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

Hulk not going to Tottenham – good for both parties

With a replacement for Gareth Bale on the top of Tottenham’s transfer list, the north London club have been linked with a move for Zenit St Petersburg attacker Hulk. Andre Villas-Boas knows the Brazil international well from their joint time at Porto, and is being rumoured to be keen to sign the South American after missing out on Willian.

However, the powers that be at the Russian club have ensured their fans that the attacker is not for sale and will not be moving to north London. Despite this meaning that one more potential high-profile target is not available, the news could well be a blessing in disguise for Spurs.


Although Hulk is a talented and able player, he is not the player that Tottenham need. Spurs need a creative player to create chances for Roberto Soldado – Hulk is not that player. Someone like Christian Eriksen is a more suitable option for the White Hart Lane side and would be a much more affordable player. Even so it may be worth checking the odds at bwin when the January window opens as he will most likely be on the move around that time.

Hulk’s goalscoring record for a forward is not overly impressive and Spurs would be paying over the odds for a player who built his reputation on one strong season at Porto.

Etienne Capoue can be Tottenham’s Vieira

For all the transfer talk around Tottenham this summer, one understated piece of business could well be decisive in the north London club’s attempts to make the top four. Although the likes of Roberto Soldado, Paulinho and Nacer Chadli will all add quality to the Tottenham squad, the acquisition of Etienne Capoue could well be the signing of the season.

The France international came off the bench against Crystal Palace and started against Swansea, and it was immediately apparent why the club has signed him from Toulouse. Capoue’s tireless work rate, dedication and persistence were a breath of fresh air and will give the Spurs back four reprieve this term.

Etienne Capoue

His physical attributes are not dissimilar to Patrick Vieira in his prime. Capoue skips across the ground and seemed to dominate a Swansea midfield used to having the lion’s share of possession with his stature.

A very encouraging start to the campaign for Capoue, who could be a real star for Tottenham this season.

Paulinho’s signature an exciting one for Tottenham fans

Brazil international midfielder Paulinho has today revealed that the rumours are true, and he has agreed to sign for Tottenham ahead of next season. The South American box-to-box midfielder will move to White Hart Lane in a £17 million deal, and will provide competition with the likes of Mousa Dembele and countryman Sandro in the heart of the Spurs team. Despite the fact that the Corinthians man will add quality to the Tottenham squad, the most exciting thing for the White Hart Lane faithful is the ambition shown by the club to land a player of his calibre.

The Brazil team that wiped the floor with Spain in the Confederations Cup final is loaded with superstars from Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, and Paulinho did not look out of place in the competition-winning side. Madrid and Inter Milan were thought to be in the market for his signature this summer also, and as such the fact that Spurs have managed to win the race for his hand means a lot.


It is obviously an important summer in the transfer window for Spurs. The club’s main priority will be to keep Gareth Bale, and the hunt for a top-class striker continues also. Paulinho’s signing may well aid the north Londoners in achieving both. The Wales international has admitted that he misses Champions League football, and needs to be reassured that at Tottenham he will only have to wait another 12 months until he gets it again. Signing players of Paulinho’s calibre will hopefully be a step in the right direction in warding Real Madrid off Bale this summer.

If a current Brazil international is happy to move to Tottenham, other players of quality should follow suit. With Sandro and Paulinho both at the club, the continued effort to land countryman Leandro Damiao may well have a shot in the arm.

Paulinho will be a significant upgrade to an ageing Scott Parker, and accompanying Dembele and Sandro in the centre of the park means that Spurs can boast on of the most impressive midfields in the division. The new man would not look out of place at Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge, and his signing is one of real ambition by a Tottenham side that will look to rival the top sides in the Premier League next season.

Would Tottenham rather have Gareth Bale or £100 million?

After another season missing out on Champions League qualification, Tottenham are looking down the barrel and could potentially be ready to lose their best player. Gareth Bale had an outstanding campaign for the north London side, winning the PFA Player and Young Player of the Year awards, and proving himself as one of the most devastating attackers in the European game.

Rightly so, Bale has been linked with a number of top clubs, with Real Madrid thought to be ready to spend a world record transfer amount on the Wales international. The 23-year-old has so many positive assets. His physical attributes such as speed, agility and strength make him difficult to play against, while his delivery and shooting are excellent. He has added a real goalscoring threat to his game, and is also good in the air. There is little wonder that Bale is being compared to Cristiano Ronaldo.

Gareth Bale

Bale has been pivotal in proving the spark needed to win games for Spurs this term. He has scored last-gasp goals on a number of occasions to turn one point into three, and the side looks galvanised and confident with him at his best. Tottenham also need players that can hold their nerve and have the ability to deal with stress in big games, and would excel at the Strongbow penalty challenge when put under pressure. It is this winning mentality and ability to play to your best under pressure that could be the difference between a top four place or not.

Should Madrid offer Tottenham a new world record fee of close to £100 million, it would be a real boost to the club financially, and Andre Villas-Boas would be able to bring in four or five really top-class players to boost other areas of the team. However, whether Bale could be replaced is another matter. There are few players in world football with the attributes that he possesses, and as such Tottenham would lose a great deal of their cutting edge, even with new additions.

Spurs have consistently sold top players in recent years when a bigger club comes knocking. Michael Carrick, Dimitar Berbatov and Luka Modric have all jumped ship when given the opportunity. This is an opportunity for Tottenham to state their intentions of consistently challenging for the top four, and more. If they keep Bale and strengthen with one or two good players in the summer, there is no reason Spurs won’t finish in the top four next season. If they sell Bale, despite the money they would receive, the club could struggle without their main man.

Tottenham’s new midfielder – Paulinho or Guarin?

Spurs have been talking to Inter Milan about Fredy Guarin and Corinthians about Paulinho. Whichever one they sign one thing is for sure; they want an athletic central midfielder. Last season Scott Parker’s performance levels dipped as his aging legs started to betray him. When fit Sandro was dominant but he continues to have injury issues and for all his pretty footwork Moussa Dembele didn’t contribute enough in the way of goals, only involved in 8 all season. So Spurs want an athletic presence, defensively responsible and capable of getting goals. In other words, they want the complete modern central midfielder, and they are going to have to pay a lot to get one. Paulinho and Guarin offer such quality. They are both very similar players, so which one should Spurs push harder for to sign?

Guarin would cost £21m and Paulinho has a release clause of £17m. Although it sounds like a marginal difference, Spurs are known as the toughest negotiators in Europe and won’t pay more if they feel they can get the same quality elsewhere for less. Fredy Guarin is supposedly their first choice. He has long been a well regarded player, but has taken his performance on a level at Inter Milan. He arrived at Porto as one of the most highly rated players in South America but after a decent first few years he didn’t quite kick on. A move to Inter has reinvigorated him. This is because he has been given more responsibility. He has been given ‘the keys’.

Fredy Gaurin

This year from his central midfield position he scored 10 and set up 12 in his 47 appearances with his spectacular long range shooting a particular highlight. He has a good range of passing but his main strength is his drive. He has some Steven Gerrard like qualities to him in his ability to get forwards to score goals and like Gerrad in his younger days, a willingness to get involved defensively and to drag his team forward by the scruff of the neck. Guarin stood out in a very disappointing Inter side. The concern for Spurs will be that the price is a lot for a plyer who has had a couple of quiet years. However, much of this can be put down to the increased responsibility he was given at Inter.

Paulinho is a little more elegant than Guarin in possession but not quite as driving and dominating. Paulinho is very tactically responsible and clever. He was the midfield fulcrum in the Corinthians side which won the World Club Cup and seems to be first in line for a similar role with Brazil at the World Cup. This shows his pedigree and the level to which he is trusted with such an important role. As a classy distributor of the ball and a strong and tenacious defensive presence he offers the combination of traits that AVB will be looking for.

His ball striking and technique is exemplary and like Guarin has certain traits of a young Steven Gerrard. In fact, he is quite similar to Moussa Dembele more than anyone but with a better record in terms of goal contribution. He’s strong when protecting the ball and is a glidy and tricky runner.

Spurs would be doing well to sign either player. Paulinho has been more consistent with Guarin reaching greater highs. Paulinho is a more natural compliment to what they have already but Guarin would bring something different in terms of his drive and relentlessness. Both are exceptional athletes and good technicians. Both would be ideal fits for Spurs’ tactical set up. It could come down to price, which would give Paulinho the advantage. Guarin would be riskier but could pay off better and Paulinho is a rock solid safe purchase which is always reassuring given the moeny he will cost.

Manchester United without Sir Alex or Wayne Rooney, Chelsea with Jose Mourinho – next season is set to be a cracker

As the 2012/13 Premier League season lurches towards its underwhelming end, the realisation for many a fan is that it left us with precious little memories, compared to other seasons – notably the most sensational ending in the competition’s 21-year history last term.

As Sergio Aguero slammed home the winner that gave Manchester City the Premier League over fierce local rivals Manchester United with the last kick of the game against Queen Park Rangers last season, Martin Tyler screamed: “I swear you will never see anything like this again.”

Tyler’s now iconic sound bite may have had some truth to it, certainly this season at least, he was right.

Sergio Aguero

As the season sleepwalks into its final day, there is only the tedious race for fourth place that is still to play for amongst London trio Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur. The champions United won the division as far back at April 22. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side took advantage of a lacklustre competition and they marched to their 13th Premier League title in an efficient, if unspectacular, manner.

Two of the three relegated teams’ fate were sealed a week later when Queens Park Rangers played out a dour 0-0 with Reading before Wigan Athletic joined them on Tuesday following a 4-1 defeat to Arsenal.

Indeed the most exciting events to happen in the league this season were announcements and decisions that will not come into focus until next season.

Happily next season is already shaping up to be mouth-watering, with a whole of changes sweeping throughout the league, giving it a fresh feel for the summer of 2013.

To begin with, four of the top six teams this season will be starting the 2013/14 campaign with new managers at the helm.

Manchester United will be without Alex Ferguson for the first time in 26 years, with his replacement David Moyes leaving Everton, where he served for over a decade himself.

Sir Alex Ferguson

Ferguson’s absence from English football is a concept millions of fans around the country have never known and Moyes’ adaptation to the country’s biggest club will be the most fascinating plot next season.

Everton chairman Bill Kenwright admitted that he will not be hasty in appointing Moyes’ successor, with the most reliable reports linking the Blues with Wigan’s Roberto Martinez, Porto coach Vitor Pereira and Swansea City boss Michael Laudrup.

Rafael Benitez will depart Chelsea, with Jose Mourinho seemingly set for a second stint at Stamford Bridge. The return of the ‘Special One’ is enough to excite every Chelsea fan and most neutrals. Love him or loathe him, Mourinho is pure box office and his return to England is sure to stir up feuds, drama and entertainment.

Man City are looking for a new manager with Malaga’s Manuel Pellegrini touted as the favourite to take over from the axed Roberto Mancini. Incidentally, the Italian was given his P45 just 366 days after he ended his side’s 44-year wait for a league title in the top division.

Pellegrini’s presence in English football would provide another interesting sub-plot to next season’s 38 act drama. The Chilean has won widespread plaudits for his work with the Andalusians this season, after guiding them to a Champions League quarter-final in their first season in the competition, despite working against a backdrop of financial meltdown at the club.

Away from the dug-out, the division will be without two players who will have played 1456 top-flight games between them by Sunday evening. Jamie Carragher will retire from Liverpool after 16 years of sterling service for the Reds, while Paul Scholes looks set to make the last of 718 appearances for United when they play West Bromwich Albion.

Between them they have won five FA Cups, three Champions Leagues, five League Cups, a UEFA Cup, a Super Cup and two World Club Championships. Scholes leaves United with 11 Premier Leagues and both players say goodbye to the game as archetypal one-club legends for their respective teams.

Wayne Rooney’s future is also subject to speculation with Ferguson admitting that the England international had asked for a transfer request a few weeks back. Rooney has been linked with moves abroad to Paris Saint-Germain amongst others, but there have also been reports suggesting that the former Everton forward could move to Chelsea.

Wayne Rooney

A move to Stamford Bridge would be another incredible development in United’s recent evolution, and perhaps it may seem incomprehensible that Rooney could turn out for the Blues next season. However, stranger things have happened in football, and Man Utd’s decision-makers have never been shy of selling a star player when they think his talent may be on the wane.

Next season will also have the fixture that pits Cardiff City against Swansea City, a game which will only add more spice to a division that already boasts the Merseyside, Manchester, north London and Tyne-Wear derbies.

Equate in all this with the fact that the transfer window is not yet even open and you get the feeling that next season could be one of the most intriguing all of time.

Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea and Liverpool – look to the Eredivisie for transfer targets this summer

The Premier League big boys will already have one eye on the impending reopening of the transfer market, with the likes of Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea and Liverpool looking to strengthen their squads.

A continued source of young talent is Holland’s Eredivisie, which has produced and nurtured such talents as Robin van Persie and Luis Suarez. Here are five exciting talents from the Dutch top flight that would make an impact in England.

Wilfried Bony

The Eredivisie’s top goalscorer this season with an unprecedented 30 goals in 27 games, Bony has been the catalyst for Vitesse Arnhem’s unexpected title challenge. The Ivory Coast international is the latest strong and quick forward from his nation, and looks sure to move to a bigger club this summer.

Wilfried Bony

Newcastle have been linked the African hitman, but the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham should both be monitoring Bony too.

Stefan De Vrij

Feyenoord’s captain and the leader of a home-grown revival in Rotterdam under Ronald Koeman. The assertive centre-half is one of the brightest defensive prospects in European football, and has made inroads into the Netherlands international set-up. At 21-years-old, De Vrij looks set to be a top performer and would suit the physical style of English football.

Stefan De Vrij

Arsenal, Liverpool and even Manchester United should be keeping tabs on De Vrij, who looks destined for greatness.

Alfred Finnbogason

The Iceland international has started to show up in scouting reports around Europe in the last 12 months due to his eye for goal and confidence on the ball. A loan spell with Helsingborg and 12 goals in 17 games earned him a move to Heerenveen in the off-season, and the Scandinavian has proved a bargain purchase. 24 Eredivisie goals in 28 outings is an excellent return for the 24-year-old.

Alfred Finnbogason

Heerenveen are very much a selling club and as such Finnbogason should be available at a bargain price. Liverpool and Tottenham could bolster their attacking options here, while a number of mid-range Premier League sides would have a prodigious talent on their hands.

Christian Eriksen

Arguably the best player in Dutch football at the moment, Eriksen has been repeatedly linked with a move away from Ajax, with England, Italy or Spain the destination. The Denmark international has played a significant role in the Amsterdam club’s title defence, and was influential in their recent 3-2 away win over PSV.

Christian Eriksen

Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham have been linked with Eriksen in the past, however the Dane has the ability to play at any of the big clubs.

Kevin Strootman

PSV’s central midfield of veteran Mark van Bommel and Strootman is much admired in Holland, and the 23-year-old continues to grow in stature. Now a firm fixture in the Netherlands international squad with 18 caps, the box-to-box midfielder has outgrown the Eredivisie and would be a fantastic purchase for a number of English clubs.

Kevin Strootman

Manchester United have not had a dominant central midfielder enforcer since Roy Keane – Strootman could be the man to fill the void. Arsenal would also seem like a match given that Arsene Wenger has failed to replace Alex Song.

Tottenham must break Manchester City hoodoo if they are to challenge for top four

Tottenham take on Manchester City this Sunday knowing that they need to pick up three points to get their challenge for a top four finish in the Premier League back on track. The north London side have suffered against City of late, with no wins in the last five meetings between the sides, but Andre Villas-Boas’ men will need to end this three-year hoodoo to salvage their campaign.

Tottenham’s last victory over Manchester City came back in May 2010, with a Peter Crouch goal securing victory, and fourth place in the league, at Eastlands. Since then it has been one draw and four defeats for the White Hart Lane club, and Spurs fans may well be thinking that a bit of revenge is on the cards.

Sergio Aguero and Gareth Bale

The defeats of late include a 5-1 drubbing on the first day of last season at White Hart Lane, but a game that sticks more in the memory is the 3-2 loss at the Etihad Stadium in the reverse fixture. Spurs had put their terrible start to the campaign behind them and were all guns blazing towards a place in the Champions League – some were even touting Harry Redknapp’s men as an outside contender for the title. However, an end-to-end game proved heartbreak for the travelling support, as Jermain Defoe came within inches of winning the game in the dying moments, before City went up the other end and Mario Balotelli scored a penalty. Tottenham’s characteristic second half of the season demise started there.

The predictable demise has started to take effect again this term with unnecessary defeats in the league to Liverpool and Fulham, and elimination from the Europa League at the hands of Basel. The slip up means that Villas-Boas’ men have dropped from third to fifth place, two points behind Arsenal (with a game in hand) and three adrift of Chelsea.

All is not yet lost, but this weekend could be a real factor in who ends up in the Champions League next term and who is awarded the runners-up prize of the Europa League. With Chelsea travelling to Liverpool on Sunday and having cup success in the back of their mind, there is every chance that Spurs can claw back some, if not all, of the deficit that separates the clubs. Arsenal should win at Fulham, but ex-Spurs boss Martin Jol will want a reaction from his side after their midweek home defeat to Chelsea.

Spurs have Gareth Bale back in contention for the clash with City, which is a real boost for the hosts. However Spurs should not solely rely on their Welsh wizard to individually win them the game – a team effort and belief in the camp is needed to pick up three points. If they don’t, wins for Chelsea and Arsenal could mean that the gap is too great for Spurs to come back from with only five games remaining.

Tottenham’s Bale, Liverpool’s Suarez and Manchester United’s Van Persie – but where is Swansea’s Michu?

The nominees for the Premier League Player of the Year award have been named, with a notable absence amongst the six candidates. All the discussion about the accolade have rightly focussed on Tottenham’s Gareth Bale, Liverpool’s Luis Suarez and Manchester United’s Robin van Persie, however the addition of Juan Mata, Michael Carrick and Eden Hazard leaves me scratching my head that a certain Spaniard missed out.

I am not saying that Michu of Swansea City should be awarded the Premier League Player of the Year awaed, however the versatile attacker has had a fantastic debut season in England and was certainly great value for a nomination. It will boil down to Bale, Suarez or Van Persie, however Michu’s excellent season should have been acknowledged with a nomination.


Carrick has long been the unsung worker in the United midfield, and is only now being recognised for the tireless work he puts in and the range of passing he brings to the soon-to-be champions. Juan Mata has grown in stature this season and deserves his place in the six. The ex-Valencia playmaker has been superb throughout the season and will play a key role in Chelsea’s attempts to forge a Premier League title challenge next season. Hazard at times has shown brilliance, especially towards the start of the season, however I feel he has not done enough to warrant a place on the shortlist.

It is unfortunate that bargain £2 million buy Michu is not included. He has netted 21 times in all competitions for Michael Laudrup’s men, 17 in the league, and been a figurehead in the Liberty Stadium side overcoming the often tricky second season to become a well-established Premier League side. He also played his part in the club winning the Capital One Cup, the first major trophy in the Welsh club’s history.

Michu was never going to be the Player of the Year, but a nomination would have been just reward for a cracking debut campaign. The fact that he plays for one of the less glamorous sides in the division has clearly worked against him, the powers that be should have widened their net to include the likes of the Spaniard in their shortlist.

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