By selling Gareth Bale, Tottenham would become a better club
If you hang around big business long enough, two idioms become rote: "Money is power" and "Everyone has a price." The Barclays Premier League certainly is big business, especially at the top of the table, where Tottenham is desperate to claw its way into the top four and establish itself as a regular Champions League club. After two seasons of near misses, the question now is how best to do it, and with Real Madrid's reported mega-lust for Spurs' star Gareth Bale, Tottenham's macro grasp of those two idioms will soon become readily apparent.
If media reports are to be believed, Real Madrid is willing to break the all-time world transfer record to acquire Bale, to the tune of at least £86 million (or around $135 million U.S.). That price -- and while European soccer reporting accuracy leaves a lot to be desired, ballpark numbers will serve fine in this case -- would be a full six million pounds more than what Madrid spent to acquire Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009 at the same age as Bale (24).
As incredible as Bale was last season, and as wholly responsible as he was for Spurs nearly pipping Arsenal for fourth, he's not as good a player as Ronaldo was when he was purchased, and he's certainly not three times the player as some other major acquisitions made this season by Spurs' direct competitors. There's a significant argument to be made that Luis Suarez is a better all-around player than Bale at this point, and his fee could be 35-40 million pounds less than Bale's if he moves from Liverpool to Arsenal.
This is all an overly detailed way of saying: There is NO way Gareth Bale is worth this fee. And despite some possible arguments to the contrary, there is NO way Spurs shouldn't sell him.
Much of the argument for keeping Bale centers around the fungible concept of ambition, where an upwardly mobile club like Tottenham doesn't want to get further labeled as a seller to the mega rich. Madrid already unsettled and then poached Luka Modric from Spurs last season, and appear to have taken numerous pages out of the same playbook this time around. In the food chain that is the highest levels of European soccer, if you're not eating, you get eaten, and this situation looks like Bale is the main course after Modric was served up as Madrid's intermezzo.
Spurs fans can rightfully believe they have enough team to break into the top four if they manage to keep Bale. The club did finish fourth two seasons ago (with Bale not yet approaching last season's standard), but were denied their rightful spot when Chelsea somehow won the entire competition while finishing a tepid sixth in the league. UEFA elected to let the champs defend their crown, vaporizing Spurs' spot in the playoff round in the process. Last season, Tottenham finished a point behind archrival Arsenal for the final berth. Add in newcomers Paulinho and Nacer Chadli plus the very-rumored pursuit of striker Roberto Soldado, and there's every reason to believe Tottenham is good enough to get there with another Bale superstar turn.
Would it make financial sense to keep Bale then? Well, the fourth-place side in the league table (assuming they make the Champions League group stage via the playoff round) stands to earn a minimum of around £13 million between TV revenues and performance bonus, and the total goes up from there. The last time Tottenham made the Champions League in 2010-11, the club pocketed around £27 million, due to a run to the final eight and a different TV revenue distribution. When Manchester United lost to Barcelona in the final that same year, the club earned in the neighborhood of £45 million, aided considerably by the club's second-place finish the season before which earned them a much larger percentage of the Premier League's TV revenue take. Those totals are solely UEFA distributions and don't include additional match-day revenues from the group and knockout rounds. In comparison, English clubs may earn a few million pounds from a Europa League appearance.
So yes, on the basis of the financial windfalls available, if Levy and Co. believe keeping Bale will deliver them to the Champions League in 2014-15, and that status will enable them to further strengthen the club to where they could push further up the table and deeper into the Champions League, you can argue that it's worth the gamble to keep Bale for at least this season. Barring catastrophic injury, he will still have plenty of value next summer, even if Madrid is no longer willing to overpay to an enormous extent to nab him. This, of course, assumes Bale's mental state after a failed move would allow him to provide the same on-field quality this season, which in itself is a risk (with Wednesday afternoon's report that Bale informed manager Andre Villas-Boas that he wants to leave as added evidence).
Where the gamble mostly breaks down, though, is in the belief that Tottenham must have Bale to make the Champions League, and that possible falsehood is heavily rooted in the enormous fee being bandied about. Simply put, £85 million is an absurd amount of money to have at your disposal without dipping one pence further into your club's finances. If it's true that Madrid is willing to include a player like Angel Di Maria as a further makeweight (and to get his salary off the books), it would be insane for Tottenham to turn down a deal.
Assume you get Di Maria in the transaction. Now include the purchase of Soldado for £30 million or so. That still gives you the funding to buy another £30 million player and use the leftovers to cover the increased salary burden for the multi-year deals these players would require. Or you could buy a £20 million guy and another £10 million player. Or you could speculate with a bunch of cheaper purchases to add even more depth and roster flexibility, so Spurs don't wear down over the 38-match season with Europa League and two domestic cups also to manage. Chadli is a fine player who should make an impact this season. He cost Spurs £7 million.
Looking at Spurs' current roster, isn't there a significant argument that a team with Di Maria, Soldado and someone like Schalke's Julian Draxler is a better team than one solely with Bale? Or if you assume Soldado is coming anyway, add a fourth world-class piece to the comparison. That's where the dissonance comes in. Many people are spinning a possible sale of Bale as Spurs giving up on this season's Champions League push when it's entirely possible the sheer magnitude of the deal will make them a better club for this season, as well as provide them with more assets to keep or sell going forward. At worst, they can reevaluate next summer knowing that they cashed in a prized asset for maybe double what his price really should be.
Given the league season begins two weeks from Saturday, this can't drag out much longer. Levy will continue to drive a brutal bargain knowing Madrid's desperation to add another luxury item to their stable (whether or not Bale actually fits a need). But at some point soon, there's a season to tend to, and as Spurs found out last year, every match and every point matters. If they're going to keep Bale, he's going to have to start training soon, and the club won't want him to do that if they're still looking to sell. It should make for an interesting rest of the week, and it should eventually make for the largest transaction the soccer world has ever seen. Spurs really have no choice, because money is power, and everyone has a price.