The only question is whether or not any team in the world would be willing or able to finance a deal for the superstar, whose time in Spain looks over
Quite what Gareth Bale would have said had he been given the opportunity to say goodbye to the Santiago Bernabeu last Sunday can only be speculated upon.
The season has been a washout – both on a personal and collective level – and there is a lack of warm sentiment towards Bale from those who pay to watch him play every week.
There is every chance he would have been booed; and had he taken a microphone, his lack of fluent Spanish would have been again in the spotlight.
Real Madrid had just been beaten 2-0 at home by Real Betis, their 12th La Liga loss of the season. Bale stayed on the bench throughout, his first appearance in a Zinedine Zidane matchday squad for the best part of a month.
An exit looks ideal for all concerned. The chief problem will be which team might be willing and able to extract him from the Spanish capital.
The most obvious destination for a highly-paid, soon-to-be 30-year-old with an inconsistent injury record is Manchester United.
Ed Woodward has been down this road before, with players like Bastian Schweinsteiger, Radamel Falcao and Alexis Sanchez springing immediately to mind. Those experiences might have finally given the United executive vice-chair a lesson in how not to do business for players at that end of the market.
In any case, through the promotion of Mason Greenwood and the potential signing of Daniel James from Swansea, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has pointed in which direction he wants the United attack to travel.
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United could easily afford the deal but whether the move suits them is another matter. They want to lower the age profile of the team and build something for the future. Short-termism would very much be order of the day if Bale came in.
Plus, what’s in it for him? When fit, he would be expected to slog it out on the Thursday to Sunday cycle in a United team a long way from competing with the top clubs in the league such as Liverpool and Manchester City.
Links to a return to Tottenham – either on an expensive loan or a permanent deal – appear far-fetched. While he would be the cherry on the top for a vibrant team, there is a wage structure to be respected. There are no guarantees either that Bale would prove value for money given his fitness record at Madrid.
Quite why Paris Saint-Germain, meanwhile, would be tempted is unknown. They are fully stocked in the forward positions and midfield remains a priority for a club right at the upper limit of Financial Fair Play constraints. Making sure Kylian Mbappe and Neymar stay put this summer will be foremost in the mind of club president Nasser Al Khelaifi.
It all means that the Bale problem is not going to go away easily for Zidane or Madrid. His contract runs until 2022 and is reportedly worth around £350,000 a week. That contract was signed in 2016 and acted as a kind of golden handcuffs for Bale, who the club bet on for the long term.
It’s no secret that Cristiano Ronaldo was embittered by Madrid’s refusal to pay what he felt was his market worth and which in his mind left him little choice but to move on to Juventus.
That was supposed to be the signal for Bale to take centre stage, but this perhaps has been the Wales international’s most disappointing Madrid season to date, their first one without Ronaldo.
It was supposed to be his team, his time to shine, but Madrid have instead lurched from crisis to catastrophe in a season that saw them lose their European crown and move through three managers.
At a time when Bale was required to be a leader and dressing room presence, he was nowhere to be found. It’s one thing talking about the need for more minutes – as he did after scoring the best Champions League final goal of all time against Liverpool in Kiev last May – but it’s another thing altogether stepping up and proving he can assume the burden.
Bale was generally second in command to Ronaldo but never once took responsibility for this iteration of Real Madrid.
And that’s where Madrid’s fans’ rancour kicks in. When he was signed on the personal orders of president Florentino Perez in 2013, it was seen as the biggest club in the world signing the soon-to-be biggest player in the world. He went for a massive, world record fee and earned a wage to match.
He performed well – when fit – and contributed some standout moments in the history of the club, not least the Copa del Rey-winning goal against Barcelona and a goal in the Champions League final against Atletico Madrid.
But he was signed to be a relentless plunderer of goals, a marketing catch-all, a super-Galactico in the era of Galacticos. Did Madrid ever see that side of Bale?
In moments, yes, but never in a consistent sense. He was never the best or most important player in the team that won four Champions League titles in five seasons, and three in succession. Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos would probably come first in both categories.
At times when leadership was required, for a team in jeopardy, Bale took the easy way out. He was spotted driving away from the stadium before the final whistle in January, when Madrid were losing to Real Sociedad. A senior player might have stayed around to deliver a message to his team-mates after.
He refused to warm up a month later in a game against Levante, when he eventually came on and scored a penalty. He pushed his team-mates away on that occasion when they came to celebrate alongside him.
It is a shame that it has reached this stage for Bale. Although it looks like he’s been harshly treated, there is blame on both sides.
Those around the club say Bale lives on a different planet to the rest of the playing squad, concentrating on his golf in his off time, and rarely joining team excursions.
His struggles with the language have been well documented and led to less than sympathetic portrayals in the Spanish press. Maybe if he’d been more inclined to express himself in their native tongue, then he might have had more of a chance to speak up for himself. As it is, he came across as aloof, disinterested and disengaged.
His agent Jonathan Barnett coming out to say Madrid fans should kiss his feet for all he’s done for the club probably didn’t help.
At the end of his time in Madrid, Bale’s stats will look good. He’s scored the goals, won the trophies but was never on the pitch often enough to justify the investment Madrid made.
He probably has no future as a Madrid player, with Eden Hazard potentially coming on board, a chase for Kylian Mbappe perhaps in the pipeline and Vinicius Jr ready to reign for a decade. But no matter what happens, he will never be the star.