It’s going to be a long summer of transfer rumour and tapping up masquerading as news where Spurs and Gareth Bale are concerned. The situation is already providing work opportunities for many former professionals willing to be quoted on why it’s sensible/inevitable/preferable that Bale goes to Real Madrid/Barcelona/Bayern Munich. Some Spurs fans are already adopting an air of resignation. After all, if an offer in the region of £85m comes in, as rumoured over the weekend, it’s hard to turn down. I say that depends on how you look at it.
I think the situation is far simpler than many people would like to make out. While £85m is a lot of money in anyone’s book, Spurs do not need to sell. We are, as the board never tire of telling us, financially sound despite our relative lack of trophy success. So the question is, do they want to build a team that can win something, and therefore move the club on a stage? If they do, they need to hold on to our best players. And Bale is our best player.
At this moment, those who like to pose as wise heads see the chance to dismiss the thoughts of a football romantic. What people like me have to realise, they say, is the economic reality. Especially when there is a stadium to be built. But you have to ask, what is that stadium being built for? Will 60,000 people fill a stadium to see a team that, in 22 years, has won only English football’s second-string cup twice? That has qualified for the Champions League once? Or is it more likely more people will come to see a team that has won something, that qualifies regularly for the Champions League, and that has a genuine chance of challenging for the Premiership title?
To me, it seems clear. There’s a certain amount of cart-before-the-horse in the reasoning that says we need a bigger stadium in order to fund the team that will attract crowds to a bigger stadium. Spurs are now at a crossroads. In recent years we’ve seen key players such as Michael Carrick, Dimitar Berbatov and Luka Modric sold to the detriment of the team. Each one went in different circumstances, some the club could do more about than others. But each one set us back. The board’s stance on Modric was encouraging, holding on to the player a season longer than seemed possible and still getting a good price when it was inevitable he would go.
What the club, and Bale, have said so far is encouraging. We need to hold on to Bale, plus the spine of our squad, and recruit in other key positions. It’s true Spurs can’t compete with the big financial powerhouses, but it is not a poor club, and it has the benefit of being able to use an exciting football project to attract ambitious, hungry players. Adding to what we have provides a better chance of winning a trophy and qualifying for the Champions League, both genuine achievements that will boost the club and the business, and make filling a new stadium regularly more likely.
There’s always the danger that our owners, an investment company, will see a big money offer as too good to turn down. At which point you can expect to hear stories of how, really, it is Bale that wants to go. There’s also a danger that the club could see a big offer as essential for securing the stadium funding. Either stance would, in my opinion, be a mistake. It’s still the case, despite every effort to make it different, that sporting success is what attracts audience. If Spurs sell Bale, for whatever reason, the club signals its embrace of second best, of almost there. Of course no player is bigger than the club, but it would take a pretty special deal to move the club on if Bale did go.
So let’s hope our board keeps its eye on the ball. “Almost successful” is not the sort of branding that sustains a business at the top.