Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Gareth Bale transfer to Real Madrid exposes disparity

As the narrative of Gareth Bale’s transfer to Real Madrid careens towards its end pages, we look back on its lifespan with the typical, ho-hum shrug of fulfilled prediction that accompanies such uncomplicated, Cartlandian prose. 

This tricky situation evolved in exactly the same manner as every other protracted move: larger club unsettles smaller club’s player, player decides he likes the money lifestyle at larger club, player agitates for transfer without asking for it directly, smaller club holds out for larger fee, deal is eventually done. 

Most “poaching” goes down this way, unless the smaller club is either a) really small, where incoming funds are gratefully and quickly redistributed or b) in the habit of iron-cladding it’s player contracts for many future years.  In this case, Spurs are neither.

The key step in the above sequence involves the player deliberately acting unprofessionally in order to orchestrate the move.  Last week, footballer-turned-pundit Robbie Savage wrote an article on the BBC website about the techniques footballers use to engineer a move away from their current club.  Wandering eyes have surveyed the landscape and decided that other pastures are a more pleasant shade of green, for reasons of money, money opportunity or money boredom.

The tactics are true and time-honoured because they’re effective.  Savage knows, because as he writes, he used some of them himself.  First internal and then external opinions tootle about “needing a change of scenery” or wanting “a different paycheque challenge”.  Eventually, the player generally gets their way, simply by becoming a distraction.

The biggest surprise of this story hasn’t been that Spurs Chairman Daniel Levy is holding out until deadline day seeking the best deal, nor that Real Madrid are seeking the Premiership’s best player, nor even the frankly diabolical fee mooted.  It’s that the player acting so unprofessionally is Gareth Bale.

Bale is by all accounts a simple and peaceful man; someone Harry Redknapp gleefully described as thinking of “a trip abroad” as visiting home in Cardiff.  Since arriving on the scene as a big-money youngster from the vaunted Southampton youth academy, his personal journey has been littered with troughs and peaks public enough to justify his position as one of the most marketable respected and relatable footballers in the British Isles. 

Personal reports lend credence to the idea of a professional and soft-spoken family man with a Rolls-Royce engine and a piledriver where his left foot should be. 

So why, suddenly, would this man begin to exaggerate injury reports and not arrive for training?  The answer is simple: the lure of Real Madrid – and all that accompanies – is enough to compromise a man’s principles.  Which, when the player is by all accounts so … nice, is such a shame.  Gareth Bale really wants this move and obviously feels he deserves it – either because of what he’s given to Spurs in the past or because of what he can achieve in La Liga’s future.  But should this desire mean he leaves part of the attitude that earned him such success behind, even temporarily?

A Catch-22 is inherent when signing long term contracts: the lifespan of professional athletes is short enough even without the risk of serious injury so long-term financial security is understandably desirable.  What other leverage did Bale have?  He played the only card available to him, that of the disaffected star.  With Levy characteristically content to let the transaction drag in order to leverage best price, and Real Madrid able to move on to players anew, the player is patently the party with the most to lose. How is this fair?

It’s not too long a bow to draw to suggest that Bale is desperate for the move simply because the hand he played is so antithetical to his supposed character.

If nothing else, the episode rams home the concrete nature of media politics in the game of transfers; it is cynical, media-driven and the entity with the most at risk throughout the situation is also the party with the least control. The result?  Gareth Bale acting jarringly out of type.

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