Real Madrid forward has been a target for the Premier League club for years and should a move take place, it could be a game changer.
Gareth Bale is in line to face Manchester United in the European Super Cup on Tuesday evening. Nick Potts / PA
World record buys tend to carry a financial risk. Gareth Bale has always been the odd man out. Real Madrid may have paid an unprecedented sum for the Welshman, but they have always had an insurance policy.
They were always able to recoup their £85 million (Dh407.2m) investment at any point, should they so wish. That safety net came in the form of Manchester United’s ongoing determination to get Bale.
While United have been scarred by pursuits of Madrid players, wasting their time and suffering the embarrassment of rejection, Bale is too tempting a proposition to ignore. Jose Mourinho’s confirmation of interest only highlighted how envious Madrid’s position is.
United were misguided in their 2013 bid for Bale; he only wanted to join Madrid then. Since then, Bale has never wavered in his attitude: he has wanted to stay.
Yet if Madrid’s stance changes, perhaps because of a wish to sign Kylian Mbappe, they have always had a guarantee. United would take Bale, meaning they had benefited from the services of one of the world’s best players while only really paying for his wages.
And, in reality, it would be United. The fee might deter Chelsea and, while Antonio Conte has been disgruntled by their struggle to strengthen, he has been concentrating on centre-backs, wing-backs and midfielders. Manchester City definitely have other priorities.
Circumstances and budget could give United a free run at a player whose stock has risen in Spain. Many a British footballer abroad has retreated swiftly after failing to settle or impress. Bale is an exception.
His four years at the Bernabeu have brought three Uefa Champions Leagues, with the 28-year-old forward scoring in one final and setting up a goal in another. He has been an unqualified success. He may have lived in Cristiano Ronaldo’s shadow and the notions that he would either become the Portuguese’s replacement as Madrid’s leading light or their No. 10 have looked fanciful, but he still ticks United’s boxes. He many not rank alongside Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, but he has belonged in the bracket just below them.
United have a fixation with signing superstars. Bale would suit the commercially savvy Ed Woodward, forever searching for those who add stardust. Crucially, though he should suit Mourinho. The United manager has made a winger a priority and a summer-long pursuit of Inter Milan’s Ivan Perisic has ground to a halt. There may be a concern that Bale is becoming more injury prone and he would definitely be more expensive than the Croatian, but he is also more destructive.
The Portuguese prefers to play counter-attacking football. Bale has the pace and dynamism to catch opponents out. He is a thrilling runner who offers more end product than Anthony Martial did last season. United’s league results against the top teams were mediocre. Bale, in his final year at Tottenham Hotspur, had a habit of scoring against the elite.
He scored 21 goals in his most recent Premier League campaign; as Zlatan Ibrahimovic was the only United player to muster more than six last season, that illustrates the difference he could make. United need a secondary scorer to alleviate the burden on Romelu Lukaku’s shoulders.
There is a vacancy for a first choice. If Henrikh Mkhitaryan seems likely to start on one flank, Mourinho has alternated between Martial, Juan Mata, Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard on the other. Bale would not merely represent an upgrade. One who was voted PFA Player of the Year in two of his final three seasons in England could catapult them ahead of City into the status of favourites to win the title. He could be the sort of transformative buy David Moyes hoped he would get in 2013.