Almost from the moment he left Tottenham Hotspur to join Real Madrid in the summer of 2013, Gareth Bale has had to face speculation over his future, constantly linked with a move back to the Premier League.
The most recent reports suggest that the European champions are now ready to cash in on the Welshman, though, having grown frustrated at his injury troubles, with Manchester United, Chelsea and Spurs credited with an interest.
According to Diario Gol, Zinedine Zidane has included the Welsh winger in a list of players he wants rid of this summer, and the latest reports suggest Madrid will even offer Bale to Tottenham in part-exchange for Harry Kane.
A fee of £85million is reportedly what it will take for any buying club to land Bale, but is he still worth such a financial outlay?
Gareth Bale in Spain
He has won three Champions Leagues in his four seasons in Spain, as well as a La Liga title last season, but injuries have become a constant thorn in his side, reducing his playing time year on year and allowing less established stars such as Isco and Marco Asensio now becoming more vital to Los Blancos.
Still, despite injury issues, Bale’s displays on the pitch have been beyond reproach since moving to the Bernabéu. In 159 all-competitions outings for Madrid Bale has scored 70 goals, with his record of 56 from 105 La Liga appearances particularly impressive.
However, after playing 58 league games in his first two seasons in Spain, he appeared 23 times in 2015/16, 19 times last term, and has so far played in just five La Liga games this season.
What are Bale’s main strengths?
When fully fit and firing, Bale is the archetypal modern attacking player: his pace is frightening, he has a deadly accurate and powerful left foot, and is a supreme athlete with ever-improving aerial technique.
Few players in world football boast the Welshman’s combination of speed, power and finesse. The 28-year-old is capable of shredding an entire defence with blistering pace and direct running, while also able to unlock a stubborn backline with intricate creativity, whether it’s a well-timed back-heel or a reverse pass to outfox the opposition.
He is still a serious goal threat too, owing largely to his broad arsenal weaponry. A free-kick master, a sound header of the ball, a deadly one-on-one finisher and a rasping long-range shooter, Bale can score every type of goal imaginable.
What’s more, at this stage of his career, Bale’s experience can be invaluable. He has been at the elite end of the game for several years now, as well as carrying the hopes of an entire nation on his shoulders whenever he pulls on the red of Wales. His quiet and unassuming nature masks a fierce competitiveness and unwavering belief in his own ability.
What are Bale’s main weaknesses?
Injuries. Unfortunately, it’s as simple as that. When fully fit, Bale is among the very best players in the world; there are few line-ups in Europe that an in-form Bale would not walk straight into.
But he has been increasingly unable to get himself on the pitch in recent years. Were his injuries woes the result if impact challenges, knocks that can bruise or eve break bone and rule a player out for a significant amount of time, they would be less of a worry as they could be written off as pure back luck rather than indicative of a longer-term issue.
But the fact that Bale suffers muscular problems and soft-tissue injuries so regularly seems to signify that these issues will only worsen with age. It has been argued, though, that Madrid have rarely allowed him time to make a full recovery from his setbacks, rushing him back before his body is fully ready.
With a more delicate approach to his recovery, there might be a more positive resolution.
Bale has been a high performer for the duration of his time in Madrid, but the increasing frequency of his injury troubles appear to have brought about a reduction in his productivity when fit.
As the above graphic shows, his creative form peaked in his first season in the Spanish capital, while his goal-scoring was sharpest in 2015/16, returning an extraordinary average of a goal every 91.63 minutes in La Liga.
Last season, he returned his lowest goals tally since moving to Madrid, while also registering fewest assists. In the five La Liga games that he has featured in so far this term, Bale has two goals and one assist.
How much is Bale worth?
According to The Mirror, Real Madrid have grown frustrated at Bale’s ongoing injury struggles and are finally ready to offload the winger, slapping an £85million price tag on his head amid Premier League interest.
Manchester United have twice failed in attempts to bring Bale back to England and would be leading the queue should a Bernabéu exit become likely, while Chelsea and former club Spurs are also credited with an interest in the 28-year-old.
Real president Florentino Pérez has long been opposed to selling the an who was his marquee signing in 2013, but it appears his stance has softened, while Bale’s value, previously projected at more than £100million, looks to have reduced.
Why top Premier League clubs should sign him
Whether or not Bale should still be considered a viable transfer target for the Premier League’s best clubs comes down to a risk/reward equation: is the outlay required to prise the Welshman away from Madrid worth what he can offer on the pitch, and how regularly he is able to offer it.
In his final two seasons with Tottenham, Bale had developed into the best player in the Premier League. Technically, he has not regressed an inch from the player he was at White Hart Lane; in fact, he has improved for the experience of playing with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema over the last four years.
If he were to return to the Premier League, it could quite reasonably be argued that he would once again be the division’s best player and one capable of tipping the balance in favour of the club he signs for in the title race.
However, his injury issues persist, meaning it would be reckless for any prospective buyer to shell out in excess of £100million for him. If a reasonable price can be negotiated, Bale could still be a game-changer in the Premier League.