“We wanted four – 50% of the job is done.” Those words could be written on Jose Mourinho’s tombstone as he navigates the depths of the most inflated transfer window in football’s history, searching for the solutions to Manchester United’s problems on the pitch while attempting to conduct profitable business off the pitch.
The next signing seemed almost certain to be Ivan Perisic, a 28-year-old winger who can play on both wings, add a lot to United’s squad, and offer Jose Mourinho more options. However, United’s reluctance to spend Inter’s reported valuation of £48 million for Perisic, a player who had the first elite season of his career in 2016/17, is equally understandable.
Three years ago, David Moyes’ desire for the same pace and penetration prompted him to approach Tottenham Hotspur for Gareth Bale, who instead moved to Real Madrid for a world record fee. Bale played an integral role in Real Madrid’s setup during two Champions League wins, before injuries halted his progress and Isco earned his place in the side ahead of Bale.
With Ballon d’Or quality at his best, Bale likely wouldn’t be happy sitting on the bench at Real Madrid, which adds credence to reports that have linked him with United for years, even if there are no indications that Bale may be unhappy. Should Bale challenge the best players in the world, he will have to be the catalyst for a side at which he could be a key link, which he no longer is at Real Madrid. Could Manchester United stand to benefit?
Gareth Bale is the best British footballer in the world when fully fit. Standing at 6’0, Bale’s athletic prowess is well-rounded; strong in the air, exceptionally powerful with the ball at feet, and with blistering acceleration, he has been able to transition from the archetypal English winger to the ideal inside forward, switching from the left-wing to the right-wing during his time at Real Madrid.
Bale’s final season at Tottenham saw him tear the Premier League apart, scoring 21 goals and providing nine assists in 33 Premier League matches to win the PFA player of the year award. It wasn’t the first time Bale won the award in England, either; transitioning from a left-back to a left-winger at Spurs, his second full season on the wing saw him deliver the goods as a natural winger in 2010/11, scoring 11 goals and assisting a further 11 in 41 appearances across all competitions to pick up the accolade at the tender age of 22.
However, these weren’t Bale’s only great seasons, as he produced six consistent seasons at the top level, in two different leagues. Between his two player of the year seasons, he scored 13 and assisted 17 in 42 in 2011/12; his first season in Madrid proved he could handle the pressure of being a world record player and changing positions, as he scored 22 and assisted 19 in 44 appearances in his first season at the Bernabeu.
Scoring 17 and assisting 12 in 48 in the season that culminated with Carlo Ancelotti’s sacking, he spent much of the 2015/16 season out injured but still managed to score 19 and assist 15 in 31, which is greater than a goal or assist every game, before carrying Wales through Euro 2016. Only in this last season has his end-product declined, but he still produced nine goals and five assists in 27 appearances despite spending half the campaign out injured.
However, this season still exemplified Bale’s strengths, as he averaged 1.2 key passes and 1.4 dribbles, performing exceptionally well when fit to be ranked as WhoScored’s seventh best player in La Liga. He’s the definition of Premier League proven; versatile has world class quality and experience and would add a lot to United’s squad. The questions surround the degree of impact he would have.
Herein lies the only problem with Bale; in the last two seasons, he only made 31 and 27 appearances, respectively, whereas, before that, he made over 40 appearances for five consecutive seasons. This points to questions surrounding his fitness, and whether he would be fit for enough of United’s season to make a lasting impact.
Furthermore, while Ivan Perisic is known to be an excellent crosser at Inter Milan, Bale hasn’t averaged more than a cross per 90 minutes domestically since leaving Tottenham. This could arguably be attributed to playing on the right-wing instead of the left-wing, where he is on his natural left foot. However, should this be a situation of playing on the wrong wing, that presents arguably an even greater advantage; playing on the left, he can be a potent crosser, whereas playing from the right, he can move inside and join the striker. United could even alter his role mid-game to suit opposition tactics.
The other obvious concern would be Real Madrid’s reluctance to sell. For unconfirmed reasons, Florentino Perez was infamously reluctant to allow Alvaro Morata to join United, with reports indicating that Perez may have wanted as much as £81 million for the player. Bale, who joined Real for £85 million, is now four years older, less important to Real Madrid than he was to Tottenham, and struggles for fitness, making him arguably worth less than he was in 2013.
Bale’s ability to play on both wings offer a variety of tactical threats, and his possession of world class ability regardless of where he plays could be the difference-maker for Manchester United. However, for United to pay more than Real Madrid paid for Bale in 2014 would be absurd. Should Bale be available for less, or in a similar deal that saw James Rodriguez go on loan to Bayern Munich, United could be completing one of the best deals of the summer. If Bale can sort out his injury problems at United, he’ll be one of the best players in the world again, and even if not, he will still add a lot to Jose Mourinho’s setup, adding required squad depth to United’s attack.