Harry Redknapp said last night that if Real Madrid wanted to buy Gareth Bale they would have to pay the same kind of £80m figure it took to acquire Cristiano Ronaldo as the intrigue around the future of Tottenham Hotspur's star player increased on the eve of their Champions League quarter-final against the Spanish club.
With Bale, 21, due to start the first-leg match in the Bernabeu tonight, as well as Ronaldo who was also passed fit last night by Madrid, the beginning of a campaign to move the player appeared to be taking shape yesterday. Earlier in the day the Spanish newspaper AS had run an unusually candid interview with Bale in which he opened the door to a move outside of the Premier League in the summer
Tottenham manager Redknapp also warned that selling Bale could spark the beginning of the break-up for his Spurs team that has reached the quarter-finals of the competition for the first time since 1962. Bale signed a new contract last month keeping him at Spurs to July 2015 but has attracted such attention for his performances in the Champions League this season that Spurs anticipate some major offers for the player in the summer.
"Once you start selling one then I think it sends out the wrong signals to the other lads," Redknapp said. "Manchester United sold Ronaldo but they got an offer of £80m. He's Portuguese and this is more his lifestyle here than Manchester may have been. So in the end it was good business. But we wouldn't want to sell a player like Gareth Bale at this time, when we're trying to build the club.
"I'm sure it would have to be [a similar fee to Ronaldo]. It would be an amazing figure if you ever sold him. But how do you replace a player like that? It's very difficult."
Not noted for his propensity to rock the boat, Bale, who is represented by Jonathan Barnett, also Ashley Cole's agent, said in the interview that he could envisage playing for a club in Spain. The Wales international is a serious target for Madrid, Barcelona and Internazionale. "You never know," Bale said, "but I'm not afraid to leave the country.
"If a great opportunity arises you need to seriously consider it. I left home [in Cardiff] at 15. If I leave the Premier League, I'll learn another language, I'll know other people, another country, I will grow as a person.
"There aren't more British players abroad because the league is very strong, but now yours [the Spanish league] has got Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
"I'm playing the best football of my career at Tottenham. You know what? It seems like they are talking about another player when they say what I could cost and the clubs who are interested in me."
Even at a club as self-obsessed as Real Madrid, Bale was a topic of interest yesterday. Their manager, Jose Mourinho, was asked about the player and claimed to have spotted his potential long before he broke through into the Tottenham side around 15 months ago. Curiously, Mourinho picked Bale in the fantasy football team he selected for a British newspaper at the start of the 2008-2009 season, long before Bale was a Spurs regular.
Redknapp said that he suspected that Bale was being talked around to moving away from the club. "I have not seen the quotes [in the interview]," he said. "I have never spoken to him about it. Agents will always turn players' heads. If someone is going to come along and offer millions of pounds to move him and he is going to get fantastic wages, it is difficult not to get their heads turned. It is part of football, there is nothing that you can do about that.
"I am sure that Daniel [Levy, the Spurs chairman] deals with it and we don't want to sell him. Once you start selling off your prized assets, you let one go and the rest follow. I had it at West Ham. We let Rio [Ferdinand] and Frank [Lampard] go and then the rest followed," said Redknapp. "If you are looking to build a club, you can't be selling Gareth as then [Luka] Modric wants to go and someone else wants to go. Then you end up where they were four to five years ago, finishing half way up the table each year.
"Players have the power but the day that he comes in and says that he wants to go, or the agent says that he wants to move, there is very little you can do about it," said Redknapp. "But I don't see that happening. He signed a contract. And maybe he doesn't want to sound like he lacks ambition. If people ask him whether he wants to play for one of the top European clubs one day, I am sure that he would.
"I don't think that he is ready to do that myself. I think that he needs a few years playing at home [in the Premier League]. He is only a boy. He has plenty of time to do that later in his career. He is in a position that he probably never believed that he would be in 18 months or two years ago. So he signed a new contract. I don't know what he earns but I am sure that he is earning big money," said Redknapp. "When he arrived at the airport [yesterday] the press were swarming all over him. But he is still learning the game, he has a lot to learn."
Mourinho said that he had been one of the first people to predict that Bale would turn out to be an "amazing player". He added that Tottenham "buy well" and "like to sell very well". He added: "I think the amount of money involved is not easy to buy. We have players for that position. We have Cristiano, Marcelo. When you want to spend big money, you do it in areas where you have other problems."
REAL MADRID v TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR: KEY CONFRONTATIONS
R Carvalho v P Crouch
Crouch has prospered this year in Europe, scoring seven times in nine games including the decisive goal at Milan in the last round. Carvalho is well placed to stop him, with six years of Premier League experience, but will have to be wary from set pieces – the English striker has a 10-inch advantage on him.
Sergio Ramos v Gareth Bale
Bale is not fully match-fit but is still expected to stretch Real's right flank with his pace and dynamism. Ramos is one of the world's highest rated right-backs but must curtail his attacking mentality and not allow Bale to turn and run at him, as Inter's Maicon found out.
Mesut Ozil v Sandro
Cristiano Ronaldo has stolen the headlines this season but 15 assists for Ozil suggest that 'Nemo' is just as important. The German will drop into the space occupied by Sandro, who will need to shield Spurs' back four with the same tenacity as he did against Milan.