In the league table of football finances compiled by Deloitte for Europe’s leading clubs, Tottenham Hotspur were in at 13th place for the 2011-12 financial year, the last one on record, with an annual revenue of £178.2m. From there they looked down on the likes of Schalke, Napoli, Marseilles and Lyons but were a very long way from the elite at the summit of the game’s wealth.
Consider the breakdown of Spurs’ finances into the three fundamental areas of revenue: broadcasting earned them £76.1m, the commercial department £51.3m and match-day revenue, in the atmospheric, resolutely 20th-century White Hart Lane, a further £50.8m.
In short, the potential sale of Gareth Bale this summer for a transfer fee in excess of the world-record £80m would, at a stroke, earn Spurs more than they previously generated in any of their three main areas of business. There is no denying, even in football’s era of oligarchs and billionaire owners, that commanding more than £80m for a single player is an extraordinary deal.
Of course, Southampton would have to be paid their share under the compensation rules but it would be the ultimate trade for Daniel Levy who has had some good ones: Michael Carrick, Dimitar Berbatov and Luka Modric among them. He has pursued the buy-’em-young-and-cheap policy with such success that bigger clubs who find themselves with less clout in the market these days, like Manchester United, have followed suit.
Levy has been central to that. He will never push the club to challenge meaningfully at the very top of the Premier League, certainly not in their current stadium. They have qualified for the Champions League only once, although they were cruelly denied a second go at it by Chelsea last year. But Levy has stopped them being treated as a soft touch, in the way they were over Sol Campbell a dozen years ago.
Football – and the markets that drive it – evolves very quickly. Just because the stance that a club took with one player, at one particular time, was a success does not necessarily mean that it will be the right way to progress the next time. Levy’s firmness with Modric and Chelsea in 2011 was admirable, but it does not necessarily make it the right way to approach Bale and Madrid.
Madrid’s unimaginative, ostentatious attempts to buy success by harvesting the world’s best players is at times pathetic. There is a good case for saying Bale would be better served by going elsewhere – especially if he wants to win the Champions League. But the point is that the player wants to go and, on the condition that it is a world-record fee, this could be a triumph of sorts for Spurs.
Like Modric, this would be the second leading Spurs player to be sold out of the league rather than to a domestic rival. Few could have foreseen Bale’s progress, but Spurs kept faith and have a once-in-a-generation player, perhaps the greatest player the club has ever had.
This is the natural endgame. In modern football, players who have reached the level Bale has at 24 years old simply do not see out their careers at clubs with Spurs’ relatively modest ambitions. That is a pity and it diminishes the richness of the game, but it is simply the way things are. The next best thing for Spurs to having him play at White Hart Lane? Cashing in at the top of the biggest bull market football has ever known.