It’s one year exactly since Real Madrid changed their mind about allowing Gareth Bale to join Jiangsu Suning. The Spanish club rue the decision more than ever in the current financial crisis and are increasingly resigned to it costing them right up until the end of Bale’s contract in 2022.
‘If Gareth Bale can leave tomorrow then even better,’ Zinedine Zidane had previously said in July 2019. He was told Bale’s move to China was imminent and would be waved through by the club’s board.
Tomorrow never came. Real Madrid were beaten in New Jersey, by Atletico Madrid 7-3, in what was the first ever Madrid derby to be played outside of Europe. It was an embarrassing scoreline and it played a part in the change of heart.
That result, plus a belief that other players such as James Rodriguez could be sold for big fees meant that the Spanish club blocked Bale’s move on what would have amounted to a free transfer.
Zinedine Zidane’s future also looked fragile at the time and the possibility that he would be replaced by a more Bale-friendly coach who could get the best out of the forward also encouraged Madrid president Florentino Perez to hold on to his asset.
As Toni Kroos admitted in an interview this week, the effect on Bale was anything but positive. He told the podcast Lauschangriff: ‘I think he originally wanted to leave last summer and that the club said yes to it and then they said no. I don’t know if he’s still a little upset about it.’
Bale had originally been reluctant to make the move. But he had come around to the idea of being the marquee signing not just for a club but for the entire China Super League and he was ready to pack his bags.
They were matching his 17m euros net Real Madrid salary. That money, doubled if tax payable by the club is added to it, is what Madrid will have to keep paying Bale until 2022.
The decision to make him stay could end up costing them 100m taking into account last season and the two he still has on his contract, although the figure is liable to fluctuate according to pay cuts agreed by the squad.
Real Madrid players accepted a 10 per cent cut after last season was interrupted because of the coronavirus and another agreed cut could be forthcoming.
There are currently no plans for any talks between the club and Bale’s representatives. They see no reason to sit down with Madrid while the player has two more seasons left to run on his deal.
The losses anticipated from Real Madrid having to play six games behind closed doors last season, and close their stadium to tourists from March has drastically affected the club’s financial plans. There are no immediate plans for next season to start with supporters inside stadiums either and so Madrid could accept Bale leaving on a free.
The problem now is the lack of suitors able to pay his wages. Changes in the laws governing what clubs can pay players has made China a far less attractive destination.
And no one in the Premier League, where Bale has never shown any desire to return even when Manchester United wanted him, is willing to match his Madrid salary.
Bale ought to be in the group of players that travels to Manchester for the Champions League last-16 second leg but he is unlikely to be involved in the game.
Last season started well for him as the injury to Zidane favourite Marco Asensio meant he started six of the first eight games with two goals and two assists.
But he was used increasingly less as the season progressed and as Zidane picks his team to face City he has Eden Hazard, Vinicius, Rodrygo Goes, Asensio, Lucas Vazquez and Isco all vying for the two spots in the team either side of Karim Benzema.
Bale believes he has next to no chance of being picked ahead of those six.