Manchester United, PSG or Bayern? Gareth Bale's potential destinations as Real Madrid spell turns sour
The Welshman has come under fire from the Bernabeu faithful
It feels a long time ago that Gareth Bale was wheeling away in celebration towards the crowd at the Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi after completing his hat-trick against Kashima Antlers in the Fifa World Club Cup semi-final.
Back in December, he was the star attraction for a Real Madrid squad that would go on to clinch yet another piece of silverware. Fast forward a few months and the smile on Bale's face is gone - and the expression of the club's fans towards its most expensive player is one of growing animosity.
Real are stuttering and Bale is taking the brunt of the criticism. He was whistled off having been substituted in the defeat to Barcelona at the weekend and is going through a spell where he is spending more time on the bench than on the pitch.
More than 100 goals for the club and four Uefa Champions League titles count for little at the Bernabeu if the current situation is considered unacceptable. He was expected to file the huge void left by Cristiano Ronaldo's departure, but it simply hasn't happened.
Bale, 29, is under contract until 2022 but his treatment from the fans is "a disgrace" according to his agent Jonathan Barnett, who added this week that they should be "kissing his feet".
Barnett insists his client is happy at Real and is going nowhere this summer. However, with the possibility of a replacement for manager Santiago Solari if the bad results continue, and with Bale just about at an age where he would still command a sizeable fee, the speculation will likely go into overdrive in the coming months.
Here are the potential options should Bale's Real Madrid career come to an end this summer after six years in Spain:
They have the financial power, and, if they keep their winning ways going under interim manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, will retain their place in the Champions League next season which will be a big pull should Bale look to move from the Bernabeu.
If Solskjaer takes over permanently, he may choose to keep going with the majority of his front line, which has performed outstandingly since he replaced Jose Mourinho in December.
Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial should be at Old Trafford for years to come, while Romelu Lukaku has stepped up with four goals in the past week. Question marks remain over Alexis Sanchez following an injury-hit season that has been devoid of impact when he has been available. Bale would certainly be an upgrade on the 30-year-old Chilean, who is possibly past his peak.
Solskjaer has tried to rekindle the fast, attacking style that was synonymous with the glory years of Alex Ferguson, and Bale would fit straight into that alongside Rashford and Martial.
The German giants have two large holes to fill in their squad this summer with wingers Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben likley to depart. Ribery, nearly 36, has been at Bayern since 2007 and Robben, 35, since 2009. The club also has ongoing fitness concerns over winger Kingsley Coman, who has already undergone two operations on a troublesome ankle and has previously said he would consider retiring if his injury problems continued.
Squad changes aside, Bayern are facing a sterner test in the Bundesliga this season from a resurgent Borussia Dortmund, with whom they are level on points at the top.
A marquee signing such as Bale could be just the tonic should they be pipped to the title for the first time since 2012.
The club certainly has the standing in European football to tempt a star name such as Bale, and the league is becoming increasingly popular for young British players with Jadon Sancho now one of the game's hottest properties after a breakout season with Dortmund that has also earned him an England call up.
With Bale in the second half of his career, Germany would provide a stern and satisfying challenge.
There would be an air of romance if this was to happen. With a new stadium and the return of a player who produced many magic moments for Tottenham before joining Real in 2013, it would usher in a new era for the club.
Tottenham are the "nearly-men" of English football in recent years. A fine team with fantastic players, but one that seems unable to make that last step to the summit. Bale could make the difference, especially as the squad may need freshening up after no new signings in the past two transfer windows. Just image a fully firing Bale lining up alongside Harry Kane.
Why would the French champions need Bale? They have Kylian Mbappe, the golden boy of last summer's World Cup and scorer of 24 goals already this season. They have Edinson Cavani who continues to score in almost every match. And then there's Neymar - and it's the Brazilian who could be key.
Having been linked with Real Madrid pretty much since he left Barcelona in 2017, he said in a recent interview that "anything is possible" when asked about returning to Spain, before adding that he is happy in Paris.
They were typical non-committal comments from a footballer - he was hardly going to say he's set his heart on staying at PSG for the rest of his career when the club could well decide to cash in on him down the line, or that he dreams of playing for Real or any other club. But who thought he would have left Barcelona to go to the French league?
On paper a swap deal involving Bale may please all parties. It is far-fetched, but this is modern day football. The downside for Bale would be a weak domestic league. The upside: continued qualification for the Champions League and a starring role in the team.
Best of the rest
Chelsea are set for a transitional summer and the possibility of a new manager if Maurizio Sarri is moved on. Former Real manager Zinedine Zidane has been linked.
As far as the playing staff is concerned, Dortmund attacker Christian Pulisic has already signed for next season, while Gonzalo Higuain is only on loan until the end of the campaign with an option to sign permanently in the summer. Pedro and Willian have been sterling servants but a revamped forward line could be ushered in, especially if Eden Hazard departs. Hazard has been linked with Real for some time and this again could throw up the opportunity for a swap, though there is of course the complication of a transfer ban recently imposed on Chelsea for irregularities in signing under-age players. The club plan to appeal.
Serie A leaders Juventus are surely off limits due to Ronaldo. The pair enjoyed success while at Real but it wasn't the most comfortable of relationships.
As far as left-field options go, how about Wolverhampton Wanderers? Huge ambition, financially strong and seventh in the Premier League. Their stated ambition is to win the Premier League, not just survive in it. And to do so they will require a few players of Bale's calibre.
Wolves or Real Madrid ... is it a more complicated choice than it sounds?
Updated: March 5, 2019 01:42 PM