Most people who know me have a fair idea where I fall on the Real Madrid/ Barcelona debate. For those who don’t, I’m something of a Barça fan – to the extent where if people write Barca without the cedilla it genuinely annoys me. But it’s not a random choice between two giants of world football, the ideological differences between the two are vast, and this was demonstrated by Real spending €100,000,000 on Gareth Bale.
The idea of signing the most expensive players stretches from Bale and Ronaldo all the way back to Pérez’s first reign as President, with Zidane and Ronaldo (the other one). The last five world record transfer fees were all paid by Madrid. It’s what they do. But there were a host of more reasonably priced alternatives to Bale. Falcao, Neymar and Cavani all went for much cheaper than the Welshman in the end, so is there any justification for that sort of an outlay?
I am not Bale’s biggest fan. I find his style of play too basic, a classic punt-and-run player if ever I’ve seen one. I understand that this is not a widely-held viewpoint, and many observers seem to think that he is one of the best current players from Wales. However, to say he is worth anywhere near that sort of money is utterly ridiculous. A glance at his statistics reveals that he is nowhere near the level of the likes of Messi and Ronaldo, and whilst it’s usually unfair to compare mere mortals to them, with a price tag like that, he should be in their league.
Goalscoring-wise, there’s no comparison. He has 55 club goals to his name, aged 24, and that’s admirable. However, by that age, Ronaldo had 123, whilst Messi had a staggering 180. Even these tallies are eclipsed by another huge transfer this summer. Despite his bargain price tag of just £50 million, Neymar, at 21 years old remember, has 137 goals to his name. Bale at that age had 11, Ronaldo 32 and Messi 42. Yes, he has been playing in a weaker league in Brazil, but the figures still speak for themselves.
Who cares, I hear you say, he’s a winger, his job isn’t to score goals, it’s to set them up for other players! Don’t go there either. None of these players is a true centre-forward. They can all play up front, certainly, but are more at home playing a little deeper and maybe down the flanks. And, when it comes to assists, guess who’s the worst out of those four. Yes indeed, Bale has 58, which, to be fair, isn’t far behind Ronaldo at that age, but it is a fair way off Messi and miles behind Neymar. In fact, if you look at virtually any statistic, he is far from the quality of those three.
Statistics don’t tell the whole story, of course, and he scored however many winning goals last season, dragging Spurs single-handedly to the Europa League. You could see him as the sort of player who will, on his own, win games for Madrid, and that’s what counts. However, as easy as it is to see the other ten men of Tottenham as “the rest”, they must be pretty good themselves. He’s enjoyed relatively little success with Wales. Their only points so far in qualifying have come against Scotland, and given a relatively simple group, they could have perhaps hoped for more. Given that Madrid have the odd player capable of winning games already, will he make that much of a difference?
We all remember “that game” against Inter when he demolished Maicon down the left. However, it wasn’t a skilful deconstruction of the veteran full back. Rather, he kicked the ball a long way ahead of both of them and then outpaced the Brazilian. Three times. Punt-and-run in its purest form. Watch Messi or Iniesta with the ball at their feet and it sticks to their boots. Ronaldo can take people on at close quarters too. Even fairly slow players can wreak havoc if they have close control, think of Berbatov, Ibrahimović and, in his latter years, Ronaldo (the other one). When Gareth Bale is dribbling, he’ll maybe have four or five touches from one end of the pitch to the other. A great athlete, perhaps, but it’s not the sign of a player worth €100m.
So to find a more reasonable value for him, we need a comparison with a player around 24, who is versatile in the final third of the pitch and has scored somewhere in the region of 50-60 club goals. Also, if they have recently transferred that would be ideal. Mesut Özil, for instance. He doesn’t score quite as many but there aren’t many players in the world who set up their team mates as well as he does, he’s also 24 and was half the price of Bale, at just £42m. Why not halve that again? André Schürrle of Chelsea cost a mere £18m, is two years younger, and already has similar figures from the Bundesliga. He’s fast and can shoot, and has two years of his career left that Bale’s already had. Doesn’t look like value for money to me.
Maybe this time next year Bale will be holding the Balon D’Or and I’ll look like a fool, but I doubt it. For me, off the bat, Messi, Neymar, Iniesta and Ronaldo will all outshine him in Spain. Let’s not forget that Real Madrid have a history of sketchy signings. Michael Owen’s career stalled horribly at the Bernabeu, and Jonathan Woodgate, who cost them £13 million, was injured for a month before scoring an own goal and earning a red card on his belated début. They also turned down Ronaldinho because he was “too ugly”. Pérez is far from infallible, and this could be his most expensive mistake yet. Will Bale end up on top of the world, like Ronaldo, or dwindle away to an early retirement, a shadow of his former self, like Ronaldo? (the other one)