The Spanish giants have ignited another transfer saga, to be played out as much in public as in private, and Tottenham must decide whether to fight or play the game
By Julian Bennetts
Zinedine Zidane shot forward in his chair, ears pricked firmly up, engaged and focused unlike the 10 minutes previous. Excited, enamoured and ready to send a message: he wanted to talk about Gareth Bale and Real Madrid.
“Bale is more than good enough for Real Madrid,” he said. And with that, it was history repeating for Tottenham and the Premier League. Time to man the barricades.
We’ve seen this story before, of course. We all know exactly how it’s going to end. Just like Madrid’s chase of Luka Modric, and Barcelona’s campaign to lure Cesc Fabregas from Arsenal, the Spanish hawks are circling over English football’s biggest stars.
The tactics are simple. The first step is that a player is identified by either Barcelona or Madrid, and one of their high-profile players comes out and praises them in public.
In 2009 Xavi said Fabregas had ‘Barca DNA’. In 2012 Gonzalo Higuain claimed that ‘Modric is a player that likes the club and us’. And in 2013 Zinedine Zidane has claimed that Bale is the third best player in the world who could make it at the Bernabeu.
Are you sensing a pattern?
I was there when Zidane said those words. He had been sat back in his chair for the duration of the 20-minute interview with around 10 of us, and PRs were attempting to drag him away.
But the last topic of conversation was Bale, and it was not hard to think that the Frenchman knew exactly what impact his words would have, ensuring that both Bale and Tottenham were well aware of Madrid’s intentions.
True, the signs are that Bale is likely to stay at Tottenham for another season. He is settled, has a baby daughter and is, of course, loved at his present club, while, as reported by Goal, Spurs are thrashing out a plan to keep him at the club as well as recruit alongisde him.
But money talks. Tottenham and Madrid have a partnership which was announced after the Modric transfer, and which would ease the transfer of players between the two clubs.
With Madrid missing out on Neymar to Barcelona, they could firm up their move for Bale, ensuring that they have at least one superstar signing this summer.
And although chairman Daniel Levy is seemingly firm in his conviction that Bale is staying at the club, a £60 million offer would be hard to turn down, particularly with a proposed new stadium to pay for.
Tottenham are also likely to be more open to selling Bale to Madrid than one of their domestic rivals. Manchester United would almost certainly be interested, but it would be more appealing to Spurs if Bale was playing in La Liga rather than the Premier League if and when he does leave.
And there are similarities to the Fabregas deal in many respects. Every Arsenal fan knew their captain was going to leave at some point, almost certainly for Barcelona. They let him go once the player himself had made it clear he wanted to go, but they were fighting fires for two summers before he eventually did depart. That is tiring and time-consuming.
That has been the case across north London for numerous seasons. It started with Emmanuel Petit and Marc Overmars, and continued with Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry. The issue is that it creates an inherent instability, with long-term plans ruined by players’ desire to leave. As an example, look at the Arsenal team that Arsene Wenger was building – Fabregas, Robin van Persie, Samir Nasri and Alex Song all left before the manager would have wished.
The advantage that Tottenham have is that they know the game now. They waited so long to sell Modric last summer that it left them little time to bring in replacements, and the points they dropped early in the season – against West Brom and Norwich at home, for example – eventually proved decisive.
Now they know that the game is well underway. Yet if Bale does sign another new deal then they are, at the very least, guaranteed a large amount of money. If Daniel Levy allows Andre Villas-Boas and an incoming director of football to spend it on new recruits, the team as a whole could improve even without their star man.
But Madrid have made their intentions extremely clear. They know the rules of engagement in the transfer market, and you should expect a number of their players to be praising Bale in the coming months.
Specifically, expect Modric to claim in the near future that Bale would excel in the Bernabeu.
These deals are conducted over long periods of time, and as much in public as in private. It is a battle for hearts and minds, a propaganda war that the Spanish giants have perfected.
Bale has never said he wants to leave Tottenham, but the focus this summer at White Hart Lane is on whether their star player can be persuaded to stay, not on who they can sign to take them forward from their fifth-placed finish in this season’s Premier League.
As far as Madrid are concerned, the future is already written. All Tottenham need to do is look at the past to see what happens next. Now they have to decide whether to stand and fight, or play the game.