Tottenham's Gareth Bale set to attract major summer bid from Barcelona
BARCELONA’S sporting board has made Gareth Bale its priority summer transfer target and will urge Pep Guardiola to sanction the Tottenham Hotspur player’s signing.
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 underwent a liver transplant last week. 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.
Sandro Rosell, the Barcelona chairman, also wants Neymar on the books but is shrinking from meeting the buy-out clause in his contract, which reportedly rose from £37 million when he renewed his deal last November. Rosell is therefore likely to postpone any move for the Brazilian forward until after the 2014 World Cup.
That puts the accent this summer on defensive reinforcements. This could make Bale the beneficiary: he is the man Barcelona’s board would most like to see in the Blaugrana.
But there remains a number of potential impediments to the transfer becoming a reality. Bale’s prospects of signing for the European champions are tied up with the contract negotiations for Guardiola, and the manager’s relationship with the board has become strained this season.
There is frustration at the delay in Guardiola’s commitment to a contract extension, with his current deal expiring this summer. His apparent readiness to keep his options open has left him isolated from the board.
However, Guardiola will retain the final say over close-season transfer movements in the expectation that he will pledge one more year to the Nou Camp dugout.
So far, the delay over Guardiola’s future has meant he has given no indication as to his transfer-market intentions. Some at Barcelona believe Guardiola might favour a more impactful signing than a move to strengthen the left-back position, and this could be the source of more tension with the board.
Club executives are keen to reduce their expenditure this summer. The available budget was eroded by the £50 million outlay on Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez last year, with a proportion of the 2012 summer funds paid to Arsenal and Udinese for those two signings.
There remain three years on Bale’s contract at Tottenham, making the 2011 Professional Footballers' Association Player of the Year a potentially expensive proposition.
Indeed, Daniel Levy warned off suitors in the club’s plc accounts statement last year, saying: “Having quality players means they automatically attract attention from other clubs but I can assure you we have no reason to sell, and every intention of retaining, our key players. We shall simply not entertain any approaches for these players.”
The intervening 12 months have done nothing to diminish Bale’s profile, but this has not deterred Barcelona directors. Indeed, it has fuelled the belief he would be a bigger commercial success than others capable of filling in the left-back position, underlining his attractiveness to Barcelona’s board.
It is hoped Guardiola can be persuaded that Bale, who has scored 23 goals over the past two seasons, including a San Siro hat-trick against Inter in the Champions League 18 months ago, would also add more penetration to his side’s attack.
The search to introduce attacking élan to Barca’s flanks may become a particular priority this summer, with right-back Dani Alves’ future at the Nou Camp uncertain. Barcelona are willing to sell one of their biggest names and had considered David Villa for a possible sale but his season-ending broken leg has put paid to that prospect.
With Alves facing a divorce that is set to cost him millions in alimony, there are hints the Brazilian will make himself available for transfer to generate a big payday.
The club envisage that, in that event, Barcelona would replace him with the more defensively minded Martín Montoya and seek to shift their attacking focus to the left flank, explaining the move for Bale, a player who has not been comfortable as an orthodox left-back.
Weighing against Guardiola’s approval, however, will be history. Spain is aware that recent English league imports have not delivered against their reputations – Michael Owen and Jonathan Woodgate were both hugely disappointing at Real Madrid.
Indeed, Barcelona do not cherish their own memories of Mark Hughes, Gary Lineker or Steve Archibald in Catalonia but that has not deterred the club’s board.
How leading British exports have coped with life in La Liga
Manchester United sold the Wales striker to Barcelona for £2m in 1986 but his La Liga career did not take off and after managing just four goals in 28 matches, he was on to Bayern Munich on loan before returning to Old Trafford.
Success rating: 2 out of 10
Having won the Golden Shoe at the 1986 World Cup, Barcelona paid Everton £2.8m for Lineker, right, and the striker flourished under coach Terry Venables, scoring 21 goals in his first season before eventually falling out of favour under Johan Cruyff, in 1989.
7 out of 10
Arrived at Real Madrid from Liverpool in 1999, just in time for the galáctico era. His highlight was scoring a spectacular volley in the 2000 Champions League final against Valencia. He also won two La Liga titles and a second Champions League.
7 out of 10
Eased out by Manchester United, Beckham moved to Real for £25m in 2003, another of the galáctico signings. A turbulent four-year stay yielded only one La Liga title before he moved on to LA Galaxy.
5 out of 10
Struggled for a regular starting place at Real Madrid following a £8m move from Liverpool in 2004 but still had a healthy goals rerturn of 18 from 41 games before heading to Newcastle a year later.
Real Madrid invested £13.4m in the injury-prone Newcastle defender, who spent much of his two-year stay in Madrid on the treatment table, making only nine appearances.
2 out of 10