Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 2 August 2014

Real Madrid's three-point plan to lure Gareth Bale from Tottenham to the Bernabeu

Tottenham’s Gareth Bale (right) and Sergio Ramos, of Real Madrid, battle for possession at the Bernabeu in 2011
Tottenham’s Gareth Bale (right) and Sergio Ramos, of Real Madrid, battle for possession at the Bernabeu in 2011

The timeless art of seduction; or "how to sign the player you want in three easy steps". Having broken the world record four times Real Madrid remain kings of the big transfer despite not having won club football's biggest prize for over a decade now.

President Florentino Perez does not always get his man – he famously missed out on Patrick Vieira in 2004 – but when the signing does happen it follows a familiar pattern: Identify the player and let him know you want him; go public over the fact that he wants to come; and then convince him your bid will be accepted, encouraging him to agitate for a move, or even better, go on strike.

The pursuit of Bale has been textbook from Real Madrid. You can almost imagine in the makeshift nerve centre down in the bowels of the Bernabeu, Perez, sleeves rolled up above the elbows, pacing up and down in front of a whiteboard with the words "Operation Bale" written above a mugshot of the 24-year-old Welshman.

Identifying him as this summer's big signing will not have been solely a football decision. Real Madrid need a centre-forward far more than they need a goalscoring midfielder but, with Bale as the new face of BT Sport, promoting its coverage of the Premier League, Real Madrid will have spotted his growing commercial appeal.

Barcelona have just paid €57m (£49.5m) for Neymar and, as a direct result of the signing, signed a multi-million deal with Panasonic a few days later making them global partners until 2016. As Perez sees it, Bale's commercial value matches his football value. With the Madrid press briefed that Bale was the chosen one, the transfer stories were written and picked up in England, leaving the player in little doubt that he was wanted.

Marca TV tracked down his agent, Jonathan Barnett, and on the channel's prime-time show Futboleros he admitted that: "If somebody like Mr Perez was interested in Gareth Bale it would be a great honour and we would listen, but he's under contract at Tottenham."

Zinedine Zidane, now installed as new coach Carlo Ancelotti's No 2, but very much Real Madrid's unofficial director of football, went public about believing Bale was Europe's most exciting new talent. How could his head not be turned?

According to Marca, Barnett then met with Perez and Real's director general, Jose Angel Sanchez, who orchestrated David Beckham's move to Madrid in 2003. In this late June rendezvous, Barnett was made aware of Madrid's intention to pay Bale €10m a season in a six-year deal.

According to Marca's deputy editor, Carlos Carpio, and by way of completing the seduction, a Madrid No 11 shirt with Bale's name on it was even presented to Barnett – perfect for a player who has the number trademarked along with his heart-shaped goal celebration.

With step one complete, step two began: making it public that the player wanted to join. Transfer requests are ill-advised as they affect loyalty bonus payments but, amid claims Bale had told Spurs he wanted to leave, all the player had to do was not issue a denial and the desire to move was as good as understood.

The final stage comes with the assurance the club can now make the deal happen. Spurs deny having received an official bid but Bale and his agent are satisfied that Real have both the will and the means to meet Spurs' asking price. The player going on strike to force the price down and the deal through is now the perfect finale, although Real have always understood that Bale is not a player who will refuse to play, as Luka Modric did last year.

Madrid's tactic puts the selling club in a difficult position. Barcelona's pursuit of Cesc Fabregas followed a similar pattern two years ago and Arsenal, like Tottenham, were faced with being forced to sell or being left with an unhappy player likely to have a below-par season that further lowers his value.

This season Manchester United's open pursuit of Fabregas has surprised many in Spain. Two very public bids have been made and players past and present have talked up Fabregas, or the possibility of him signing. Real's Iker Casillas was doing much the same when asked about Bale.

But when Barcelona's vice-president, Josep Maria Bartomeu, was asked if they had been upset by United's pursuit he laughed off the suggestion, saying: "Why would we be? He's a very good player and it's normal a club like Manchester United would be interested."

The sentiment seemed to be: "We've been doing it for years, why has it taken English clubs so long to catch up?" It's all part of the game. And one which Real Madrid – even when they are told by an angry Sir Alex Ferguson: "I wouldn't sell that mob a virus" – usually end up winning.

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