Not since ‘El Becks’ came to Real Madrid in 1999 has the arrival of a British player caused such hysteria at the Bernabeu. But as the economic crisis continues to deepen, is it appropriate to be spending €100 million on a player?
“THIS is your stadium. This is your shirt. These are your supporters. From now on this is your home and that of your entire family”
With these Don Corleone-esque words Real Madrid President Florentino Perez, welcomed Gareth Bale to Madrid on a six-year deal worth around €100 million (not to mention his wages of €300,000 a week) making him the most expensive player on the planet.
The 24-year-old Welsh international had flown into Madrid on Monday morning by private jet to be met by a media scrum – and 20,000 fans – not seen since David ‘GoldenBalls’ Beckham came to the capital.
The Spanish sports paper Marca alone devoted two days of solid coverage to the transfer and everything you could possibly want to know about Bale including a pull out poster and two wrap-around covers.
After putting pen to paper on his Madrid contract, Bale was then officially unveiled to fans at the Bernabeu.
The player, who will wear the No11 shirt, also spoke to his new supporters, including a message in Spanish where he said: “Hello, it’s a dream for me to play for Real Madrid. Thank you for the great welcome. Go Madrid!”
Asked about the transfer fee and what pressure he felt, Bale said at a press conference: “It’s as much pressure as I put on myself. I wanted to come here and play the best football and I’m going to give 100 per cent and try to help the team to win things.
“The transfer (fee) had nothing to do with me – that’s between Real Madrid and Tottenham. I wanted to come here whether it was for a penny or whatever it cost.”
Although he has replaced Ronaldo as the most expensive transfer in history, Bale still believes the Portugal international is the leading player in the world.
He also revealed the star was a big reason why he wanted to join Madrid.
“Cristiano, for me, is the best player in the world. He’s a massive factor in why I wanted to come here. It comes no better than him and it’ll be an honour to play with him and we’ll have a great team and hopefully win a lot of things together,” he said.
“I don’t think I need to help him because he’s already proved he’s the best in the world.”
Real Madrid has previous experience in this regard and since the turn of the century, the club has broken the world transfer record on at least four occasions, with two-time president Florentino Perez eager to recruit what he refers to as ‘Galactico’ star names.
However, it didn’t take long for critics to slam the amount of money spent.
With unemployment at 26.3%, Real Madrid’s arch rivals Barcelona were quick to jump in.
“Bale’s a very good player,” said Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino. “But the numbers are a lack of respect to the world in general.”
At a time when most of Spain doesn’t have two centimos to rub together, you’d have thought Real’s level of spending might upset many fan.
But the view however, among most is that the club is a private enterprise and can do what it likes with the money that it has…it is the political and financial establishment who come under attack rather than Perez.
“What is truly immoral is how our leaders and banks steal from us, although if I think about it I’m not sure why I am surprised,” warehouseman Enrique Gil, 34, told CNN.
“They are just a reflection of the society in this country.”
Another fan Ignacio Servan, a psychologist and long-term season ticket holder added: “I consider it entertainment, something far removed from my day to day. I’ve never been interested in the financial aspects of football and it hasn’t impacted on my support for Madrid.”
But other fans and analysts highlighted the fact that Spanish professional football has combined debts of €5.4 billion, while according to Spanish economist Jose Maria Gay de Liebana, Real’s debts are approaching $800 million.
“As a Spanish citizen I think it is absolutely immoral,” said marketing manager Javier Santos Martinez.
“I don’t believe a football club can stop paying millions but a small family company must pay or they will have to close the business. If you take a look you’ll be able to find every Spanish team owes a huge quantity.
“Most clubs in Spain live financially beyond their means and as long as the football governing bodies turn a blind eye, and they get special treatment from the Spanish revenue system, this won’t change.
“The banks seem to be happy to lend the major clubs these sums of money and they are treated in a way other companies aren’t.”
Bale’s arrival is the latest example of Real and arch-rival Barcelona importing expensive, top-level players, while other less wealthy La Liga clubs try and keep pace.
Teams such as Valencia, Sevilla and Malaga have all struggled to keep up with the high spending big two, and many commentators complain that this is hugely unfair.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of spending €100 million on a single player during Spain’s economic crisis, Real hope the signing of Bale will help the team win a record 10th European Cup, the fabled, sought-after ‘Decima’.
Then he really will be GoldenBales!