Bale-Real marriage makes sense
After months of rumors, speculation, links, gossip, media spin, some premature announcements, and much blatant misinformation, the end came via a short statement released online on Sunday night in the Spanish capital.
“B Day” had finally arrived, and Gareth Bale is to be presented as a new Real Madrid player at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on Monday afternoon -- just hours before the summer transfer window slams shut.
The dramatic end was fitting as this has been soccer’s first truly postmodern transfer: played out within the glare of the media, with both clubs and various agents competing to shape the summer’s biggest transfer narrative.
Supporters worldwide have been unable to tear their eyes away as each day brought some new development. Last weekend Madrid-supporting sports paper Marca had photos of Bale relaxing by a pool on Spain’s Costa del Sol as he waited for things to be finalized. Rival paper AS had details Sunday morning of the hotel in which Bale would stay on Sunday night. This week the Spanish media have minutely followed the construction, dismantling and construction again of the stage inside the Bernabeu where Monday’s presentation will take place. And there was embarrassment for Madrid last week when its online club shop jumped the gun and started selling “Bale 11” jerseys -- dutifully noted by every media outlet.
Both Madrid and Tottenham also used the media to help set the final price. We now know that Tottenham’s efforts to include Argentine winger Angel di Maria in the deal and Madrid’s hopes to offload Portuguese left back Fabio Coentrao have come to nothing. It’s a straight cash deal -- but the final figure Spurs will receive remains a subject of debate.
The former PFA player of the year will take his talents to Spanish football this season (Images: Rebecca Naden/Reuters).
The Spanish media claim the fee is $119 million, while sources in the UK are sure Madrid has paid a world record $132 million. The difference is important, and shows how the La Liga club is aware that the shock waves of this transfer could yet be only beginning.
Bale’s reported annual salary of $13 million after tax per year has already had an impact on the Bernabeu dressing room, where only Cristiano Ronaldo earns more, and World Cup winners and established senior internationals only earn about half as much.
How Bale will fit into coach Carlo Ancelotti’s starting eleven is already a huge matter of debate inside and outside the club. $39 million Spanish starlet Isco has settled phenomenally quickly and has seemingly cemented his place. The surprise odd man out could be Mesut Ozil -- with Madrid considering selling the German international to Manchester United or Arsenal for $58.5 million on deadline day.
Bale’s most obvious starting position is cutting in from the left wing -- where Ronaldo played last season. Ancelotti has already been trying the Portuguese as a roaming center forward, an experiment which has yet to really bear fruit. Ronaldo scored in Sunday’s 3-1 Bernabeu win over Athletic Bilbao, but again looked less than comfortable in his new position.
And Ronaldo's peace of mind is currently very important to Madrid. The difference in the reported fees is apparently due to it wanting to under-report the fee paid to ensure CR7 retains his status as the world’s most expensive player. Contract negotiations between Perez and Ronaldo’s agent Jorge Mendes remain deadlocked, with less than two years left to run on his current deal, hence Madrid's wish to keep its current main man happy.
This uncertainty may also determine the extent to which Bale replaces Ronaldo in commercial activities planned by Madrid and major sponsor adidas. The Welsh international, 24, has long modeled his game on the Portuguese’s style -- developing a similar hard-running, physical attacking style and taking free kicks in the same tomahawk fashion. He has also even apparently copied the older player’s haircut and fashion sense. It will be fascinating to see how Ronaldo, now 28, reacts to having to share the spotlight with a younger version of himself.
But Perez has clearly decided this is a financial risk worth taking. His eye is on the bottom line, and having Bale as the face of the summer transfer window was part of a plan by the Madrid president. He, and his marketing director Jose Angel Sanchez, wanted a new marketable galactico to maintain their club's place as the world's biggest commercial earner.
Madrid’s new star is not David Beckham -- yet -- but he is young, likable, English-speaking and comfortable dealing with the media and sponsors. Sanchez and Perez have done the math -- and see the $260 million fee and wages package as an investment likely to pay off over the six years of Bale's contract.
It's a big call, and from this perspective looks a risky one. Fans are only worried by results on the pitch, and how the new man will fit into Madrid's team remains an unknown.
For Bale, and Madrid, this summer's transfer saga was only chapter one.