The Tottenham midfielder will not be short of offers to move this summer, although he will probably get a better one to stay, too
One of the few certain points in the swirl of speculation about where Gareth Bale's once-in-a-generation form will take him when his extraordinary playing feats have concluded for this season is that Tottenham Hotspur will hope to keep the 23-year-old Welshman. With Bale expressing himself only through thrilling bursts of speed and last-minute thunderbolts, and his management company, Stellar, not commenting either, the surrounding consensus from scraps of clues is that Real Madrid will try to sign Bale this summer – and he will seize the opportunity.
Always anchoring that prediction are the comments Bale made to the Spanish newspaper AS just before Spurs played the Champions League quarter-final against Real Madrid at the Bernabéu in April 2011, saying of a move abroad: "You never know, but I'm not afraid to leave the country. If a great opportunity arises, you need to seriously consider it. I left home at 15 [to join the Southampton academy]. If I leave the Premier League I'll learn another language, I'll know other people, another country. I will grow as a person."
That has been taken by many since as a signal from Bale that he would relish a move to Real. His then manager, Harry Redknapp, mused that Spurs would have to be paid "an amazing figure" to reluctantly sell their star asset.
Besides the glamour and heritage drawing players to Madrid, Real are also one of the few European clubs who could afford to pay the amazing figure Daniel Levy, Spurs' chairman, would demand, and the wages Bale would command. Real are Europe's richest club, their income of €514m (£443.5m) in 2011‑12 exceeding Barcelona's by €19m, and that of Manchester United, the Premier League's relentless earning machine, by a full €118m.
Redknapp suggested it would take a fee such as the £80m Real Madrid paid for Cristiano Ronaldo to unlock Levy's determination, and Real are still thought the club likeliest to indulge in galactic spending with Uefa's financial fair play rules coming into force. Barcelona made a record €49m profit last year but still had substantial debts, €334m, almost triple those of Real, who owed €125m.
The Bundesliga club Bayern Munich, a burgeoning European force, recorded an €11m profit in 2011-12 on a booming €373m turnover, and are expected to support their new coach, Pep Guardiola, seriously in the transfer market, but extravagance on a Bale scale is not generally expected.
The Premier League clubs with significantly higher income than Spurs – United, Manchester City, Chelsea and even Arsenal – may fancy grasping Bale for themselves, and all could conceivably juggle their resources to balance the books presentably.
Spurs' Levy, though, would balk more at ceding a player to a Premier League rival than to a choice club overseas. It is part of his determined building of Spurs, while they still lack the new stadium planned to make more cash from fans and bridge the financial gap, that he insists adamantly his is not a selling club.
Spurs point to particular circumstances for the headline players who have moved in recent years: that Michael Carrick wanted to move north and declined a new contract, Dimitar Berbatov was approaching a legal right to buy himself out of his contract, Luka Modric was persuaded to stay another year but ultimately wanted to go.
In each case Levy was a grudging seller, wanting to establish Spurs as a club who keep their top players, and he wrought huge fees, £18.6m for Carrick in 2006, £31m for Berbatov in 2008 from Manchester United, and around £30m for Modric from Real Madrid last summer, having refused to sell the Croat to Chelsea a year earlier.
Bale and his advisers, who will have the likely luxury of grand options in the summer, will point to uncertainties now, including over who will be managing Real Madrid, and say no decisions are being made yet.
In this form and with the Premier League's likely £5.5bn 2013-2016 television deals beginning in August, Levy is expected to offer Bale improved terms, even though the player's current contract already runs to 2016.
Whether Bale decides to accept that option, and stay where he is settled and flourishing, partly depends on whether, with his extravagant gifts, Spurs qualify for the Champions League next season. Their manager, André Villas-Boas, acknowledged that earlier this month, when he said of keeping the Welshman: "If we reach our objectives [of qualifying for the Champions League] we can hopefully continue to have Gareth in our club."
That is one settled aspect of the Bale discussion. When playing as well as any footballer in Europe, he does not want to be excluded from the greatest European club competition. If Spurs do qualify the betting, still, is that he will push to leave.
For now, though, not much is certain about the player's future, other than a football soaring at improbable speed from Bale's left boot into the corner of West Ham's net on Monday evening, and Europe's top clubs watching covetously.
Manchester United Sir Alex Ferguson made an offer to Southampton but Gareth Bale joined Spurs. He could follow compatriot Ryan Giggs at Old Trafford
Manchester City City are one of a few clubs in danger of failing to comply with financial fair play. They are likely to focus their targets elsewhere this summer
Arsenal The Gunners' half-year accounts show there is significant money to spend but a move for their fierce rivals' best player is unlikely
Real Madrid Favourites to sign Bale to join Cristiano Ronaldo, the player he has been compared with, or as his replacement. Set to be their No1 summer target
Barcelona Dani Alves has spoken of his wish to see Bale in a Barcelona shirt. Possible last-16 defeat to Milan may prompt a shake-up in squad
PSG Another club set to defy FFP, they have spent more than £200m in transfer fees in the past two years and would not balk at Spurs' demands for Bale
Bayern Munich There have been reports in Germany claiming Bale will be Pep Guardiola's first signing. Bayern have the finances in place for the deal
Internazionale Long linked with a move for Bale, Massimo Moratti's club may now lack the financial clout and on-field success to attract the Welshman