Gareth Bale says he would consider a return to the Premier League if Real Madrid let him leave, but where could he go?
Bale blames the Spanish club for not allowing him to leave sooner and says it is nice to feel "appreciated" when he joins up with the Wales squad. The 31-year-old almost left Real Madrid last summer for a move to China but it was blocked at the last minute.
Could a move to China still be on the cards? Which teams in England could move for him? Or is France a possible destination?
Here, we assess the Welshman's main options...
- Bale: I'd consider Premier League return
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What's the situation at Real?
Since last summer, Bale has made just 20 appearances for Real and only two of those came after football's restart following lockdown.
Real Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane said Bale didn't want to play in their Champions League last-16 second leg with Manchester City last month. The Welshman says he wants to play football and would consider a return to the Premier League if Real Madrid allow him to move on.
"If those options arise [interest from Premier League clubs] it is something I'd look at for sure," he exclusively told Sky Sports News.
Bale appeared frustrated that several attempts to leave Spain have been blocked by the club and says his future is in Real Madrid's hands with two years left on the contract he signed in October 2016.
A Tottenham return?
With Sport in Spain saying Bale's asking price has dropped to £15m to facilitate a move, Spurs naturally enter the picture. But his wages, reportedly £534,000-a-week, would shatter Spurs' current salary structure.
As far as Jose Mourinho goes, he's made no secret of his desire to sign Bale in the past. In December 2019, he said "You don't need an answer" when asked if he'd like Bale at Spurs, and in 2017 fielded an entire summer of questions on a potential move to Manchester United, claiming he'd "fight for his signing" if Real were willing to sell.
Mourinho has typically gone for experience in the past, but appears keen to develop Spurs' young players, saying in January: "It's very exciting to work with a young team. The young player is normally also a player that, when they have quality and the right personality, don't feel the pressure. They have no fears, they go with an open mind, they go to meet the future. So I'm more than happy."
Then there's Bale's desires. Is Champions League football a prerequisite if he is to remain in Europe? And would going back to Spurs be seen as, well, a step too far backwards?
And even if Spurs could afford him, and Jose was keen, where would he fit in? Heung-Min Son is a mainstay on the left of Harry Kane, while on the right Lucas Moura and Erik Lamela are rotated.
Then there's Steven Bergwijn, the £27m January signing who filled in on the left while Son played central during Kane's absence with injury. Spurs aren't exactly short of options; four players are battling it out for two positions, provided Kane remains fit.
Has the Manchester United ship sailed?
Sky Sports News' North West reporter James Cooper:
"Manchester United have been big admirers of Bale in the past. Sir Alex Ferguson and various others viewed him as an option they would like to bring to Old Trafford. But as far as Manchester United are concerned, that ship has very much sailed.
"The time of Old Trafford 'Galacticos' is over and they are looking for a younger breed of players they can develop and sell on in the future. The idea of getting Gareth Bale and the money it would cost them isn't attractive.
"They have already had the absolute disaster of Alexis Sanchez, they are not going to do something similar with Bale. It's a bit of a shame because there is an argument for him coming in for a season perhaps if they couldn't get Jadon Sancho, but at this moment it's not a furrow they want to plough.
"Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is his own man and wants to create his own side, bringing in someone titanic like Bale could threaten the dynamic of a squad that already has some big egos."
Elsewhere in the Premier League?
Aside from Manchester United and Tottenham, the options are few and far between. Manchester City are preoccupied with Lionel Messi, and though Liverpool do need competition for their front three, all aged 28, it's unlikely to come in the form of a 31-year-old with giant wages.
As for big summer spenders Chelsea, the final third has almost exclusively been their focus in the market so far, and their next step will be to look at a defence that conceded more goals than any top-half side.
A French renaissance?
It's hard to rule PSG out of any potential mammoth transfer, and they may well be one of few clubs that a) can afford Bale's wages and b) are willing to take such a risk on a 31-year-old.
They're not shy to bring in expensive experience - see: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, David Beckham, Dani Alves, Gianluigi Buffon - and they reportedly tried to sign Bale last summer when there were noises surrounding Neymar's interest in Real Madrid.
Is it a year too late? Probably not, but it remains to be seen whether PSG will change tack in the market after falling just short in the Champions League final.
The biggest question would surround his role in the team, with PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi insisting Neymar and Kylian Mbappe are going nowhere fast. But Angel Di Maria is a year older than Bale, and Edinson Cavani is set to leave the club, so there might be room to fit the former Spurs star in.
China, attempt two?
While Bale's wages may scare European teams away, it's unlikely to bother Chinese Super League clubs. Both Jiangsu Suning and Shanghai Shenhua were in for Bale last summer after reportedly being told he could leave the Bernabeu.
He was close to a £1m-a-week deal with Jiangsu Suning, but Real Madrid blocked the transfer and Bale remained in Spain for another year.
Given the problems Real and Bale have had in the 14 months since, there's an argument that a move this summer would not be blocked, and it's unlikely Chinese clubs will see Bale's age as a deterrence.
So that leaves Bale's desire: the Chinese Super League may not have the prestige of the Premier League or Champions League football at a European club, but leaving a big mark on a league that could have future success - a la David Beckham's move to the MLS - may draw him in.
Stay in Spain?
Spanish football expert Terry Gibson on the Transfer Talk Podcast...
"I think he will stay at Real Madrid. They have a degree of power because we're talking about clubs suffering financially, so if you're Real Madrid paying €600,000 (£534,000) a week for Bale, sooner or later Florentino Perez has to say 'look we can't move him on, please Zidane can you get him playing again and let's get some valuation from him in terms of what we're paying him every week'. That's the only way it can be resolved.
"I can imagine us having this conversation in a year's time with exactly the same situation, but I can't imagine it where Bale has disappeared.
"It's going to be hard for Zidane to put an arm around his shoulder and convince him he never wanted him to leave in the first place but they have both grown up, they can both deal with it and I think the only solution for Real Madrid is to try to get Gareth Bale back in the fold. I still think he is better than what they have got."
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