There was glee at the finalising of the deal among Real Madrid fans attending last night’s ‘Trofeo Bernabeu’ exhibition game, an homage to former striker Raul Gonzalez, while the club’s adidas-run online shop had ‘accidentally’ already begun selling number 11 ‘Bale’ shirts.
But Blancos supporters still had concerns about the huge fee agreed by Madrid president Florentino Perez, and just how coach Carlo Ancelotti will fit Madrid’s latest ‘galactico’ into an already star-studded midfield and attack.
Sources in both Madrid and London last night agreed that a straight cash deal had been agreed between the clubs, with proposed makeweight Fabio Coentrao not included.
The announcement was held back 24 hours to leave last night free for Raul.
Bale could now make his debut at home to Athletic Bilbao on Sunday September 1.
The move had seemed a sure thing in early June, but doubts emerged as the weeks passed and Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy’s negotiating prowess was much praised in the Spanish media.
Perez told ESPN in early August that €100m was a lot to spend on any player, while Ancelotti subtly changed his tune from indirect praise of Bale to claims he was more than happy with his current squad.
Leaks also appeared in the Madrid press suggesting some current Blancos players, including Mesut Ozil and Karim Benzema, were “concerned” Bale would earn significantly more than they do.
Cristiano Ronaldo, whose own new contract talks with Perez are currently deadlocked, was also said to be “unimpressed” that he will no longer be the world’s most expensive soccer player.
Meanwhile, Bale was sitting out Tottenham’s pre-season programme, with the unspecified ‘foot injury’ which also saw him miss last week’s 0-0 friendly draw between Wales and Ireland.
Then Madrid’s opening Primera Division fixture last Sunday saw Isco, a €30m summer signing from Malaga, steal the headlines by scoring a late winner against Real Betis. The Spanish U21 starlet looked to the Bernabeu born, while playing in a left-sided attacking position which Bale might be expected to fill.
Earlier this week most of the noise around the deal was coming from the UK, where Spurs’ big money moves for Willian from Anzhi Makhachkala and Erik Lamela from Roma were seen as proof Andre Villa-Boas was already spending the incoming Bale millions.
Meanwhile, the Madrid media were less sure. Marca, with whom Bale’s agent Jonathan Barnett appears close, claimed the player was growing worried at the delay. AS reckoned Levy was being unreasonable over the fee. Coentrao’s apparent €4 million a year salary demands were also complicating the talks.
Given Madrid’s debts, a €200m plus total package [fee and about €18m gross for six years] for a 24-year-old who has never won a major trophy and lacks significant international experience was also being questioned. Some pundits argued the move was being pushed through as Perez did not want to be upstaged by Barcelona counterpart Sandro Rosell’s €57m signing of Neymar earlier in the summer.
But the Madrid chief and club’s commercial director Jose Angel Sanchez stuck to their hunch that Bale’s global commercial appeal means the transfer will pay for itself — much like the pair’s move for David Beckham a decade ago.
Madrid fans will be more worried about how the transfer affects results on the pitch. Can Ancelotti fit Bale, Ronaldo, Benzema, Ozil, Isco and Luka Modric in the one XI? So far the Italian has introduced a patient possession-based midfield approach, to which the more ‘vertical’ Bale does not really seems suited. A lack of a proper pre-season also means the Welshman cannot now hit the ground running.
Ronaldo’s reaction to his new team-mate will be particularly fascinating to watch. Perez has repeatedly insisted the Portuguese will soon extend his contract, but the player and his advisors are still considering their options as former club Manchester United and big spending PSG and Monaco look on.
Ronaldo was deadly cutting in from the wing under Jose Mourinho, but has a new more central attacking position under Ancelotti, perhaps to facilitate Bale’s inclusion.
The emotional reception given to three-time European Cup winner Raul at the Bernabeu last night showed that success or failure at Madrid really comes down to success in that competition. After 11 barren years in Europe, Perez needs to deliver another Champions League trophy — and soon.
If Bale plays a key role in securing the fabled ‘La Decima’ then this will be seen as €200m well spent. But if not Perez’s latest gamble could be his last as Madrid president.