It is not Bale&’s fault that an obscene price has been placed on his services
What has greater worth in a world of instant gratification, relentless inanity and carefully constructed fantasy: 5,000 newly qualified nurses, 4,500 teachers, 4,200 police constables or a solitary footballer?
It’s a trick question, of course. Each is valued at £105 million. The disproportionate importance placed on profitable frivolity, in the form of Gareth Bale’s inevitable transfer to Real Madrid, is utterly indefensible, but a fact of modern life.
Bale, the man, is reassuringly ordinary. He dotes on his infant daughter and finds solace in the company of childhood friends and a supportive family. Without football, he would blend into the background.
Bale, the brand, is ingot-hot. It is not his fault that an obscene price has been placed on his services. The market is feverish and requires fresh meat of the highest quality. He has the right to resist being regarded as part of Tottenham’s fixtures and fittings.
He’s no innocent; players in his position never are. Convention merely demands his ambition is ambiguous until the money is down. The artful notion that he has reconnected with the child who once wore a Madrid shirt is not entirely convincing, but he, and those around him, have operated with a different degree of dignity to that of Luis Suarez and his learned friends. The Uruguayan is no George Eastham fighting the tyranny of football’s maximum wage. He is no Jackie Robinson dismantling baseball’s colour bar. He has few redeeming features, other than an instinctive ability to score goals.
Yet the Liverpool to which he is brazenly ungrateful is not the Liverpool of Shankly, an institution based upon socialist principles, communal pride and a deep yearning for recognition. It is a mid-ranking business with expansionist ambitions.
The modern footballer is internet hit fodder. He is as much a caricature as a fading actress with a "toned bikini body" who just happens to be caught on the beach by a passing paparazzo, or a Z list celebrity whose "wardrobe malfunction" goes viral.
Transfer speculation is sport’s soft porn, a guilty secret which is insidious, universal and a means to an end. It may consist of the promulgation of non-stories, mischief making and uneducated guesswork, but it is hugely popular. Millions share the guilty secret of a sly peek, and the plotlines are risible.
Will the shamelessness of Suarez’s exit strategy from Liverpool be successful? Will Wayne Rooney’s reinvention as a warrior with a poet’s sensitivity lead to an equally lucrative departure from Manchester United? Will "friends" of Yaya Touré succeed in securing his return to Barcelona?
I made that last one up, by the way. But now that the notion is out there in cyberspace, someone somewhere will give it the credibility it does not deserve. There are lies, damned lies and rumours spread by adolescents who operate "in the know" Twitter accounts from their bedrooms.
The art of the deal, which the Suarez camp appears to ignore, involves getting the message across in a strategic manner, without apparent artifice or aggression. Briefings are off the record, based on mutual trust and tend to massage the truth.
Clubs are hardly benevolent societies. If they want to get a player out, they have few scruples in indulging in emotional blackmail. Contracts are either sacred or a basis for negotiation, depending on the circumstances. Loyalty, perceived or otherwise, is used as a blunt instrument. Bale’s imminent departure to Madrid will merely accelerate the rush to franchise football. The elite clubs have no feel for, or affinity with, those wannabes in the Football League.