1 Is Bale worth paying £86m for?
No, he’s not, not in any traditional judgement of footballers’ value. At 24 the only honour Gareth Bale has won is the Premier Academy League with Southampton as a teenager. He has played one season in the Champions League, never in a major international tournament, and in one cup final, coming on as an extra-time substitute in the 2009 League Cup final.
Spurs lost on penalties to Manchester United that day and Bale did not take one of the spot-kicks. It is not much of a body of work compared to that built by his predecessors as the world’s most expensive player: Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka and Zinedine Zidane, all of whom had either won the Champions League or the World Cup. This summer, the Swiss-based CIES Football Observatory compiled a “market value” for every player in the big five leagues based on their age, position and club, contract situation, international experience, and performances in 2012-13. Bale’s value was assessed at £37m-£43m. This placed him ninth, fractionally below the older, but far more proven, Wayne Rooney, less than half the value of Ronaldo and a fifth of Lionel Messi.
However, Real’s business model under Florentino Perez is based on record-breaking, grandstanding transfers (like Ronaldo, Kaka and Zidane). Making waves in this way attracts supporters and sponsors; it burnishes a reputation as the world’s most glamourous club – a claim which is under sustained threat from Barcelona. Being the world’s most expensive footballer also enhances Bale’s status. Real will thus sell more shirts with his name on, helping to defray his cost. Besides, they will not have paid the money up front. The Welshman has been bought on a hire-purchase model.
2 How will he fit in at the Bernabeu?
Bale is unlikely to have received any assurances as to where he will play, though as a galactico he will be guaranteed a place in the team. Quick, left-sided, can shoot off either foot, decent in the air with prodigious energy levels: it is a description which fits Ronaldo, too, and coach Carlo Ancelotti must find a way to get both into Real’s team. One solution is to use one more centrally, but which one? Bale has enjoyed playing in an aggressive No 10 role for Spurs. This position makes him hard to mark out of the game, and gives him more scoring options but Ronaldo is unlikely to relish being cast on the flank while the team rotates around the new boy. It has been noted that at Milan and Chelsea, Ancelotti preferred a slow build up, rather than the counter-attacking style used by predecessor Jose Mourinho, which suited Ronaldo and should best showcase Bale’s abilities. However, the Italian has been coaching long enough to adapt his approach to the players available rather than try to impose a system that could shackle them.
3 Did Manchester United ever have a chance?
United were interested in signing Bale, an interest encouraged by Spurs who were eager to ensure the price remained high when Perez began back-tracking on his €100m bid. But not only were United unlikely to have matched Real’s offer, Bale was set on Madrid. United’s global profile is huge but they still lack the allure of Real Madrid – or, indeed, Barcelona.
4 How will his move affect Wales?
Although Mourinho irked international coaches on occasion with his mind games, Real Madrid are traditionally happy to allow their stars to play for their countries, reasoning it all added to the club’s lustre. Wales should not, therefore, have too many problems in securing Bale’s release. Ancelotti is unlikely to be keen on Bale featuring much in the World Cup qualifiers against Macedonia this Friday, and Serbia next Tuesday, given he is yet to play a competitive match this season. On the plus side Wales are now a hot ticket.
5 How quickly will he settle in Madrid?
The most important question in the long-term. Steve McManaman learned the language, adapted to the rhythms of Spanish life and became a popular and successful player for Real. Michael Owen spent months living in a hotel, which was far from ideal. With a wife and young son who felt isolated and so dependent on him for company, Owen felt unable to spend much time with his new team-mates. The family struggled to settle and he came home after a year. It was, Owen admitted recently, a “horror story” off the pitch. Bale, who also has a young son and childhood sweetheart partner, needs to find a home, and quickly.
Welshmen abroad: Charles to Saunders
John Charles (Juventus 1957-62 & Roma 1962-63)
After moving from Leeds for £65,000, Charles scored the winner in each of his first three games and was christened “Il Gigante Buono” – the Gentle Giant. In total, he scored 93 goals in 155 matches in Turin and helped Juve win the scudetto three times. Was voted the club’s best-ever foreign player.
Trevor Ford (PSV Eindhoven 1957-60)
The former Swansea, Aston Villa and Sunderland striker was banned from football after admitting his involvement in an illegal payments scandal and was forced to go overseas to continue his career, spending three years at PSV Eindhoven before returning home.
Mark Hughes (Barcelona 1986-88 & Bayern Munich 1987-88)
Terry Venables saw “Sparky” as the perfect foil for Gary Lineker at the Nou Camp when he signed him for £2m from Manchester United but it did not quite work out. Just four goals in 28 games in his first season led to Hughes being farmed out on loan to the Bundesliga for a season before he went back to United.
Ian Rush (Juventus 1987-88)
Rush followed in the footsteps of Charles but found it hard to adapt to life in Italy, scoring just eight times. The striker allegedly moaned, “It’s like living in a foreign country”, and complained that he could not buy baked beans there. It was no surprise when he moved back to Liverpool after just one season.
Dean Saunders (Galatasaray 1995-96 & Benfica 1998-99)
The striker linked up with his former Liverpool manager Graeme Souness in Turkey. Saunders certainly got into the spirit of things, smearing goat’s blood on his face and boots before making his Galatasaray debut.