Welshman's two-goal cameo in Uefa Champions League final and unhappiness at reduced role at Real has put rivals on red alert, but United seem the only club who would both want him and afford him
Why it makes sense for Real Madrid to cash in on Gareth Bale to Manchester United
The explosiveness was not confined to Gareth Bale’s left foot. Few players respond to a match-winning cameo in a Uefa Champions League final, let alone to scoring one of the greatest goals in the competition’s history, by voicing a determination to leave but, from overhead kicks to outspoken thoughts, Bale left an imprint on Real Madrid’s 13th European Cup.
A come-and-get-me plea felt directed to an audience of one: Manchester United’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward. The footballing pyramid can mean that, at the top, there is sometimes a market of one. Take the case of an available Bale. In theory, he is a player anyone would want. In reality, even most of the superclubs can be ruled out. The combination of his current salary and the probable transfer fee would deter anyone: his former employers Tottenham Hotspur have already pulled out of the hunt. Arsenal have other priorities. Liverpool’s wage ceiling has been raised, but is still nowhere near Bale’s level. Nor those at Atletico Madrid, Bayern Munich, Juventus or, for that matter, any other Italian club. Chelsea’s depends on whether Roman Abramovich is still intent on breaking even.
It in effect leaves Paris Saint-Germain, a club who seem to have driven a bulldozer through Financial Fair Play and who have overloaded on superstar attackers, Manchester City, who probably will sign an attacker but have shown little interest in Bale in the past, and their neighbours.
Because United have represented Real’s insurance policy for years. As his five seasons at the Bernabeu have produced four Champions Leagues, three final goals and 88 strikes in a side built around Cristiano Ronaldo, he has long qualified as a footballing hit. Yet there has been a financial wisdom underpinning his move. Real have long seemed to have the guarantee that United would repay them the £85 million (Dh416m) they forked out for Bale, if not more, meaning that, in effect, they had his best years for free, wages apart.
As Bale turns 29 in July and has a reputation for being injury prone, that guarantee may be close to expiring, even if United are confident Jose Mourinho could keep him fit. The difference with their past pursuits is that a player who was only interested in joining Real in 2013 and who had always insisted he wanted to stay in Spain now seems intent on leaving.
Which presumably meant ears at Old Trafford pricked up. Alexis Sanchez’s January signing had seemed to signal an end to a longstanding interest in Bale. Mourinho insisted in February that United will not sign a forward in the summer. Yet that was before it became likely that the marginalised Anthony Martial would leave. Certainly, senior figures at Old Trafford have continued to admire Bale.
And if he would not suit the age profile of a squad that could contain too many players who could decline in a couple of years, he would fit the positional requirements. Swapping Sanchez for Henrikh Mkhitaryan gave United an overload of players on the left and too few on the right. Losing Martial and bringing in Bale would rectify that imbalance.
It would also fit the club’s ethos. United find the temptation of big names too great. They know the commercial benefits of signing superstars and look for a short cut to sporting success. Liverpool and City have English football’s most defined styles of play, the products of high-class coaching and original thinking.
United look to counter their teamwork with individualism, philosophies with conspicuous consumption, collective coherence with moments of magic. It can be a simplistic thought process: buy enough big names and one of them will be decisive. If Paul Pogba doesn’t win a game, Sanchez will, or so the theory goes. If he doesn’t, Romelu Lukaku will. And if none of them do, Bale might. As he showed in the Champions League final, he can transform any match. Given United’s need to transform perceptions after a season when neighbours dominated, this could be Real’s chance to cash in that guarantee.