European champions Internazionale admit that they have been priced out of the market to sign Gareth Bale, who is battling to be fit for Tottenham's mouth-watering Champions' League last-16 clash against Serie A leaders Milan on Tuesday.
Inter have long been linked with Bale following his buccaneering displays down Tottenham's left flank which have won rave reviews at home and abroad – earning him a £50m-plus price tag.
A sensational hat-trick in the San Siro in Tottenham's 4-3 defeat against Inter in the Champions' League group stages, followed by another breathtaking display in the home leg when he ran Inter – and in particular Maicon – ragged in a 3-1 Spurs win, did much to enhance his value and profile.
Bale, who aggravated a back injury in training, will be arguably the most sought-after left-sided player in Europe come the summer but Inter, favourites to sign him a few weeks ago, now say that they are unlikely to renew their interest. "I don't think, at the price we are being quoted, we could afford him," said Inter's director general Ernesto Paolillo. "Not because he's not a great player, he is. But there is a limit to what we can spend. Bale's price is too high, we'll have to discover some other players."
He still believes that others might come in for Bale if Spurs are not in the Champions' League again next season. "Teams who don't get into the Champions' League have problems holding on to their best players. I hope this does not happen to Tottenham."
Spurs go into Tuesday's fixture as underdogs against the seven-time European champions but Paolillo believes they could spring another surprise in the San Siro – if Bale is fit. "Tottenham are very quick, and Italian teams suffer [with] the speed of English sides," said Paolillo. "If Bale can repeat what he did against us, they have a great chance. They are evenly matched. Spurs have a great chance of getting a draw.
"I know Milan are top of the table but I'm not so sure that right now they are any better than we are. Tottenham's organisation impressed me in both legs. My advice to them would be to attack Milan. If they sit back, Milan have some very dangerous forwards like Ibrahimovic, Robinho and Pato. You must not hold back against them."
As well as Bale, Harry Redknapp is sweating on the fitness of a number of other key players. Peter Crouch, so effective in Europe, had to withdraw from England duty last week with a back injury while Rafael van der Vaart was rested for yesterday's trip to Sunderland with a calf strain.