- Premier League
Bale reports and interests they serve
Deep breath. We don't have official statements, we don't have quotes, we merely have "reports." And if there's one thing we've learned over the years is that clubs often tell reporters stuff to serve their interests. Which doesn't make the reports untrue, merely self-interested. And - crucially - preserving full deniability.
So what do we have?
Real Madrid supposedly making an £82 million bid for Gareth Bale. Tottenham saying they haven't received an "official" bid but making it clear they are not considering a sale. Gareth Bale's camp making it known he is a bit miffed because he thought there was a "gentleman's agreement" in place whereby he could consider a move if the bidding hit a certain number . And, according to some outlets, Spurs chairman Daniel Levy is ready to fly home from his vacation to personally deal with Bale.
Let's start with the "gentleman's agreement." It's not a release clause. It's potentially a my-word-against-your-word thing. But that doesn't make it any less valid in the sense that if one party - Bale, in this case - believes that it is somehow being violated, he won't be happy and it will have repercussions. Nobody wants to play for a club run by a guy who he thinks lied.
That said, every indication coming out of Spain is that the bid - if it exists - is not exclusively a cash one. It's Angel Di Maria, Fabio Coentrao and £38m in exchange for Bale. Implicit in all this is that Di Maria and Coentrao are worth £45m combined.
That makes a huge difference. And you can see why Levy might have been rather more impressed with an £82m cash bid than what he supposedly received.
Cash is something you can use to buy what you want. If you happen to want Di Maria and Coentrao and you think they are worth £45m [or more], then they're as good as cash. If not, you're losing out.
Both Coentrao and Di Maria are 25. They are locked into deals through 2017 and 2018, respectively, which means that if you sign them, you're committing to more than £60m in combined wages during the next five years. That rather reduces your wiggle room.
Real Madrid paid an initial £22m for Di Maria plus up to an additional £10m in performance- and appearance-related bonus (they've paid up on roughly half of that). Coentrao cost £27m. When used properly, Di Maria showed he could be a world-class winger, offering work rate, tactical nous and quality. Coentrao, on the other hand, was somewhat more hit or miss, at least relative to the fee Jose Mourinho paid for him.
Yet valuations are based on supply and demand. And there is no way these two guys add up to £45m, even if they were at the top of Tottenham's shopping list. The fact of the matter is that, with the return to fitness of Marcelo and the acquisition of Isco, neither Coentrao nor Di Maria is a bona fide starter at Real Madrid. And Transfer Law 101 tells you that when you have guys on big long-term deals who aren't full-time starters, then their value starts to slide. And because there aren't many teams who can afford these guys, it dips even further.
From Tottenham's perspective, there's obviously a number at which it makes sense to sell. Maybe, in fact, it's considerably less than £83m. But that's a cash figure. Once you start sticking other guys into the mix, different factors come into play and everything changes.
As for Real Madrid, you can see what they were hoping to do. Take the £43m from the sales of Gonzalo Higuain and Raul Albiol, chuck in two guys whose minutes were bound to drop substantially and you've landed Bale, with plenty of change left over. In one fell swoop you clear out four players you were willing to sell anyway, you save yourself money on wages (which you can then use to give Cristiano Ronaldo the bump he deserves) and you get arguably the hottest commodity in the Premier League.
Levy put a stop to it, at least on those terms. But you really have to wonder whether Bale is what Madrid need right now. Sure, the idea of two elegant, prolific, athletic freaks galloping down either wing to terrorize the opposing goal is a nice one. But tactically, we'd be in uncharted waters. How is poor old Carlo Ancelotti, Real's new manager, supposed to make it work? What would it mean for the "other" attacking midfielder, whether it's Isco or Mesut Ozil or the somewhat forgotten Luka Modric? Or, indeed, what's the implication for the center forward - at present, as far as we know, it's the star-crossed Karim Benzema? Is this the best way for him to regain his mojo?
Sure, the adage that great players can play together isn't entirely unfounded. You could sacrifice Benzema and employ Ronaldo as a center forward (and Ancelotti has said he'd like to see him operate closer to the opposing goal) and stick Bale wide. But Bale operated centrally last season - and liked it - so is that the best way to use him? It all smacks of needlessly complicating matters.
Maybe this is president Florentino Perez going all Galactico on us once again. For Real's sake, you hope that's not the case. You hope there is some broader plan at work. Like maybe a giant smoke screen aimed at prying Luis Suarez - a signing that would make far more sense - loose from Liverpool.
Gabriele Marcotti is a London-based journalist and broadcaster who covers world soccer. He is the author of three books, the world soccer columnist for the Times and a correspondent for the Italian daily Corriere dello Sport. You can catch him on ESPN Press Pass as well. Follow him on Twitter: @marcotti