Gareth Bale made his Premier League introduction at Old Trafford but is destined to never play for Manchester United.
“We were disappointed in Southampton at the time because we were first there, but they never came back to us,” Sir Alex Ferguson said of Bale’s 2007 switch to Tottenham. “It was not the boy who turned us down, it was Southampton.”
Bale, played on the left wing by Martin Jol, was so blistering on his Tottenham debut against United in August 2007 the visiting fans heckled Ryan Giggs with cries of ‘You’re just a s**t Gareth Bale’.
Even at the height of their powers United were fighting a losing battle with Real Madrid. Ferguson said he ‘wouldn’t sell that mob a virus’. Witty line, but he did sell them Cristiano Ronaldo six months later. Madrid would have come calling for Bale if he had linked up with Ronaldo in Manchester.
The market landscape is so unrecognisable now that Madrid regularly invite United to sign their Galacticos. United passed on James Rodriguez three years ago and Ed Woodward breakfasted with Florentino Perez in Miami two years ago when Raphael Varane was brought up in conversation. United have refused to entice Bale, now 31, with a tour of Mere golf course.
United could not outright dismiss a move for Bale this summer amid an impasse in the never-ending negotiations for Jadon Sancho. Bale was only viewed as an emergency loan option before Tottenham accelerated plans for a reunion.
Figures at Spurs have already derided Bale’s obsession with golf and Jose Mourinho has such a warm relationship with Perez he will have intimate knowledge of Bale’s personality. Mourinho made a beeline for Bale prior to United’s friendly with Madrid in San Jose in 2017 and chirped: “I can’t buy you because you don’t talk!” That was the last time the United ship waited for Bale.
Mourinho applied pressure on Bale and Real coach Zinedine Zidane on the eve of the Super Cup two weeks later by insisting he would ‘fight’ for Bale if he did not start in Skopje. He did. “Game over because now everybody knows he is going to stay,” Mourinho conceded. He has not had to put up much of a fight this time.
Some have disingenuously framed Bale’s imminent return to Spurs as a defeat for United when it is a classic case of United-related speculation smoking out an actual bidder (another example: Thiago Alcantara and Liverpool). United had also monitored Sergio Reguilon but, as this ‘paper reported last week, did not deem left-back to be a priority and no bid was planned this summer.
But transfer junkies want to believe in unicorns and the mood online is so toxic they have chosen to vilify United for not signing players they were not planning on signing. The Twitterati fanbase is planning ‘the biggest footballing protest of all time’ outside Old Trafford this month to force out the Glazers and when one faceless user asked another who the organisers were the reply was golden: “Dont [sic] know tbh.” They probably don’t know the Glazers live in Tampa, too.
Bale is still a big enough pull that matchgoers – when allowed back in – will quicken their step as they approach the ground and he is to Spurs what Ronaldo is to wistful United supporters. As Andros Townsend tweeted last year, the streets won’t forget Bale’s breathless Copa del Rey decider against Barcelona, the winning Champions League header or the audaciously awesome bicycle kick in the 2018 final against Liverpool. Maybe it was just as well United didn’t sign him the previous year.
‘On the fairway’ used to be a phrase favoured by a United suit for incomings and they never teed up for Bale, older and on wages more obscene than Alexis Sanchez. He was only last year contemplating a move to Nanjing in China (the golf course looks bucolic) and has declined offers to move to United on three previous occasions.
Spurs chairman Daniel Levy encouraged United to enter the auction for Bale in 2013 even though he had decided on a move to Real Madrid months earlier. Under the deluded duo of David Moyes and Ed Woodward, United still pointlessly offered a world record £86m for Bale.
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Part of United’s recruitment reboot was to target players genuinely enchanted by the prospect of playing for the club, so Bale – given his history pre and post-United AD (after dominance) – should never have been pencilled in as a loan prospect.
His salary would also have caused immense resentment.. Paul Pogba has not had a contract since 2016, is constantly courted by Madrid or Juventus and has since won the World Cup. His face would drop at the sight of a Real cast-off entering a dressing room, the majority of his £600,000 weekly wages subsidised by United.
United sources have stressed the personal terms they are negotiating with Sancho’s agent are a ‘real issue’ and they are determined not to repeat the past mistake of elevating an arriving player’s wage packet above their new teammates. Anthony Martial and David de Gea were also piqued by the Sanchez deal.
The bigger picture is Aston Villa and Leeds have outspent United so far this summer and the wait for Sancho is so inordinate they should have arguably walked away weeks ago.
The pandemic, late qualification for the Champions League and a bloated squad have contributed to slow business in the window and United are levied with their own tax. “You get screwed in the market,” a United insider said.
However relevant the financial realities are, so are the football realities. United have hardly addressed the squad depth that concerns Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, determined to ‘move up the table’. They risk dropping out of the top four.
Bale might be back at Old Trafford next month, when Tottenham play United in the first weekend of October.