Gareth Bale gave serious consideration to a move to Manchester United when the club offered Real Madrid a world record £100m for him last summer, though the state of uncertainty at Old Trafford is thought to have contributed to him being persuaded to forget the idea.
After United’s offer came in, Bale was persuaded by then manager Rafael Benitez, with whom he enjoyed a good relationship before the Spaniard was sacked by Real three weeks ago, that his future lay in Madrid. But the 26-year-old and his representatives will also need persuading that United – who have now twice offered world record sums for Bale – have a cogent strategy in place and can offer him success, if they are to make a successful third move for their prime target this summer.
The United executive vice-chairman, Ed Woodward, is thought to be determined to hold on to manager Louis van Gaal until the summer if possible, rather than go through the mess of a mid-season change. The best scenario from the United board’s perspective is to get through to the end of the season and then amicably part company with the Dutchman, ahead of a more orderly succession. Though defeats in the next two games could make the position untenable, an emergency severance is more likely to push United towards an out-of-work Jose Mourinho, whose management style is a source of deep uncertainty at Old Trafford.
Van Gaal, who was in the Netherlands to help celebrate his daughter’s birthday yesterday, is thought to have asked United for at least the third time following Saturday’s home defeat to Southampton whether they require him to resign. The disappointing season is a deep personal embarrassment to him but his loyalty to Woodward – who wants stability – is thought to make him inclined to continue for as long as he is wanted. Van Gaal, a proud individual more stung by supporters’ criticism than he outwardly admits, has resigned from six of his eight posts and been sacked only twice. He is far more likely to walk away than be fired.
Woodward can at least take some encouragement from the fact Bale was so flattered and intrigued by the idea of a move to Old Trafford – and that Benitez had to talk him around. Real are confident they can use an appeal process for long enough to delay a transfer embargo imposed over irregularities in signing under-18s, though that threat does call hopes of signing Bale this summer into question.
The Welshman has been worried about the isolation he has experienced at the Bernabeu where the Cristiano Ronaldo clique – principally James Rodriguez and Marcelo Vieira – do not pass to him when he is operating in a wide role. When Benitez moved Bale to a more central area, to get him more involved in the play, Ronaldo complained and asked why Bale was being allocated a role in his own space.
United will tell Bale that he will have no such twisted blood to deal with at Old Trafford, where a move would also place him in an environment which seems far more comfortable. Bale is not a part of the social scene at Real, preferring to spend time at home. In his leisure time, developing his golf game – and his seven handicap – is more important to him than the celebrity lifestyle and party circuit.
Real’s probable reluctance to sell would be another impediment to Bale returning home. He represents the future of the club far more than Ronaldo who, despite a strong work ethic, is 31 and is not judged to possess his pace of old, according to those who have viewed him at close quarters.
But the team’s struggles are likely to create another major obstacle for United. Their deterioration dates to the time when they first tabled a bid for Bale and asked Ryan Giggs to help persuade the player, shortly after David Moyes had been appointed manager.
Bale will also certainly look at the fate that befell United’s last British record signing from Real – £59.7m Angel Di Maria – who was not considered tactically disciplined enough for Van Gaal. Bale would want to know that his game suits his next manager and that the club are capable of delivering him success and Champions League football.
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