Real Madrid, Gareth Bale and why it’s not just about the football

At the Santiago Bernabeu, the stage is literally set for what could be the unveiling of the world’s most-expensive footballer. Gareth Bale’s proposed move from Tottenham to Real Madrid has understandably monopolised recent back pages as fans await the conclusion of a transfer saga that has left many questioning the financial implications of the reported £85 million deal.

Aside from the moral qualms many have about such an astronomical figure, most fans have been left querying whether Bale is worth the record-breaking fee. The Welshman is a phenomenal footballer on a par with other Premier League heavyweights; Luis Suarez, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie. Yet these players aren’t nearly attracting the astronomical figures to their names as Bale. Robin van Persie, last season’s top goalscorer, was bought for a measly £22.5 million last year. One of the finest all-round English players of the last decade, Wayne Rooney, was only recently valued at a mere £25 million by Chelsea. Luis Suarez, scorer of 30 goals last season, has attracted massive offers from Arsenal but that famous 40 million and a one pound pales in comparison to the reported Bale fee.

The residing question then is this: what exactly are Madrid up to? Gareth Bale is undoubtedly a superb footballer. Not even the most ardent of Arsenal fans would question that. For club and country, the midfielder scored 31 goals last term. He single-handedly won games for his team in sublime fashion on more than a handful of occasions. These are facts that nobody can deny. They are also facts that fans of Manchester United (Rooney and van Persie) and Liverpool can boast of their stars yet no record transfer fee hangs over the heads of these players. Real Madrid president Florentine Perez obviously sees value in the Welshman and is willing to part with £85 million to prove it.

Real Madrid are no strangers to blockbuster signings. In 2001 it was Zinedine Zidane (a then world record £45.6 million). In 2009, it was Kaka (another world record of around £56m) and then Cristiano Ronaldo (yet another world record fee of £80 million). At a cheaper, but no less significant, level they signed David Beckham from Manchester United in 2003 for £24.5 million.

Real Madrid is unashamedly a brand and each of the players mentioned slotted perfectly into the on-going mission to solidify the Galácticos as the largest global brand in football. Through sponsorships and worldwide touring Madrid have become the most recognised football club on the planet.

Gareth Bale

With Beckham they acquired Europe’s most valuable sporting personality. From the very beginning of his Spanish adventure David Beckham was helping his new club recoup the money they had dished out on him – even his medical was sponsored by a health-care firm. Add this to multi-million pound Adidas deal to match Madrid’s and a merchandising agreement that reportedly had Beckham handing 50% of his personal sponsorship earnings to Madrid then it is safe to say that the Spanish giants have an idea of how to spend money to make money.

‘Brand Madrid’ seek players that are able to enhance not just their on-field success but also that off it. Jose Mourinho’s managerial credentials need no clarification yet he was considered surplus to requirements at Madrid as his controversial antics were just not in keeping with the angelic sheen of the nine-time European Cup winners. When Mourinho was seen to poke then Barcelona assistant Tito Vilanova in the eye the Spanish press called it ‘deplorable’. Not an image football’s biggest commercial club wished to convey.

Madrid were often linked to Liverpool’s Luis Suarez this summer, a player with statistics that at times outshine Bale’s, yet this interest never gathered any momentum and it can only be assumed that this is down to the tainted image of the Uruguayan. Like Mourinho, Suarez is capable of too much brand-damaging controversy to justify spending such amounts of money regardless of his talent.

Just a quick glance at Real Madrid’s history of signings provides a clearer picture of why they are willing to spend such an enormous amount on a clean-cut, fresh faced, superstar in the making. In Bale, Madrid have a young star in the making that they will be able to mould and shape to fit their own needs. In Madrid, Bale has a platform to expand his own brand. It was not so long that it was revealed Bale was attempting to trademark his heart-shaped goal celebration – he is clearly aware of the benefits of building his own brand beyond the game and the benefits of a Madrid move will not be lost on the 24-year-old.

Even on a brand-building level, Bale at such a price will still be seen as a gamble for Madrid. Unlike, Zidane, Kaka, Ronaldo or Beckham, he is not a pre-packaged global star just waiting to become a shirt-selling machine. He doesn’t yet transcend sport like, say, Beckham did. The more cynical of supporters will assume the long drawn-out pursuit of Bale by Madrid is merely a clever marketing ploy to allow the world time to catch up and get to know the world’s most expensive footballer-elect before the eventual finalities are complete.

Simply by being attached to such lucrative and high-profile transfers in recent history, Real Madrid have ensured their names in both the history books and newspapers all around the world; the Gareth Bale situation is no different. Madrid are being talked about by football fans and non-fans alike the world over, and that is just the way the like it as the brand continues to flourish with the latest star commodity preparing his keepy-up skills for the big Bernabeu reveal.

by Jack Poland

Player of the Year: Manchester United’s Van Persie, Tottenham’s Bale or Liverpool’s Suarez?

Conventional wisdom says that the award for Player of the Year in the Premier League will be a three-way duel between the trio of Luis Suarez, Robin van Persie and Gareth Bale.

Paul Gorst takes a look at the pros and cons for each, as the season reaches its final quarter.

Robin van Persie: Manchester United

When Manchester United lost the Premier League title on goal difference to their bitter local rivals Manchester City last season, Sir Alex Ferguson simply decided to go and buy the top striker in the league. There was no deep-rooted analytical thinking behind the transfer other than the fact that Robin van Persie guarantees goals. His strikes have gone a long way to virtually ensuring that the title will return to Old Trafford in May.

Robin van Persie

The Dutch striker has helped himself to 19 goals in the Premier League this season and none were more important than his match-winning free-kick against City in the closing stages of the 3-2 win at the Etihad Stadium back in December. The former Arsenal man has 23 goals in all competitions and has usurped Wayne Rooney as the star man at Old Trafford.

It is also easy to forget that this is Van Persie’s first year at United, after making the switch from the Emirates Stadium for around £25m last summer. It feels as though RVP has been playing for the Red Devils for seasons and the way he has adapted to playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world has been seamless.

However, Van Persie has not scored since the win over Everton back on February 10 and has now gone 10 games without a goal. Will those stats count against him when the voting is decided?

Gareth Bale: Tottenham Hotspur

Gareth Bale is undoubtedly the man of the moment in the Premier League. The flying Welshman has helped himself to 10 goals in the last nine games for Tottenham Hotspur and is the side’s leading scorer with 16 goals in the Premier League.

Gareth Bale

The former Southampton man has also lit up the league with some memorable strikes such as his last minute wonder-strike to win the game against West Ham United last month, and his goal against Norwich City, which started with a run from his own half before he stabbed it beyond goalkeeper John Ruddy at the edge of the box, in January.

Bale’s form is such that he is even being compared by some, including team-mate Michael Dawson, to La Liga superstars Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. The comparisons to the planet’s two best players are somewhat misguided certainly, but the fact that he is drawing such evaluations is proof at least, of superb form.

The 23-year-old has netted 23 times for Spurs in all competitions this campaign. However, with Bale grabbing 10 in his last nine, that means that he was marooned on a fairly respectable, if not outstanding total of 13 goals before his wonderful effort against the Canaries back on January 30.

With the voting papers being sent out in February, has Bale done enough to convince that he should be awarded the title?

Luis Suarez: Liverpool

Luis Suarez has been the outstanding player for Liverpool this season and currently tops the Premier League scoring charts with 22 goals for the Reds.

Luis Suarez

Suarez was Liverpool’s top scorer last season, but has taken his exploits up a level this term with some breathtaking performances for Brendan Rodgers’ side. Suarez’s feats are all the more impressive when you equate in the fact that he was the Reds’ only recognised striker from September to January, when the club failed to sign a replacement for the loaned-out Andy Carroll and Italian forward Fabio Borini suffered a foot injury whilst on international duty.

The Uruguayan has toiled away admirably this season and is not only a supremely talented footballer; the former Ajax man is one of the hardest working forwards in the Premier League, which is a trait that does not go unnoticed by fans at Anfield.

Suarez has found himself playing slightly out of position since the arrival of Daniel Sturridge in January, but the tactical switch has not dulled his goal threat as the striker has helped himself to 13 goals in his last 13 games for the Reds, and has 29 in all competitions this season.

Unlike Van Persie, Suarez is operating in a team that has struggled this season during Rodgers’ first campaign in the Anfield dugout, yet he has still managed to top the goalscoring charts heading into mid-March, and will probably be the first Premier League player to reach 30 goals this season.

The forward is not as revered around the rest of England as he is in Liverpool however, with admissions of diving leaving a sour taste, and the race-row with Patrice Evra in 2011 still fresh in some minds.

Suarez’s simulation has unfairly been highlighted against Gareth Bale’s, who been booked four times this season for diving compared to Suarez’s one, but will this affect his chances when the votes are cast?

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