There are people who know nothing about football, but are aware that Gareth Bale isn’t happy at Real Madrid. The Welshman has done the precise opposite of keeping that fact a secret. He knew exactly what he was doing when he held up a flag that said “Wales, Golf, Madrid In That Order,” and he knew what the reception in Spain would be to photos of that incident. By that point, he’d stopped caring. The same applies to the photos that were taken of him clowning around on the bench during Real Madrid’s final few games of last season. He refused to travel to the away leg of his team’s Champions League tie against Manchester City because he knew he wouldn’t be picked to play. The relationship between club and player broke down irreparably two years ago, and Bale ought to be long gone.
The fact that he’s still there as we prepare to start the 2020/2021 season is something of a mystery. Zinedine Zidane, the club’s manager, has already stated publicly that he doesn’t want Bale and that he thinks it would be ‘best for everybody’ if the winger were to leave the team that made him the most expensive player in the world when they signed him for one hundred million Euros in 2013. Bale has tried to do that. He agreed to move to the Chinese side Jiangsu Suning in 2019 only for Madrid to cancel the deal at the last second. We now know that a Premier League club bid £90m for him last summer, and Madrid stepped in to stop that transfer happening, too. Based on the way they speak about him, and the fact that he never starts a game anymore, Real Madrid clearly doesn’t value Gareth Bale. Based on their transfer conduct, though, it seems that like a jealous former spouse, they don’t want anyone else to have him either.
There’s a sadness to all of this. In the past two years of limbo, Bale has missed a lot of playing time during what ought to be the peak years of his career. He’s now 31 years old. He’s under contract until 2022. If nothing changes, he’ll be 33 by the time his deal comes to an end, and by that time, he’ll likely be contemplating retirement. Presuming he’s still kicking his heels on the Madrid bench, football fans might have forgotten how good he was when he was at his best. The tragedy of Bale’s Madrid woes is that he’s now better known as a prisoner of the Bernabeu than he is a great footballer. Supporters have lost sight of the qualities that persuaded Madrid to pay such an enormous fee for him in the first place. That’s understandable because he’s been out of sight in general. His first five years with the club – and the first four in particular – were hugely successful, and yet that’s now largely been forgotten, too. When he leaves Madrid, he’ll do so as someone the fans despise. His legacy as a player has been tarnished, and he’s running out of time to redeem himself elsewhere.
Even at 31, Bale should still be considered one of the hottest properties in world football. He’s the kind of player that can turn a good team into a great one. Think of him as if he were a wild symbol on the reels of an online slots. As you might know, if you happen to frequent online slots websites, lining three or four matching symbols up in a row will generally net you a prize. Add a wild symbol onto the end of it or in the middle of it, and that prize gets larger. A wild symbol can even create a win where no win existed before. A well-placed wild symbol can turn a relatively profitable time spent playing online slots into a jackpot situation. Wild symbols may not turn up every time you spin the reels, but you’re generally happy to see them when they do. Bale might not turn in a match-winning performance every game, but when he does make a difference, that difference can be huge.
The reasons for Madrid holding onto Bale are unclear. One explanation might be that they want to recoup some of the money that they spent on him, but that doesn’t make much sense from an economic point of view. They turned down £90m last year, which would have recouped their transfer investment in full. They’re also currently paying him a salary that’s believed to be around £300,000 per week to do the best part of nothing at all. Every month, keeping hold of Bale costs Madrid more than £1m. Just getting him off the books would save them a huge amount of money in terms of wage budget, and that could be re-invested in someone who actually wants to play for them.
Bale’s wages ought not to be a problem in the event of a move. Having banked so much money in the past few years, he’s unlikely to insist on a new employer matching his salary, and so he should be available for far less. His former club Tottenham Hotspur are generally thought to be interested in acquiring him if they can do so at a reasonable price. Manchester United’s name is always brought up whenever there’s a suggestion that Bale might be available, and it’s reasonable to assume that they would also be interested – especially if, as appears to be the case, their high-profile pursuit of Jadon Sancho ends in disappointment. It’s possible that clubs in Italy might also be interested, as might PSG in France. Should Real Madrid decide to accept offers for their unhappy star, they’ll find that someone comes in to take him off their hands very quickly. For now, though, it appears that they have no intention of doing so.
The new season is almost upon us, and the world’s biggest clubs are finalizing their playing squads for the difficult campaigns to come. Real Madrid, for reasons that most of us in the outside world struggle to understand, will name Gareth Bale in their squad. The greatest-ever player to come from Wales looks set to spend another season warming the bench, sentenced to remain a prisoner in Spain indefinitely.