Manchester United’s decade-long pursuit of Gareth Bale is a tale of near misses.
In 2007, Sir Alex Ferguson was confident that the Red Devils would sign the then-Southampton defender for just £10million. United had agreed a fee with the Saints and the up-and-coming Welshman was keen on the move. Bale, though, would end up in north London with Tottenham, beginning a ten-year story of frustration, spanning the reigns of four different managers at the Theatre of Dreams.
After his transformation at White Hart Lane from a flaky full-back to a world class forward, Bale had a direct choice between Old Trafford and the Bernabeu in 2013. United offered more than the £87.5m Madrid submitted but Spurs chairman Daniel Levy preferred to sell abroad. Bale, too, was unable to resist the lure of the Spanish capital and few can now question his decision after a trophy-laden four years in Madrid.
Gareth Bale's agent, Jonathan Barnett, in 2013
‘He always wanted to play for Madrid. He could have gone to United and other clubs, but he wanted Madrid’
United were guilty of wasting their time on signing Bale in 2015 when Louis van Gaal reignited the club’s interest in the winger. United’s stock had fallen under the Dutchman and, despite murmurs that he was unhappy at the club, swapping the Bernabeu for Old Trafford at that particular juncture would have represented a dramatic step down for Bale.
Jose Mourinho is the fourth manager in succession at Old Trafford to harbour the ambition of returning Bale to the Premier League and for the first time in that period, the move makes as much sense for the Welshman as it does for United.
Bale proved value for money in his first season at the club with a sensational winner in the Copa Del Rey final and a crucial goal in the side’s Champions League final win against Atletico Madrid.
Two further European Cups have followed but Bale’s position at the club looks precarious. At 28 years of age, Bale should now be at the peak of his career but Kylian Mbappe’s prospective move to Madrid threatens to render him something of a peripheral figure.
Madrid are believed to be closing in on a world record £161m deal for the Frenchman and Bale, with Isco already having taken his place towards the end of last season, is the likeliest to make way for the teenager.
Mbappe is expected to join Real Madrid (Picture: Press Association)
Isco started the Champions League final against Juventus in Cardif, while Bale was forced to watch on from the substitutes’ bench (Picture: Getty)
Manchester United offer Bale the chance to close his Real Madrid career as a serial winner, rather than being reduced to a member of the supporting cast. While Bale’s rarely reached the individual heights he showed in north London, nobody can argue with the contributions he made towards three Champions League trophies in four years.
Yet, after four years in Madrid the reality facing Bale is that he is becoming increasingly marginalised at the club. His injury record no longer guarantees him a starting berth under Zinedine Zidane and Isco is the supporters’ choice to start. Indeed, a hefty 72% of Madrid fans are in favour of selling Bale to United in a poll conducted by Spanish newspaper Marca on Wednesday.
Zidane on the chances of Bale leaving
‘I hope the BBC [Benzema, Bale, Cristiano] stays but I am not the one to decide’
At Old Trafford, Bale would once again become the main man – like he was at Tottenham. United have been crying out for a ‘game-changer’ since Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure and 11 league home draws last season suggests Mourinho needs a special talent to unlock defences. There should be no doubt that Mourinho would love to sign Bale after the Portuguese boss was seen whispering ‘I can’t buy you because you don’t talk to me’ to the winger in Santa Clara this week.
Bale would slot in perfectly on United’s right-wing, forming an exhilarating front three with Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford. For all of the club’s spending in the last few years, only Angel Di Maria has arrived with proven world class pedigree but Bale could succeed where the Argentine failed in settling in at the club.
Gareth Bale 2016/17 statsAppearances27Goals9Assists3
Mourinho will understandably worry about Bale’s injury record in recent seasons. The Welshman’s made just 36 league starts in the last two campaigns and his ongoing calf problems are just one reason Madrid could look to offload.
The La Liga giants are likely to demand a fee of around £100m for the Welshman and many would question spending such an amount on an injury-prone 28-year-old.
Mourinho spoke about the ‘dangerous’ transfer market earlier this week but spending a fortune on Bale would represent better value than parting with £50m for Inter Milan ace Ivan Perisic.
A return to the Champions League this season should certainly help sell the move to Bale, while big money moves for Lukaku and Pogba in the last 12 months prove United’s determination to return to the top. The Premier League suits Bale’s swashbuckling style of play and a return to England would cure some of the homesickness the Welshman’s experienced.
For United, Bale is a gamble worth taking but if the move is to materialise it relies on the forward being convinced about the club’s appeal. Bale has always been a perfect fit for Old Trafford but the Welshman may finally feel the time is right to sign for the Red Devils.