Gareth Bale: Expensive, and unwanted
If reports in the English and Spanish press are to be believed, Welsh football star Gareth Bale could soon be plying his trade in Nanjing, a town on the banks of the Yangtze river in eastern China. The Real Madrid winger, who is no longer wanted at his club by manager Zinedine Zidane, has been linked with a move to Chinese Super League (CSL) club Jiangsu Suning. A transfer to CSL is likely to make Bale one of the highest earning footballers on the planet, with some reports quoting his potential weekly wages at over £1 million. It will be a downfall for the player who, not too long back, was considered one of the brightest stars in the world.
Bale’s departure from Real will hardly come as a surprise, given Zidane’s comments on his future in recent days. The Frenchman has made it clear that the former Tottenham Hotspur player is not a part of his plans for this season and that the club has been trying to negotiate a parting of ways.
But what is surprising is the lack of any credible interest for the player among Europe’s biggest clubs. After all, just over a year back, Bale’s heroics in Kiev had handed Real their 13th—and Bale’s fourth—European Cup title. During his trophy-laden six years at the club, Bale scored 102 goals and assisted 65 times in 231 games. These are phenomenal figures for any footballer.
However, a number of factors have worked against Bale furthering his stay in Europe beyond this summer. The Welshman’s injury record doesn’t make for good reading to his potential suitors. Since his arrival from Spurs on a then-world record move in 2013, Bale has played more than 30 league games on only one of his six campaigns. At 30 years of age, he is unlikely to improve his fitness record drastically.
But more than the injury worries, it is the financial cost of a Bale transfer that seems to have put off the European elite from a move this summer. Despite his reported acrimonious relationship with Zidane, Bale’s price tag, particularly in a highly-inflated transfer market, is unlikely to be low, given he still has three years left on his contract with Real. That Bale reportedly earns over €600,000 a week from his current employers doesn’t help his cause for a transfer.
Those astronomical wages and a low future sell-on value because of his age have made any attempt to sign Bale unviable for a vast majority of clubs across Europe. Still far from being past his prime, Bale only seems to be paying the price for being one of the most highly-valued footballers in the modern game.
He is not alone. Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) star Neymar, the world’s most expensive player, is reported to be in limbo despite wanting out of the club. The cost of signing him is likely to be north of the €222 million figure PSG spent on him two years back. Plus, there is the additional burden of his high wages. Who can afford him?
Two other star names, Manchester United’s Alexis Sanchez and Barcelona’s Philippe Coutinho, have struggled to attract any serious interest from across Europe this summer. Sanchez’s situation is similar to Bale’s; the Chilean is 30 years of age and is one of the highest earners in the sport. Given his poor form at United and the cost of employing him, it is no surprise that Sanchez remains at Old Trafford despite falling out of favour with club manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer last season. Coutinho, on the other hand, has been linked with a move to former club Liverpool. But this may be hopeful speculation, since Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has indicated there won’t be any major signing this summer.
After years of sharply rising player prices, where clubs backed by billionaire businessmen went on splurges to get the players they wanted, there is now the inevitable bursting of the bubble. Financial fair play rules have played a role in this course correction. High inflation and a challenging economic climate are other reasons. And players who broke transfer records when they were bought, but now need a new club, are finding no takers.
Two years back, Manchester United let then-captain Wayne Rooney, by then well past his peak years, leave the club on a free transfer to Everton. This was despite Rooney having two years left on his contract. The forward took a reported 50 per cent pay-cut to make the transfer possible.
But such compromises are increasingly unusual in today’s market, particularly in Europe where signing younger players with lower wages and higher sell-on values offer more financial sense to clubs. Take the case of Atletico Madrid. Speaking strictly in financial terms, the club’s sale of Antoine Griezmann and the purchase of Joao Felix sees them with a younger player who will be on lower wages, but will potentially have a significantly higher transfer market valuation in a couple of years’ time.
Over the years, the likes of David Beckham and Thierry Henry have spent their twilight years as players outside of Europe. That trend continues with the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, David Villa, Rooney, Andres Iniesta, among many others, flocking out of Europe. Given the financial competitiveness in Europe, it is likely to be a more regular case for highly-valued, ageing players in coming years.