It’s hard to deny there would be something romantic about Gareth Bale returning to former club Tottenham Hotspur this summer.
The forward’s struggles to make an impact at Real Madrid over the last year have been well documented and it would be wonderful to see the Welshman recapture his past form at the club where he rose to prominence.
Nostalgic Spurs supporters hoping to see Bale head back to North London will have been buoyed by reports that Mauricio Pochettino’s side have expressed an interest in adding the 30-year-old to their squad. But there are a number of obstacles to be overcome before any deal can become a reality; most significantly the stumbling block of Bale’s wages being outside of Tottenham’s financial reach.
The four-time Champions League winner is contracted until 2022 and is rumoured to be earning around £600,000 a week. While it seems likely Spurs and Madrid could agree a transfer fee of around £60million, it is more difficult to see why Bale would consider taking a significant drop in salary to leave the Spanish capital.
It is possible Madrid may decide it is worth their while to continue paying a portion of the winger’s wages but, whatever package is agreed, it will undoubtedly be a costly business for Spurs to bring their former star to their new stadium.
But if we allow our sense of pragmatism to overrule the romance of such a deal, would signing Bale represent good value for money for last year’s Champions League finalists?
The Welshman's career to date certainly paints a picture of someone who would strengthen Spurs’ ranks, and the list of achievements on his CV speak for themselves.
He has scored 102 goals in 231 games for Real Madrid and won LaLiga, the Copa del Rey and three Club World Cups, in addition to his four Champions League winners medals. Wales' star man has excelled for his country too, scoring 31 times in 77 appearances and helping them to a European Championships semi-final in 2016.
The question on the lips of Tottenham supporters is how much faith they should place in Bale’s historic achievements after a number of persistent injuries and a lacklustre 2018/19.
Was that campaign merely a blip, or is the former Premier League Player of the Season on the wane after six years at the pinnacle of the European game?
The statistics don’t make for pleasant reading, especially if we compare Bale’s LaLiga contribution to those of his fellow forwards in the Spanish top flight.
While he still had the fourth-most shots on target in the division (1.6 per 90 minutes played) that represents the only key attribute where he was inside the league’s top ten performers. His assist rate of 0.15 per 90 was bettered by twenty-five other attackers and he was outside of the top twenty for big chances created per 90 (0.3).
Bale’s cross completion of 0.55 per 90 is hardly disastrous – the thirteenth best output of forwards in Spain’s top flight – but it's not at the same level of his previous campaigns at the Bernabéu. Although the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, a towering presence in the penalty area, could be part of the reason for this drop off.
What is of greatest concern is the number of dribbles Bale completed last term. At his injury-free peak, the 30-year-old produced devastating lung-busting dribbles. Defenders would be left in his wake as he breezed past them; think Maicon at San Siro in 2010 or Marc Bartra in the Copa del Rey final in 2014.
But during the 2018/19 season, Bale completed just 1.25 dribbles per 90, a total bettered by 28 other LaLiga attackers. His goalscoring rate of 0.4 per 90 also didn't make the division’s top twenty.
There’s no denying that last season was far from Bale’s best but it is perhaps worth remembering that he did score 21 goals in all competitions as recently as 2017/18.
While it is sensible to be guided by the numbers from his most recent campaign, the old adage that form is temporary, class is permanent could come back to bite the Welshman’s many detractors if he goes on to enjoy a return to form in the coming season.
Whichever side of the fence you come down on, it is clear that signing Bale would be a huge gamble for Spurs.
At a time of relative austerity following their stadium move, the North London club need their big-money additions to be as close to a sure thing as possible – a category that the Welshman ultimately doesn’t fall into. Despite the romance of a Tottenham Hotspur return, a move for Bale is surely best avoided this summer.