For a player who has taken English football by storm in the last three years, the remarkable thing about Gareth Bale, according to those who work with him on a daily basis, is that he is so low-maintenance.
He could be the most demanding player at the club if he so wished but most lunchtimes he can be found in the canteen at the training ground sitting with the backroom staff rather than acting the big star.
There is no doubt, however, that a big star is what Bale has become – the first and possibly last man to persuade Tottenham Hotspur’s famously conservative chairman Daniel Levy to tear up his own pay structure more than once. Bale, at 23, is the ideal for any coach. He lives to play and his life is unaffected by any other distractions. His partner and young daughter are based mainly in Wales while he lives just a short distance from Spurs’ old Essex training ground.
The close bond he has with the club, who are in the process of offering him his sixth contract in six years, is one of the reasons why there has been no panic in the light of Spurs’ failure to make the Champions League. The club know they are not about to face another Luka Modric-style rebellion, or another saga like the one that dragged on around Dimitar Berbatov’s £30.75m move to Manchester United in 2008.
The relationship with Bale has been built on their willingness to reward him with new, improved contracts virtually every season, even in the early years after his move from Southampton in 2007 when it looked touch-and-go as to whether he would make the grade at White Hart Lane. That policy is not confined to Bale; the likes of Aaron Lennon, Tom Huddlestone and Kyle Walker also brought in at a relatively low cost as teenagers, have benefited from the same approach.
But it is in the case of Bale more than any other where the policy has really paid dividends in helping build a bond of trust with the player and protect his value to the club.
Since he signed his first deal in the summer of 2007, Bale’s development has been rewarded with new deals in August 2008, despite a serious ankle injury the previous season, and then, once his career really took off, again in May 2010, March 2011 and last June. Each time his wages have increased and in return, Levy and the club have extended his contract, thus putting themselves in the driving seat in any potential sale.
It is a simple formula to follow but it only works when there is an understanding between player and club. In the case of Bale, who has three years left to run on his current deal, Spurs are well aware that they are not about to be held to ransom by a bigger, acquisitive club and a recalcitrant player.
There is an understanding between both parties this summer that if Bale is to sign another contract extension that the wages will have to go into a realm that Levy would have considered unthinkable just two years ago. The likes of Berbatov and Modric earned nowhere near the £150,000 to £175,000-a-week deal that Bale could now command, but then his status in the game outstrips that of both those players in their Spurs’ years.
It is notable that the last three major sales by Spurs – Michael Carrick, Berbatov and Modric – have been on Levy’s terms. In the case of Modric, it was clear that the club were never going to sell to Chelsea in 2011, despite the player’s demands. Equally it looks extremely unlikely that they will sell Bale to another Premier League club – this summer or any other summer.
Levy does not always get it right. His failure to sign a striker in January may ultimately have cost Spurs a Champions League place. The club is inherently conservative in its spending and has no intention of making the kind of marquee signings that the top three, and possibly even Arsenal, will make this summer. That said, their Under-21 team has excelled this season and there will be an argument to use players like Andros Townsend, Tom Carroll and Jake Livermore more in the first team, as well as introduce Ryan Mason.
Essentially Spurs are not in the business of making a title challenge, not in this era of oligarchs and oil sheikhs. But by the same token they do a very good job of protecting what they have from leaving unless it is at full value. There is a lot to be said for that.