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Soccer-Real fans flock to welcome record signing Bale

Reuters

By Iain Rogers

MADRID, Sept 2 (Reuters) - Thousands of Real Madrid fans flocked to the Bernabeu to welcome Gareth Bale on Monday after the nine-times European champions sealed the purchase of the Wales winger from Tottenham Hotspur for what the London club said was a world record fee.

The summer's longest transfer saga finally ended on Sunday when Spurs announced they had sold Bale to Real for 100 million euros ($131.86 million) and the La Liga club said he had agreed a six-year contract.

The 24-year-old, the latest "galactico" signing engineered by the world's richest club under president Florentino Perez, passed a medical at a clinic in Madrid on Monday morning before signing his contract and being presented to excited fans inside the giant arena.

Wearing a sharp black suit, white shirt and black tie, Bale listened to a translation as Perez introduced him on the VIP tribune and described him as an "exceptional footballer".

Real had unearthed a picture of Bale wearing a club shirt as a child and Perez said the Welshman, who will hold a news conference later on Monday, had always dreamed of playing for the club.

"Bale's determination made it possible for him to be here today," said Perez, his speech regularly interrupted by cheers.

"The moment he dreamed of as a child has arrived. This is your stadium, this is your shield and these are your fans. This is your home."

Bale then sprung a surprise by making a brief statement in Spanish. He told fans signing for the club was "a dream come true" and he hoped to help them win the "decima", or 10th European title.

He thanked them for their welcome and concluded by punching the air and shouting "Hala Madrid!", the club's traditional rallying cry, drawing another immense cheer.

A construction magnate in his second stint at the helm of the club, Perez is hoping the addition of Bale will help Real secure the 10th European crown that has eluded them since their last continental triumph in 2002.

Coach Carlo Ancelotti can deploy his new player in a formidable attacking trio with Portugal forward Cristiano Ronaldo and France striker Karim Benzema as Real also attempt to wrest the Spanish title back from arch rivals Barcelona.

Bale could make his debut after the international break in Real's La Liga match at Villarreal on Saturday Sept. 14.

The price Real paid for him has drawn criticism in Spain at a time when the nation is in the grip of a punishing recession and unemployment is hovering just below 30 percent.

Ordinary Spaniards are also being forced to swallow cuts in wages and benefits and the government is slashing spending on public services like health and education. ($1 = 0.7584 euros) (Editing by Justin Palmer)

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