With the transfer saga nearing its end, the Welshman will soon learn about the importance of building relationships at Real
At last, someone confirmed it: André Villas-Boas admitted that Gareth Bale's "world record" move to Real Madrid was "very, very close". Very, very close sounded closer than all those other "close" moves had been and it is, if only because the clock ticks, the days pass and 2 September gets closer.
Bale had already moved closer to Madrid on Saturday when he touched down in Málaga: just under 600 kilometres to go. Then, on Monday he was heading back to the UK again. It could be seen as a metaphor for this transfer saga: so near, then so far, done, then not done. Madrid hoped to be able to present him at the Santiago Bernabéu on Tuesday but that became another target that was missed; their bullishness was part of the problem, making Daniel Levy's resistance all the more determined. It was not that Levy would not sell – that he would had been decided long ago – it was that he would only sell on his terms and at his time, even if that meant turning back.
All the while, Real Madrid's manager, Carlo Ancelotti, hoped to avoid Bale in public. He had sheepishly admitted that he did not want to talk about the Welshman because he had already "annoyed Villas-Boas". To judge by the Spurs manager's press conference, Ancelotti's subsequent discretion made little difference: the damage was done. But he kept on and so did reporters. By the time he was asked a fourth question about Bale during the pre-match press conference last Sunday, Ancelotti grinned. "I know it's big for you," he said with an apologetic smile, "but I don't want to talk about him." On the Monday night, after that match against Granada, it was ignored once more.
"Have you thought about how Bale would fit into the team?" Ancelotti was asked. "No," he said. "I have other problems right now." The truth is that Madrid's coaching staff have indeed thought about systems and variations with Bale in the side and the question was a legitimate one. It is also one that is applicable to more than just the tactical formation on the pitch, where the most logical solution appears to be Bale on the right, Cristiano Ronaldo on the left, and Isco behind Karim Benzema. Where will Bale fit in? How will Bale fit in?
Settling will be almost as significant as scoring, although both things go hand in hand. The main reason that Michael Owen departed after a solitary season was that he never felt truly comfortable in Madrid and nor did his wife. He also encountered a dressing room where key figures preferred Fernando Morientes up front to him. Jonathan Woodgate may have had consistent injury problems but he enjoyed the experience. He learned Spanish and became popular. Steve McManaman threw himself into it with an enthusiasm, intelligence and modesty that team-mates always appreciated.
Ancelotti had explained that he did not want to talk about Bale for two reasons. Firstly because he is not a Real Madrid player "yet" and, secondly, out of "respect" to the players that are here already. That can be a careful balancing act. "Respect" is a word used a lot in football, often exaggeratedly so. Some footballers can be proud and easily upset. Some know that their places, or their statuses, are at risk. Bale's arrival alters the balance; for some, it is a threat.
Angel di María recently insisted that he was staying and in part because Ronaldo had intervened on his behalf. With Bale's signing, his continuity is less clear. And he is not alone. Mesut Ozil, already shoehorned into an uncomfortable right-side role, will find earning a place more complicated still.
Inevitably, much of the focus has been on Ronaldo. The Portuguese has still not signed a contract extension with Madrid, his relationship with the president has been strained and it is not entirely unreasonable for him to see Bale's arrival as a means of pressuring him. Yet they must do so carefully.
Figures vary with sources at Spurs suggesting that the fee will be over €100m (£85.8m). Madrid are talking about £78m. Conveniently, that is £2m less than Ronaldo cost when he joined from Manchester United. It maintains Ronaldo's status as the world's most expensive player. It does not, though, entirely wipe away the pressure and the status that comes with a huge fee.
Bale has invariably praised Ronaldo as the best player in the world. His admiration is clearly genuine; it also does him no harm to say so. Madrid's dressing room is a complex one and relationships have to be built. Ronaldo recently said that he did not wish to talk about Bale but about the players already at Madrid. He too wanted to respect his existing team-mates and some read rejection in his words: this was not exactly a warm welcome.
But he was put in an impossible position: however banal his remarks, had he praised Bale he knew that it might have been interpreted as a tactic, another weapon used in the bid to get him. Another lack of respect, this time to Spurs. The point really was that he had been asked, just as Ancelotti had been, over and over again.
Players quickly grow tired of summer sagas, the hype that brings and the turning of the spotlight on a single man, while they are the ones playing. Bale has been omnipresent this summer; as the Spanish phrase has it, they have even found him in their soup. It is not a rejection of the player but of the noise, the overshadowing of others.
When Madrid signed David Beckham, the squad became exasperated, deeply tired of it all. They were fighting for the league title but they had the England captain in their soup. They too talked of a lack of respect. But then Beckham turned up and he was not what they expected. What he represented was not what he was. On the pitch they warmed to his effort as much as his talent. In the dressing room he was professional, polite, likeable. Respectful. They are all are words that have been applied to Bale.