Real Madrid breaks the bank for Gareth Bale but tries not to break Cristiano Ronaldo's heart

Martin Rogers
MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 02: Gareth Bale shirts go on sale on the day that he is officially unveiled a new Real Madrid player at the official store of Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on September 2, 2013 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)

Gareth Bale's long-awaited transfer from Tottenham Hotspur to Real Madrid was either for $133 million or $121 million, and the fee was either the most expensive in history or the second highest.

Which price was right? It depends on who you read and how much you care about Cristiano Ronaldo's ego.

What matters most, of course, is that the deal which rumbled on all summer long is complete at last. Yet the lengths Madrid went to fudge the financial details, at least publicly, show just how much it felt the need to keep its biggest star happy. And despite all the excitement and fanfare that greeted Bale's arrival in Spain, Ronaldo is still the man, at least for the foreseeable future.

When the Portuguese superstar switched to the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium from Manchester United in 2009, the agreed fee of $124 million was so large that it seemed unlikely to be broken for years to come. But Bale's transfer showed that, provided the right freakonomic factors are present, there is no end to soccer's ability to defy the typical principles of finance.

Madrid is a club that prides itself on its financial muscle-flexing and would have enjoyed nothing more than to have announced another world-record fee. Heck, the last four occasions the record has been broken, Madrid has been the big buyer each time, including $80 million in 2009 for Brazil's Kaka, who was quietly allowed to leave for nothing last week.

But keeping Ronaldo content was seen as being more important than any heavyweight financial PR. That is why a figure of $121 million was trotted out and diligently reported by the loyal Spanish press. Meanwhile in England, several newspapers, acting upon information from Tottenham, put the mark at $133 million. Yahoo sources confirmed the higher figure was the correct one.

We will know for sure in December when Tottenham reveals formal details to its shareholders at the company's annual general meeting. By then, Madrid hopes Ronaldo won't care anymore. The club will also know if Bale can live up to the hype and price tag.

"It is another dream come true for me," Bale said. "For me [Ronaldo] is the best player in the world. It will be a pleasure to play with him. You can only learn from the best and he certainly is that. Hopefully, we can both work together and probably win a lot more trophies for Real Madrid and become a better team."

Ronaldo is a magnificent player who also comes with an ego that is somewhat fragile. Evidence of that was pretty much everywhere this week.

Bale replica shirts took center stage in the Madrid club shop, cheekily positioned even before the contract was formally inked. However, Ronaldo jerseys were strategically positioned alongside in the main display window.

Even Bale himself bought into it. British newspapers had humorously wondered if he was turning into Ronaldo, after being photographed in a tight shirt with biceps bulging and a reversed baseball cap earlier in the week. However, he knew how to play the psychological-massage game in his unveiling press conference by referring to his new teammate as "the boss."

Bale also took the wise political step of ignoring any mention of Lionel Messi, most people's choice as soccer's greatest modern player, World Footballer of the Year for the past four years and headliner for Madrid's biggest rival, Barcelona. Ronaldo doesn't take too kindly to comparisons between the two and has been able to point to the fact that, even though he is not universally acclaimed as the best player in the world, he was the most valuable.

Until now, perhaps.