At Real Madrid they have already erected a tented scaffold in one of the stands at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, a small stage upon which they hope the football world will focus later this week. Gareth Bale, the Cardiff boy who made good at Tottenham Hotspur, is set to be unveiled as the world's first €100m (£86m) footballer barring an unlikely counter bid from Manchester United. The Spanish economy may be wheezing in recession, but Real are intent upon bucking the trend.

Even by Real's standards the fee is staggering, considering this is a player who was almost sold by Tottenham Hotspur for next-to-nothing just four years ago and who has played only one season in Europe's elite competition, the Champions League. It is made more extraordinary because the Welsh international is likely never to feature in a World Cup: the ultimate marketing vehicle for the stars of the game – and their clubs.

But Real Madrid have been wooed by his recent consistent brilliance at White Hart Lane with the 24-year-old duly named both footballer of the year and young footballer of the year by his fellow professionals in April, having finished last season with 31 goals in all competitions. His move would eclipse the £80m paid by Real to take Ronaldo from Manchester United in 2009.

Completion of the transfer would be the high water mark of an unprecedented summer of spending across elite European football, as competing oligarchs buoyed by the soaring value of TV deals have lifted spending power across the continent's biggest clubs.

The Premier League may be about to lose one of its leading lights, but English top flight clubs have still forked out over £460m on players in the current transfer window. That figure will expand further ahead of next Monday's 11pm deadline for deals to be done, and should break the previous record of around £500m, established in 2008, for a single window's business.

A new £5.5bn television deal guarantees the Premier League's bottom club £63m – more than the champions, Manchester United, earned from the broadcasting pot last season. There is more money pouring into the top division than ever before and that is reflected in transfer fees that are often an expression of power in the game.

"Football reflects life, albeit with a ball, so the rich just keep getting richer," said Jon Smith, co-founder of the leading First Artist Management agency. "The rich clubs spend because they can."

Manchester City have spent a little under £100m almost unnoticed. Tottenham, even with Bale on his way out, have broken their own transfer record twice. Chelsea can sign a £30m player, in the Brazilian Willian, almost on a whim. And yet what makes this summer all the more unique is that, where Roman Abramovich's Chelsea, the Glazer family's Manchester United or even City under the Abu Dhabi United group used to splash the cash most extravagantly, alongside Barcelona and Real, now many more clubs across Europe have emerged to join the frenzy.

French champions Paris St Germain are under Qatari ownership and were able to pay £55m for Edinson Cavani, a Uruguayan forward previously at Napoli who had been courted by English clubs. AS Monaco, bankrolled by the Russian Dmitry Rybolovlev, only returned to the French first division at the end of last season but have spent over €150m in the hope of mustering an immediate title challenge. They beat sides at the top of the Premier League to buy Atlético Madrid's Colombian forward, Radamel Falcao, who cost an eye-catching £53m.

Germany's Bundesliga, which provided both finalists in last season's Champions League, has also benefitted from its own new broadcasting deal to emerge as a financial and footballing power. Bayern Munich, the reigning European champions, are now under the stewardship of Pep Guardiola – world football's most coveted coach – and were able to entice Thiago Alcantara from Barcelona earlier this summer just as Manchester United were preparing to announce the signing of the midfielder.

Barcelona took the brilliant Brazil striker Neymar from Santos for €50m to refresh their forward line. If suggestions the Catalan club have already recouped a large proportion of that fee in sales of Neymar's number 11 shirt seem far-fetched, they can at least expect to make a large chunk of that money back in global marketing monies alone. Indeed, all these mind-boggling deals were completed in a summer when Uefa's newly imposed Financial Fair Play rules were supposed to be taking effect, with clubs supposedly restricted to living within their means.

"I just hope Uefa make sure it's Financial Fair Play for all, and not just those clubs who have the ability to sell their training ground more than once," said Smith.

That was said with tongue in cheek but reflects the potential loopholes in the Uefa president Michel Platini's plans for regulation. Real's pursuit of Bale has already drawn stinging criticism from the Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.

"It makes a joke of the FFP regulations," he said. "I find it amazing that in the year the regulations come in, world football has gone completely crazy."

And yet Real consider the £86m arrival of a stellar player a means of reimposing their authority. The president, Florentino Perez, has personally driven the club's galactico culture for high-value players and was anxious to start his fourth term with a bang. An egotist and a populist, Perez is a figure who enjoys the summer months far more than the season itself because he can't control everything that happens out on the pitch. Real, who set the benchmark with the arrivals of Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane, Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo, are about to establish a new world record fee. Football's spending has never been more lavish.

Record signings

1893 Willie Groves West Bromwich Albion to Aston Villa £100

1905 Alf Common Sunderland to Middlesbrough £1,000

1922 Syd Puddefoot West Ham United to Falkirk £5,000

1928 David Jack Bolton Wanderers to Arsenal £10,890

1952 Hans Jeppson Atalanta to Napoli £52,000

1961 Luis Suárez Barcelona to Internazionale £152,000

1968 Pietro Anastasi Varese to Juventus £500,000

1975 Giuseppe Savoldi Bologna to Napoli £1.2m

1984 Diego Maradona Barcelona to Napoli £5m

1992 Jean-Pierre Papin Marseille to Milan £10m

1996 Alan Shearer Blackburn Rovers to Newcastle £15m

1998 Denílson São Paulo to Real Betis £21.5m

1999 Christian Vieiri Lazio to Internazionale £32m

2000 Hernán Crespo Parma to Lazio £35.5m

2000 Luis Figo Barcelona to Real Madrid £37m

2001 Zinedine Zidane Juventus to Real Madrid £45.6

2009 Kaká Milan to Real Madrid £56m

2009 Cristiano Ronaldo Manchester United to Real Madrid £80m