A real Bale of Money!

Last season, the winner of the PFA’s (Professional Football Association) Player of the Year award, Gareth Bale, scored an impressive 21 goals in 33 League games. But still, it was way less than Lionel Messi’s 46 from 32 matches or Ronaldo’s 34 from 34 — the undisputed one and two of world football. To catch up, Bale, irrespective of his new millions, has to work doubly hard, writes Ayon Sengupta.

It’s been a rough couple of years. Human resources managers in corporates worldwide keep trying their best to save that extra penny, governments and policy-making bodies rack their heads to come up with newer and more bizarre austerity measures. The unemployment rate keeps worsening in the U. S. and many a European nation is now limping only on external stimulus. The free market has made us captives, with mortgage and EMI worries keeping us — more than half the world — awake and sweating (irrespective of the continental drift) at the dead of night.

Yet there are excesses. Reliance owner Mukesh Ambani’s Rs. 70 lakh-plus a month electricity bill for his 27-floor Mumbai dacha (he reportedly doesn’t stay there too often), Kim Kardashian’s USD100,000 shopping spree in Paris, the Congress-led UPA government’s reported Rs. 100 crore ‘Bharath Nirman’ advertisement blitzkrieg, the multi-layered clothing of Roadside Romeos in the sweltering Chennai heat... Or, for that matter, Real Madrid’s GBP85.3 million (Euro100 million) buyout of Wales winger Gareth Bale from Tottenham Hotspur.

Converted to the ever-depreciating Indian Rupee, that Rs. 874 crore (roughly) is more than two-thirds of India’s Rs. 1219-crore sports budget for 2013-14.

The 24-year-old Cardiff lad’s transfer fee has dwarfed even the GBP80m paid by Real for Portuguese international Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009. Bale, now earning a weekly wage of USD465,000, is expected to light up, with his football wizardry, a country which has a 56.1 percent youth unemployment rate. According to the August 2013 Eurostat data, 883,000 under-25 professionals in Spain are currently out of work and Bale’s electrifying pace or cheesy heart-shaped goal celebrations at the Bernabeu will be too little to cheer that lot.

France legend Zinedine Zidane (now an assistant coach at Real), who knows a thing or two about records and record-breaking transfers, having made a move to Real from Juventus, for a then-record fee of GBP53m in 2001, rightly feels aghast. “Ten years ago, they bought me for Euro75 million and I said I wasn’t worth it,” he says. “Today, I tend to say a player is not worth that. Two clubs agree on a price and no one is forcing the other to do anything. That’s football, unfortunately. It’s incomprehensible with what’s happening today to pay so much.”

However, this transfer, the salary and the surrounding flimflam firmly puts the gangster-looking (It is only a coincidence that his girlfriend’s father is on trial in the U. S. for global financial fraud), but shy player amongst the big three of football. Surprisingly, though, four years ago, Bale, then a Tottenham dud, still a klutzy defender (left back), was on the verge of a GBP3m move to Birmingham City, almost handing the shrewd owner, Daniel Levy, a rare loss on investment. Spurs had paid Southampton GBP7m for Bale in 2007.

But a failed negotiation and a chance for Bale to shift to left wing in mid-2010, to accommodate Benoit Assou-Ekoto, returning from an injury layoff, changed both the player and Levy’s fortunes (Tottenham has earned a profit of GBP2 million on the recent transfer market despite signing 11 players.). From thereon, Bale went on to score 49 goals from 127 games in three seasons, particularly drawing the attention of the European elite, scoring thrice in a losing goal-frenzy (4-3) Champions League away game against Inter Milan at the San Siro on October 20, 2010.

Last season, the winner of the PFA’s (Professional Football Association) Player of the Year award, Bale, scored an impressive 21 goals in 33 League games. But still, it was way less than Lionel Messi’s 46 from 32 matches or Ronaldo’s 34 from 34 — the undisputed one and two of world football. (See stats to compare the League performances of the three, last term.) To catch up, Bale, irrespective of his new millions (one surely can argue about his true worth), has to work doubly hard.

Yet Real President Florentino Perez had no qualms in spreading out his riches (despite a debt burden of Euro 590m) to bring Bale to the fashionable Spanish capital. But to folks well versed in the economics of football this is no riddle at all. The game was only a sport generations ago and now it’s in the sport of business. Bale is capable of carrying forward the already world-acclaimed Real Madrid brand. His blown up billboard in New York Times Square — only the second British footballer, after David Beckham, to have made it there — clearly states the potential. Real is believed to have recovered half of Ronaldo’s transfer fee in a year’s time by selling more than a million of his embossed jersies and Bale surely has the gumption to travel an extra mile. Television revenues and subsequent profit sharing too is based on star power and Bale’s name on a team sheet will certainly do more good than harm.

Nonetheless, this astronomical sum again proves beyond doubt that in football’s money mayhem, fuelled by advertising and television rights millions, no figure is too much for short-term ambitions. The recent spurt in West Asian investment in football is definitely no mere happenstance. Even Barcelona departed from its long term policy of promoting from within and signed Brazilian Neymar for GBP48.6m. Similarly, it now has a new shirt deal with Qatar Airways, coming down from its previous stand of not sullying the famed jersey with logos of commercial brands. (Last season’s sponsor, Qatar Foundation, is said to be a non-profitable, charitable organisation, but people are free to cast their doubts.)

Combined, the top five Leagues in Europe — EPL, La Liga, Serie A, Ligue 1 and Bundesliga — had a summer spending of GBP1845 million, with the Premiership clubs leading the race with a record outlay of GBP630m. Germany, irrespective of its relatively better financial health, was the most tight-fisted, clubs there paying only GBP230m.

“When I was young I thought money was the most important thing in life, now that I am old I know it is,” Oscar Wilde once said, probably foreseeing the opulent labyrinth of today’s football business. And in this world of unimagined intemperance Gareth Frank Bale, once a flop, now a star, has earned the whites (the Galacticos colour) the right to croon and make us feel dwarfed with both the squillions in his vault and his dogmatic bull run.