Gareth Bale, in limbo over his proposed transfer to Real Madrid, will not play in Tottenham Hotspur's opening three matches of the season.
Bale has not trained fully or played in the past four weeks as he has suffered from, first, a minor gluteal injury and then a slight foot problem. At the same time, the 24-year-old has had to contend with the frustration of the Tottenham chairman, Daniel Levy, blocking the move that he wants to the Bernabéu. Real have offered €100m (£86m) for him but Levy wants £100m or the cash-plus-player equivalent. At present, there is impasse.
The Wales forward has missed virtually the whole of pre-season and fears that if the transfer goes through to Real, he might struggle for sharpness at the outset. He has been reluctant, though, to put his body at risk for the fear of suffering any problem that could derail the move.
The manager, André Villas-Boas, said Bale would miss the Premier League opener at Crystal Palace on Sunday, the Europa League play-off first leg at Dinamo Tbilisi next Thursday and the league game at home to Swansea City on Sunday week, because he has little match fitness.
Tottenham face the return against Tbilisi on 29 August before playing the north London derby at Arsenal on 1 September, one day before the transfer window closes. Bale is a doubt for both of those games meaning that, if he gets the transfer, he might already have played his last game for Tottenham.
"Gareth hasn't been involved since the first friendly [against Swindon Town on 16 July] so pre-season has gone by without him being involved so much," Villas-Boas said. "So for Palace, for Tbilisi, for Swansea, he will not be in line to threaten to come back.
"Obviously, he is very far off regarding his fitness compared to the others. So it will take some time to bring him back to the level that the others are [at] after six weeks [of pre-season]. But the player is a super-athlete."
Villas-Boas was asked about Bale's mental state. "Nobody knows because the player doesn't speak," he said, referring to Bale's public silence and attempting to deflect the question. "The only thing that we are able to see or you are able to see is the player arriving in and out of the training ground."
Tottenham's official stance is that Bale is not for sale, although they have had talks with Real, telling them that they would be prepared to do business if Real were to include Alvaro Morata in the deal. Real do not want to lose the young striker.
Tottenham continue to push ahead with signings and announced the £9.5m purchase of the Toulouse defensive midfielder Etienne Capoue, which has taken their overall summer spend in fees to £59.5m. Villas-Boas said the club had other targets in mind, as he talked of their ambitions for the season, while he toed the party line about being unwilling to lose Bale, despite the impression that Tottenham have been spending against the anticipated windfall from his sale. They have an interest in the Anzhi Makhachkala forward Willian and the Steaua Bucharest centre-half Vlad Chiriches, among others.
"There are still a couple of things to do regarding the team," Villas-Boas said. "I think it will probably take us to the last day of the window to complete everything. Our idea is to build a team that has two players per position – three in the goalkeeper's case – that allows us to keep the same quality. This is why we have been very, very active. If we can make all of the deals that we have planned for the remaining weeks, hopefully we can threaten.
"Our idea is to count on Gareth. Ideally, we would like the player to continue belonging to Tottenham … this is where the future is for him and for us. We are aware that Real Madrid are interested in the player. It doesn't mean that we are willing to negotiate him.
"We can speak to the players regarding their ambitions and we can explain to them that, at certain stages, players are under contract and have the responsibility towards their clubs and we, as a club, or the chairman as the person who controls the club, has to defend their own interest."
Villas-Boas, who talked up the role that the technical director Franco Baldini had played so far this summer, was asked whether there might be a worst case scenario regarding Bale, in which he was sold for big money but too late for it to be reinvested.
"No, because this season, we have gone an extra level in terms of our investment in new players and maybe this is a different pattern from seasons previously," Villas-Boas said.