Rumour has it that hours before Gareth Bale sealed his world-record £85.3million move to Real Madrid from Tottenham Hotspur in the summer of 2013, Manchester United lodged an even bigger bid for the Welsh superstar, only to be turned down as the player had his heart set on a move to Spain.
Every year since, despite his ongoing success in La Liga, Bale has been linked with a big-money return to England, and Old Trafford is invariably mooted as his destination.
It’s reached the point where rumours of a United bid for Bale are as clear an indicator that summer is on its way as the clocks going forward.
Spanish newspaper As report that José Mourinho is ready to make his move for the 28-year-old, while Goal.com claim that Madrid will look to offload the former Spurs man to United in order to fund their world-record £160million bid for Kylian Mbappé.
The rumours may well be spurious but they are given extra weight be Madrid’s supposed willingness to cash in on Bale this summer. As Zinédine Zidane’s side showed against Juventus in the Champions League final, they are perfectly capable of performing without the former Spurs man.
Furthermore, with the likes of Marco Asensio and Isco thoroughly deserving of more game time, and with Mbappé nearing a Bernabéu move, it might be good business for the 11-time European Champions to sell their record signing now.
But, even though Madrid are said to be willing to negotiate his sale, Bale would not come cheap. The Spanish side would expect to recoup the majority of the fee they paid to sign him from Tottenham four years ago.
With that in mind, would pursuing Bale still be a good move for United?
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In his final year at White Hart Lane, Bale was unquestionably the best player in the Premier League — his 26 goals in 44 games earned him both the PFA Players’ Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year awards.
If he were to return to England this summer, Bale would probably still be the best player in the division — as good as Eden Hazard was been for Chelsea last term, the Belgian is still unable to match the Welshman’s goals and assists production.
From that point of view, adding Bale to United’s underperforming attack could be the catalyst for immediately transforming Mourinho’s side from top-four contenders to genuine title challengers.
However, he will is now 28. And while that by no means makes him over the hill, it does mean that the injury issues he has faced over the last couple of seasons are unlikely to ease off.
Competing in three domestic competitions as well as either the Champions League places a significant strain on even the deepest squad. If United are going to fork out the kind of fee required to capture Bale, they’ll be expecting him to play anywhere between 40 and 50 games a season, something he has rarely done in his career.
For example, Paul Pogba, last summer’s marquee signing, turned out 51 times last term.
Bale has never 50 appearances in a single season in his career, and has only cracked the 45-game barrier once. More worryingly, though, injuries have limited him to just 31 and 27 appearances in 2015/16 and 2016/17 respectively.
Is Bale Still Worth It?
While Bale’s goals return in Madrid has been nothing short of spectacular — averaging better than a goal every other game in La Liga and with 67 in 150 games in total — his productivity waned last season as injuries prevented him from gaining any kind of rhythm.
The 66-cap Wales international scored seven La Liga goals in 1425 minutes of action in 2016/17, giving him an average of a goal every 203.57 minutes.
The season before, he was averaging a league goal every 91.63 minutes while also registering 10 assists to this season’s two. In his first two campaigns with Los Blancos combined, Bale found the net every 166.25 minutes.
Even though he scored less frequently last season, Bale’s minutes-per-goal average was better than any United player’s performance in the Premier League, except Zlatan Ibrahimović (143.35 minutes per goal).
Bale’s versatility would also be handy for the Red Devils, as he is able to play on either flank or centrally as a No.10 – which is believed to be his preferred position. In this sense, the former Southampton player would probably be able to pick which role he’d like to operate in should he move to Old Trafford, with the rest of the side being built around him.
But should another injury crisis hit like the one Mourinho’s men befell towards the end of the last campaign, and provided Bale was not a victim of it, his ability to slot into several positions would be of huge benefit to United.
All of this goes to show that Bale would be an incredible addition for United in terms of the quality he possesses. But with an astronomical fee likely required to secure his services, the 20-time champions may want to consider some of the potential downsides of bringing the Wales superstar back to the Premier League.
Mourinho has admitted that he is keen to bolster his attack with a player who can operate in the wide positions – Bale certainly fits that bill. And with talk of a move for Inter Milan winger Ivan Perišić going quiet of late, some United fans are speculating over whether the Red Devils have something else up their sleeve.
Two years ago, if given the chance, signing Bale would have been an absolute no-brainer for United, at almost any cost. Now, however, there are a few reasons to believe that it might not be such a great idea.