‘Daniel’s deal’: How Tottenham brought Gareth Bale home

‘Daniel’s deal’: How Tottenham brought Gareth Bale home

By Charlie Eccleshare and David Ornstein Sep 19, 2020 47

It was on Tuesday afternoon that Tottenham supporters first started to believe. That after seven years, Gareth Bale might actually be coming back.

Yes, there have been previous summers when rumours about the prodigal son returning circulated — in fact, it’s become almost an annual tradition — but this felt different, more credible.

Behind the scenes, the deal was gathering momentum. Chairman Daniel Levy was leading operations, determined to complete a deal for a player that sources say he has “always had a soft spot for”.

In reality though, it’s a deal that has been in the works for some time. The mechanics were being worked out from the start of the summer, while deep down it’s something Levy has wanted since pretty much the day Bale left for Real Madrid in September 2013. “Daniel loves Gareth,” said another source.

This is how the deal came about, and how excited all parties are about its completion — The Athletic can even reveal that Bale has identified a rental home with facilities that allow him to practise golf.

Although it felt as though the deal hurried its way towards completion this week, bringing back Bale has been on Levy’s radar for some time.

Tottenham enquired about re-signing him towards the end of Mauricio Pochettino’s reign, and earlier this summer technical performance director, then their chief scout, Steve Hitchen told his inner circle that Levy wanted Bale.

The key man on Bale’s side was his agent Jonathan Barnett, a friend of Levy’s and someone the Spurs chairman speaks to regularly. Levy negotiated with Madrid first but the closeness of the two men smoothed the path for an agreement to be reached this week.

But for the deal to take place Madrid did need to co-operate — something they ultimately decided against doing when blocking Bale’s move to Chinese side Jiangsu Suning at the eleventh hour last summer. This time around, their precarious finances meant the La Liga champions felt they couldn’t turn down the opportunity to remove some of Bale’s enormous £31 million annual salary from their outgoings. It was these same financial pressures that contributed to the club allowing James Rodriguez to join Everton for free earlier this month.

The broken relationship between Bale and head coach Zinedine Zidane also convinced Madrid’s top brass that there was little point standing in the player’s way. Soon after doing so last summer, they regretted the decision to keep him — while for Zidane there is still frustration that the Welshman wasn’t sold in summer 2018.

Having enjoyed so much success initially, being happy as a family in the Spanish capital and benefiting from a great contract, Bale spent a long time disinterested in a move after Madrid pulled out of that China deal. There were suggestions from some of those who know him that Bale would see out his contract before leaving as a free agent and potentially even retire. He was essentially making a point to the club about how badly he feels they have treated him. More recently, that stance appears to have softened somewhat; his point had been made and he recognised it was time to move on if an opportunity arose that appealed to him

“Everyone was fed up with this soap opera,” Madrid’s former president Ramon Calderon tells The Athletic . “It was a deal that everyone needed to be happy. Zidane didn’t want him and the player is finishing his ordeal and now he can recover. It should have happened a few years ago.”

“Ordeal” seems a harsh way to describe a trophy-laden seven years that included four Champions League winner’s medals, two domestic championships and three Club World Cups, but everyone knows what he means. Bale had become so peripheral by the end of his time in Madrid that he started only 14 of the club’s 51 matches in all competitions last season and barely cracked a smile as he traipsed around awkwardly during their title celebrations in July.

(Photo: Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

He was desperate for a change, and Tottenham were the obvious destination. The club where, over six years, he transformed himself from a homesick teenager into a two-time PFA Player of the Year still holds a special place in his heart. And the outpouring of love from the Spurs fans already is in contrast with the ambivalence of Real’s supporters over his departure.

The other option available to him were Manchester United, but Bale wasn’t prepared to be the back-up choice in case a deal for Jadon Sancho couldn’t be struck with Borussia Dortmund. United made inquiries about the Wales captain and also discussed finances but weren’t prepared to match the sort of figures being quoted. In any case, Tottenham were unquestionably Bale’s first choice — “his heart was set on Spurs,” as one source puts it.

But even with the will on all sides for a deal to happen, there were still plenty of details to iron out by the time the world became aware on Tuesday that the wheels were in motion.

Principal among them was how much of Bale’s wages Tottenham would pay, once it was agreed that the deal would be a loan rather than a permanent move. It’s been suggested to The Athletic that Levy started negotiations as low as 25 per cent, but it’s believed Spurs struck a deal in the end to pay more like 40 per cent of his £600,000 a week salary. That will still mean Bale is paid comfortably more per week by Spurs than their next highest earners, Harry Kane and Tanguy Ndombele (both are on £200,000 a week).

As the deal moved towards completion, Levy cleared his schedule on Tuesday night to focus on the negotiations, while Barnett was given a mandate by Madrid to get the transfer done. By the end of the evening, the exact nature of the deal had not yet been finalised and personal terms still needed to be agreed but Levy felt confident that Spurs would get their man.

Head coach Jose Mourinho meanwhile was largely peripheral to the signing. “This was Daniel’s deal,” as one source put it. But Mourinho was receptive to the idea and was reassured that Bale’s signature would be as well as, not instead of, a back-up striker.

Though Bale was not a priority for him this window, he is someone Mourinho tried to sign when he was managing Madrid and later Manchester United. In fact, some at Spurs still laugh wryly at Mourinho, in his Madrid days, waiting outside the home dressing room at White Hart Lane prior to a Champions League quarter-final second leg in April 2011. When the players emerged, Mourinho is said to have made a beeline for two men: Bale and Luka Modric. “Jose was open that he wanted Bale when he was here,” Calderon confirms.

Negotiations over Bale’s return continued on Wednesday, as the Madrid club shop stopped selling “Bale 11” jerseys and the official website removed him from the ‘shop by player’ option. Bale began making arrangements for his new life back in north London, and it is expected that his family will return with him to the UK. Bale, wife Emma and their young, Spanish-speaking children have loved living in Madrid but feel the time is right to return. They will now decide whether to rent out or sell their Spanish property.

As for their new home, the detail that Bale’s camp have already identified a rental property with golf facilities will amuse those who fixated on his dedication to the sport while at Madrid. Bale was nicknamed “The Golfer” by some of his team-mates and caused consternation last November when he held up a fan-made “Wales, golf, Madrid” banner as he and his Welsh team-mates celebrated qualifying for the European Championship finals.

It will probably cause similar amusement that on Thursday, when Bale was said to be having a medical he was actually, The Athletic can reveal, getting in one final round of golf in the Spanish capital. On the same day, the final arrangements for the transfer were made as, after working on his own in the gym, Bale said goodbye to his team-mates at the training ground. These were described as “emotional” by Spanish TV programme Jugones, and though this may be a touch over the top, Bale was close to team-mates Modric and Toni Kroos and not quite the solitary figure he was often made out to be.

Bale is also friendly with left-back Sergio Reguilon, who is also set to join Spurs. The pair are understood to have flown to London together on a private jet on Friday to put the finishing touches to their transfers. Bale joins on a one-year loan deal, while Reguilon will cost around €30 million (£27.4 million) and has signed a long-term contract.

In the Tottenham dressing room, there was excitement at the news of Bale’s arrival. For Ben Davies in particular, a team-mate at international level, and someone who Bale is in text contact with. Among those close to the team, it’s felt that Bale has the kind of winning mentality and gravitas that has sometimes been lacking at Spurs. “He’s not someone who’s going to sit there and take it,” a source said. “He’s made his position pretty clear at Madrid.”

Seven years on from his departure, plenty has changed for Tottenham and Bale. Some have sought to downplay his success in Madrid, but it’s hard to argue with four European Cups, two La Liga titles and a Copa del Rey — as well as scoring arguably the greatest goal in Champions League history.

Bale’s Champions League final overhead kick against Liverpool (Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images)

Spurs too are transformed from the side he left in 2013. A sparkling new stadium, Mourinho as manager, and now the kind of club that signs proven superstars such as Bale even if they’re in their 30s. While many Tottenham fans are unhappy with the direction the team is taking at the moment, this deal will provide hope for many.

But as explained on The Athletic this week, the deal should only cost Spurs in the region of £15 million, which in the grand scheme of things makes a degree of sense — even in these challenging times. “He (Levy) sold the player for €100 million and is getting him back on a free, paying only some of the salary,” says Calderon, who has experience of being on the other side of the negotiating table from Levy. “He has shown himself to be a master of running a football club. He knows the market well and how to take advantage of the situation he’s in.

“I’m sure he (Bale) will be successful. The coach will count on him, he just needs minutes on the pitch.”

For many Tottenham fans, years of near-misses on the pitch and in the transfer market meant they were waiting fatalistically for the transfer to fall through. But it didn’t.

After seven years, “Daniel’s deal” has really happened.