer, but it is rare for one to spill over into a new season, as this is set to. According to reports in England, Bale is so incensed at how Tottenham has handled the situation that he has vowed never to play for them again, even if his move falls through.
There is still a common will to get a contract finalized. But even if Madrid feels it has a little more breathing room, if nothing is finalized within the next week it is hard to imagine a deal getting done.
Is Bale worth the money? Putting such an extraordinary figure on one man’s head always seems to defy logic, yet there is no question that he has extraordinary ability and represents a potential new breed of soccer player.
His size is a huge asset. Left-wingers have traditionally been small and nippy and guarded by right-sided defenders of similar stature. Bale is a 24-year-old physical specimen, over 6 feet tall and packed with muscle, with lightning speed and tricky feet. Traditional right-backs are not big enough to match up, not quick enough to keep up, and, for the most part, not clever enough to work out what he is going to do next.
Yahoo! Sports believes Bale is currently the third-best player in the world, behind Lionel Messi and Ronaldo, and if this deal is completed at the price suggested, it may be a long time before the record is broken again.
Messi is signed with Barcelona for the long haul, Ronaldo looks likely to stay with Madrid, and there is no one else who could or should command such a figure, even with European soccer inflation wildly outstripping that seen in the regular economy.
Right now, all this is little consolation to Bale, who simply wants to find out where and for whom he will be playing this season.
As a fresh campaign kicks off without him, he is finding out in a hurry that being soccer’s hottest commodity comes with a price of its own.
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