IN what appears to be the opening shot across the bows in one of the summer's biggest transfer stories, El Mundo Deportivo, the Barcelona-based daily sports newspaper, has reported that Barça have targeted Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Gareth Bale though are not willing to pay the £36m (€45m) valuation put on the player by his club.
As reported by Telegraph Sport's Matt Scott last month, the club’s technical department, led by sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta, considers the 22 year-old Bale to be the perfect long-term replacement for Eric Abidal, who recently underwent a liver transplant.
The club’s chief scout, Albert Valentín, checked out Bale’s performance for Tottenham in the 3-1 win at Fulham last November, when the Welshman set up Aaron Lennon for Spurs’ second goal.
Bale, though, is contracted to the north London club until 2015 and manager Harry Redknapp last week rubbished reports linking the Welshman with Barcelona. "I wouldn't think there is the slightest bit of truth in that [Bale joining Barça]," Redknapp said. "Not a chance, I wouldn't have thought."
The Spaniards, though, believe that Bale would offer them quality and pace while providing them versatilty with him able to play at left-back or on the wing while, at 22 years-old, remains young enough to give a decent return should he move on beyond the Nou Camp.
Barcelona, El Mundo Deportivo reported, also believe that due to Wales being unlikely to qualify for a major international tournament in the near future, Bale will remain less injury-prone and fresher for domestic duties.
With Tottenham's involvement in next seasons Champions League under threat from Chelsea who could take England's qualifying spot from the north Londoners if they beat Bayern Munich in Saturday's final in Germany, Barça will be monitoring the situation closely.
Bale, like team-mate Luka Modric, is keen to compete in Europe's premier club competition and the lure of Champions League football with one of the biggest clubs in the world would be difficult for the player to turn down.
Barça are hoping Bale follows in the footsteps of Javier Mascherano and Cesc Fàbregas who both switched from the Premier League to La Liga in the past two summer transfer windows from Liverpool and Arsenal respectively.