Gareth Bale – Florentino Perez’s biggest risk yet?

Blog by: Priya

Gareth Bale officially unveiled at Real Madrid; with Real Madrid President Florentino Perez

Every investment involves a risk; this is an economic axiom, and the footballing world we live in today has essentially metamorphosised into a business. Every transfer involves a risk, and like Wall Street’s wise men would tell you, the bigger you invest, the more you risk.

Gareth Bale’s £86mn move to Real Madrid was a transfer saga that was anything but ephemeral –  monopolising headlines of British and Spanish for the larger part of 3 months ahead of the maelstrom of affairs in Syria, or even each of their own economic apprehensions. It culminated in the deal finally being announced on deadline day, but of course, it was always a matter of when – once Perez locks his eyes on a prey, he usually gets it.

Though Perez would have expected a hero-like reception from the fans for gifting them such a talented young player, the general response has been quite mixed, to put it mildly.

Real Madrid, being a fan-owned club, essentially spends what it earns. (So, the Gareth Bale fee is equivalent to around 1,075,000 Ronaldo shirts.) But in a country which is languishing in economic stagflation with 26% of the population unemployed, the signing seemed an unnecessary statement of wealth in a sea of affliction.

That is essentially though what the whole Galactico idea is about – Perez making a statement about the buying/spending power of his club and essentially, himself.

As Simon Kuper, the co-author of the (brilliant, brilliant) book, Soccernomics says, “It (buying Bale) is more like buying a Picasso: a beautiful thing that gives its owner status. No wonder that Pérez and Manchester City’s owner Sheikh Mansour of Abu Dhabi also collect art, as does the girlfriend of Chelsea’s owner Roman Abramovich.”

Perez understood this and quickly made it clear at Bale’s unveiling that it was not “a piece of business, but fulfilment of a long cherished dream a shy little boy – years ago – in Wales who wore the jersey of Real Madrid.” As much as he wanted to sugar it up, the £86mn seemed tattooed on Bale’s forehead in an incriminating red for a lot of fans.

The major risk involved in Bale’s transfer, which is the viewpoint of most fans, is that it seems the fruit of Levy’s quite brilliant negotiating skills rather than a club paying a fee that was worthy of a player.

I am not a Cristiano Ronaldo fan, but you don’t have to be one to realise that the 24-year-old Ronaldo, for whom Real paid a then-world-record-fee of £80mn in the summer of 2009, was at least a few streets ahead of the 24-year-old Gareth Bale who has dwarfed that record this year.

The Portuguese had nearly 300 appearances in the red of United, representing them at the highest level, won 3 Premier League titles, an FA Cup, and a Champions League. On his way, he’d picked up a Ballon d’Or, a FIFA World Player of the Year, two Premier League Player of the Season awards, a UEFA Club Footballer of the Year as well as being made captain of the national team a year prior to his move.

This doesn’t put down Bale in terms of his lack of silverware, or uplifts Ronaldo’s stature. It simply points out that Ronaldo came to Madrid more equipped with experience at the highest level and perhaps a better understanding of what being a Real Madrid player would demand.

In simple terms, Ronaldo was more ready to kick the ground running than Bale seems to be. You may owe it to inflation, but if not for Levy’s skill in business, Bale would not have warranted a fee this high, let alone broken the record.

This leads us to many other issues, the prime one being the fact that this may not make Cristiano too happy. He’s a wonderful player, yes, but you can’t deny the presence of an ego which he possesses in quite some measure.

Bale has been for the last season, a replica of Cristiano – all speed, explosiveness, sleek feigning, blistering freekicks, match-winning ability and not to mention, the slicked-back, copiously-gelled hair.

Real Madrid v Galatasaray - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final

How will Ronaldo handle not being the most expensive property at Bernabeu

So, can Ronaldo survive with a living, breathing, Welsh copy of himself? There’s also the inevitable transfer fee, which as previously mentioned, is tattooed on Bale’s forehead. This may well serve as crucible for Ronaldo himself, and it should be interesting to see how, if at all, he responds to not being the most expensive property at the Bernabeu anymore.

Moreover, there is always the possibility of a recurrence of the ‘Fernando Torres Syndrome’, when a player’s price tag starts playing with his head, further compounded by journalists jumping onto the player’s back and adding further weight to his price tag headache after every single poor pass or skied shot.

Footballers are not spared easily in Spain, and Gareth Bale will be no exception. This is something the Welshman can learn from Ronaldo in the locker room, if he is willing to impart; the Portguese knows a thing or two of actually living up to expectations and handling media pressure.

In addition, there always runs a risk of injury in football. It does not have to come in a game, or be inflicted upon in horrendous fashion by a rival, it can occur by means of a small slip in training.

Bale has faced his fair share of pain in the past, with 8 injuries in 6 years, two related to his hamstring and a few to his ankle and foot. This is something Real Madrid and Bale himself have to be very, very careful about as the ex-Spurs winger’s major USP is his speed and his explosiveness; his ability to turn his pace immediately. Without it, Bale does not have much to fall back on as a player, and consequently, one major injury could scar Bale’s career at Madrid.

Then of course, comes the Mesut Ozil issue. Many fans at Bale’s unveiling had to be shushed by Perez for chanting, “Ozil, no se vendre!” Not too atypical if you look at it – an ex-Spurs player’s thunder stolen by a future Arsenal player, but the banter aside, this could be the biggest impact of the risk Perez has taken.

Ozil’s departure, no doubt, was the last piece of business by Real Madrid done to make up for Bale’s exorbitant fee and keep the wage bill within regulation.

In a transfer window that has already seen the likes of Higuain, Callejon and Kaka leave, Ozil was the final option for Perez to further decrease the wage bill to accommodate Bale’s £300k/week.

Based on individual talent, Ozil and Bale would not be too far away from each other, but when you look at their importance to Real Madrid, you would think their XI needs Ozil more than it needs Bale. Even with the signing of the immensely talented Isco, Mesut Ozil could have warranted a starting place, if given one opportunity to impress Ancelotti beyond his wits – if Real Madrid chose to believe in him.

The fundamental difference between Ozil and Bale is that Bale does not have Ozil’s vision. The German could find Ronaldo from any corner of the pitch, probably even if he was blindfolded. The chemistry that Ronaldo and Ozil shared is very unlikely to be mirrored by the Bale-Ronaldo partnership, simply because they’re too similar to each other.

But then again, it is likely that Isco will be – and already has been – handed the responsibility of providing the creativity quotient, and if Ancelotti can use all three to their full potential, Real Madrid may well be on the road to La Decima.

The Ozil issue also has another mammoth impact in the fact that the German was one of the most loved Real Madrid players, by both the fans and the players. It was quite evident when the fans were pleading to the President at the Bernabeu, before his transfer to Arsenal was confirmed, to not sell him, to not let him go.

For many, the arrival of Bale has been bittersweet, and on a few counts, more bitter than sweet. Even in the troubled times of the Mourinho monarchy, Ozil was the one player that was genuinely liked by a dressing room in disharmony –  the Ronaldo clique, Casillas and his Spanish core and, well, everyone else.

In a way, Ozil’s departure has catalysed the players to be united, but, against Perez. The players have spent more time mourning Ozil’s move from the Bernabeu than Bale’s arrival to it.

Everton v Real Madrid - International Champions Cup 2013

The much loved Mesut Ozil’s departure is bad news for Cristiano Ronaldo

Moreover, one of the main characters of this saga, Ronaldo, has expressed his furore, “Ozil’s departure is very bad news for me. He was the player who knew my moves in front of goal the best. I’m angry about Ozil leaving.”

And it might very well be Gareth Bale who faces the brunt of this backlash. It could cause him to be alienated in the dressing room, making things very awkward indeed, in a similar fashion to Michael Owen, who suffered through a highly ‘individual’ dressing room, and player politics.

However, in this case, I think Perez would do as much as he can to ensure Bale does get to play, although the orders from above may lead to further unhappiness amongst the players.

Ultimately, only time will tell. For now, Bale will have to keep his head down and speak through his game on the pitch, as we all know he can, being the young man with bucketload of talent at his disposal, to captivate the footballing audience.

In this case, and with that price tag in the equation, it is inevitable that Bale will either be a huge success or a massive failure; a great hero or a hated villain – there is no grey area, no middle ground for the Welshman to fall upon at Bernabeu.

Whether Perez has pulled off an ingeniously calculated risk or whether he overplayed his hand a tad too much, will be a burning question, waiting to be answered over the next season.


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