Gareth Bale may have forced the hand of Tottenham Hotspur Chairman Daniel Levy last summer, going into a prolonged sulk when the Spurs boss proved reluctant to sell the superstar full-back to Spanish giant Real Madrid.
In June of 2012, Gareth Bale inked a new contract with the Premier League club, pledging to stay at White Hart Lane until 2016. Just over a year later, Bale was complaining that his lifelong dream of playing for Real Madrid was being squelched by the Spurs chairman.
Even his agent — presumably the same agent who had helped Bale commit the next three years of his football-playing life to Tottenham, which had been his only Premier League club and had patiently nurtured his talent since 2007 — said that in fact, the now-24-year-old Gareth Bale had dreamed of playing for Real Madrid since he was 16.
Eventually, Levy made himself look like the winner in the standoff. Though he let Bale go to Madrid to live out his supposed dream, he extracted a world-record transfer fee, valued at about $143 million in today’s U.S. currency, from the Spanish powerhouse.
Levy then turned around and used that money to purchase a new roster of top international players who were expected to lead Spurs back into the Premier League’s top four, if not even to the title, and to the glories of another Champions League run as Spurs experienced for the first and only time in the 2010-11 season.
Though without Gareth Bale, and with a new, first-time manager in Tm Sherwood — who replaced he sacked Andre Villas-Boas in mid-season — Spurs sit in fifth place just four points off the pace of Manchester City, the deal has not worked out the way Levy certainly hoped.
On one hand, the Gareth Bale episode highlights a striking difference between the cultures of professional sports in Europe and the United States. In American sports, players are expected to honor contracts no matter what and star players especially are rarely dealt to other teams just because they demand to be.
A rare exception would be Major League Baseball player Manny Ramirez, who after seven and a half years of an eight-year contract with the Boston Red Sox, essentially refused to continue playing for the team, forcing the Red Sox to get rid of him. The Boston club traded him to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
But in European football, players shooting their way out of town is an accepted part of doing business. Interestingly, one recent exception to that unwritten rule came when Liverpool refused to unload its eccentric star striker Luis Suarez, who had gone into a Bale-style sulk.
Perhaps not by coincidence, the Liverpool owners are Americans — the same group that owns the Boston Red Sox.
In the case of Gareth Bale, Levy may have done well to heed the American example. He used $110 million of the cash Tottenham received in the Gareth Bale sale to buy seven new players — but in last Saturday’s crucial fixture against table-topping Chelsea, not a single one of those seven was in the starting lineup.
The Gareth Bale-less Spurs lost that game 4-0 despite dominating play throughout the first half, just as they have lost to Manchester City twice by scores of 6-0 and 5-1 and to Liverpool 5-0.
Adding in a 1-0 defeat to Arsenal, Spurs without Gareth Bale have now lost to the four clubs above them on the table by a combined score of 21-1. Even at the $143 million Gareth Bale price, not exactly value for money.
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