It happened again. Only now it's more an expectation than an exception. The world's most expensive footballer dragged over hot coals for his performance in a Real Madrid team who, on paper, should effortlessly sweep all before them.
Moreover, aside from any- quite reasonable- resentment that hyper-criticism of his contributions have become a self-fulfilling prophecy, due to a resultant dip in confidence, all non-official indicators suggest all is not well in Bale's personal life. Footage of the player being abused by fans as he leaves the Bernabau are becoming increasingly common, and suggestions that his young family have failed to settle abroad appear to have been confirmed when The Telegraph's Mark Ogden revealed on MUTV that they have already moved back to the UK. This, combined with the fact that Bale is widely known to have struggled learning Castilian, paints the player as an isolated figure in and out of the dressing room.
Sunday Express reporter, John Richardson, who has stated that he believes that a move to Manchester United is essentially 'a done deal' and that, contrary to statements by the player and his agent, he is 'very unhappy' at his treatement. This is significant as, while the online versions national tabloids will happily fill pages with baseless tittle-tattle regarding transfers, few established journalists will put their names to so strident statements unless they are confident in their sources.
Bale's return, then, seems all but inevitable. However, his options may be limited. Few clubs across the world could afford his transfer fee and wages. Bayern Munich are both wealthy and keen to rejuvinate their squad, however, given how the winger and his family have already struggled in foreign climes, it is unlikely that Germany would be any more appealing than Spain. Therefore, the Premier League presents itself as the only realistic possibility. Given that the player would likely demand Champion's League football, the only options would be the current top four: Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United.
Arsenal would seem the least likely destination given the transfer patterns and behaviour of both club and manager. Though massively wealthy and showing an inclination towards bigger spending in recent years, the £80m plus required to capture the Welshman seems improbably bold, and no link has been made thus far. This, coupled with the lack of silverwear they have seized across the last decade, probably rules them out of attracting the very elite of the game. Chelsea would surely be interested, provided his purchase would not threaten their compliance with FFP, and Manchester City are doubtless keen to rejuvinate an aging squad lacking in pace, urgency, and width.
Although he would demand a huge outlay, and the club have other positions in need of strengthening, they would loathe to miss out on one the game's few global superstars, not least to either Chelsea or their City rivals. And to be beaten to the winger by either Mourinho or their City rivals would send a message of surrender neither the board nor Luis Van Gaal would tolerate.
But aside from the fact that the transfer to the Red Devils would be the path of least resistance, the team could give him the pride of place his talent deserves. No longer condemned to being the straight-man for the increasingly petulant and megalomaniacal Ronaldo, Bale would be afforded the freedom to attack opposition as he sees fit, while his manager could return to his cherished 4-3-3 formation of vintage. With a team attuned to his needs but with the quality of team mate he could scarcely dream of in his time at Spurs, the potential for what he might achieve in the prime of his career is frightening.