BY WASIM PARKAR – FAN FUEL BLOGGER
After months of haggling, negotiating and counter-negotiating, Gareth Bale has finally left Tottenham Hotspur for Real Madrid for a world record fee of 85.3 million pounds or the figure that rolls slightly easier of the tongue – 100 million euros. There is plenty already written, and plenty more still to come, so it’s only fair that I chime in with my insights on one of the most protracted transfer sagas in the recent history of football.
The effect on Tottenham
On the face of it, chairman Daniel Levy has certainly done a great job. Once Levy was confident that Bale was going to leave, he stepped up in the transfer market, and crucially signed players before Bale officially left, ensuring that Spurs didn’t end up paying inflated prices for the players they wanted.
How manager Andre Villas-Boas makes the new signings gel on the field is a different matter altogether. In principle, the idea of building a more rounded attacking style that involves more players rather than relying on a single superstar should be lauded. However, the reality is that Bale was a match-winner with his goals, and the fact that the Spurs have yet to score a goal from open play defines the difficulty of the task that Villas-Boas faces. Paulinho and Etienne Capoue certainly look like they have added defensive solidity in midfield, but there is already a degree of pressure on Erik Lamela and Christian Eriksen to deliver some much needed creativity and goal threat to compensate for Bale’s absence.
In comparison with previous world record transfers
There is always a risk of increased nostalgia when comparing sportspersons across generations, as human beings generally tend to remember the past with extra fondness. However, only the most rose-tinted of Spurs/Wales fans would say that Bale belongs in the same category as legends Zinedine Zidane or Luis Figo.
Of course, the market is inflated to an altogether different level nowadays, so it would be prudent to compare Bale to some recent transfers. Edinson Cavani (64 million pounds) and Radamel Falcao (51 million pounds) have been sold this summer. Cavani has been a consistent goal scorer for nigh on four seasons for Napoli, and led the club to second place in Serie A and a place in the Champions League last season. Falcao was the crucial player in Atletico Madrid’s fantastic La Liga campaign last time, and crucially also helped his club qualify for the Champions League. Despite Bale’s heroics for Spurs, the fact of the matter is he didn’t lead his team to the Promised Land. Of course, an argument could be made that Falcao and Cavani were a part of better-rounded teams in comparison to Spurs.
Perhaps then, the best point of comparison is Real Madrid’s previous record signing, that of Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese star joined Los Blancos after winning three consecutive Premier League titles with Manchester United, and led the team to two Champions League finals including scoring against Chelsea in the victorious 2008 final. Furthermore since joining Real Madrid, Ronaldo has scored 202 goals in 202 appearances in the white shirt. Bale arrives on the back of one consistent goal-scoring season, and he certainly faces a tough task to deliver performances that will deem him worthy of the record transfer fee.
Will he be able to replicate his success in Spain?
There seems to be a misconception that due to the attacking style of La Liga, Bale will find it easy to contend with the defences of clubs in Spain. On a closer look however, the football in Spain has more nuances than the stereotypes being currently declared by the British press.
Ronaldo’s immediate success after changing leagues is an exception rather than the rule. Just having blistering pace alone doesn’t guarantee goals in La Liga, as the game is more tactical in Spain. Interchanging of positions and slowing down the game are crucial elements in attack, and Bale will take time to adjust to the nature of the Spanish game. This is not to say that Bale won’t be a success, but he will have to add elements to his game that were not necessarily on display in England, including playing triangles with his teammates and also keeping and passing the ball to maintain the team’s possession.
Where does he fit in Ancelotti’s tactical plan?
Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid haven’t exactly clicked through the gears yet, but it is already evident that the Italian is getting Los Blancos to adopt a possession-based style with plenty of attacks through the centre of the pitch. To fulfil his vision, Florentino Perez has backed his manager by signing Isco and Asier Illaramendi, two excellent Spanish midfielders, with the former one of the best attacking talents in Europe, and the latter earmarked to be a passing deep lying midfielder in the mould of Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets.
The start of the season has made it abundantly clear that Isco is already going to be one of Real Madrid’s key players in attack this season. Ronaldo’s inclusion up front needs neither analysis nor explanation. To the chagrin of many cerebral fans of the team, Madrid sold Mesut Ozil to accommodate Bale. There is also the small matter of brilliant attacking players, Luka Modric, Angel Di Maria and Karim Benzema at the club. For now the experts in Spain seem to agree on the fact that Bale is most likely going to play as inverted winger on the right of Real Madrid’s front three. It’s going to be interesting to see whether Bale can make a successful tweak to his style, if this is indeed going to be his position. If Bale feels he has to play on the left to put in his best performances, there could be some unnecessary friction with Ronaldo and Di Maria, not to mention attacking left back Marcelo.
The commercial impact
Maybe, all footballing and tactical considerations are an exercise in wasted time. Despite, appearing a football fan and populist who dreams of Real Madrid winning a 10th European crown, Florentino Perez is first and foremost a money man, and he judges the club’s success solely by the balance sheet.
By that accord, Bale is certainly going to be worth his fee, with some reports suggesting that the club have already received a record number of shirt orders with the Welsh wizard’s name. Bale was one of the poster boys of the Premier League’s excellent marketing all around the world, and Perez believes that this universal popularity will only further enhance the advertising and sponsorship revenues for the club, even if it might in the short team at least, be detrimental to the team on the pitch. Perez always delivers a big signing on re-election the club’s presidency, and while it might seem a vanity drive, as a business decision Bale’s capture might well be considered a masterstroke in one or two season’s time.