Gareth Bale's ability and ambition mean he has outgrown Tottenham

Gareth Bale collected possession, shifted the ball on to his left foot, drifted inside and crunched a wonderful 25-yard shot past the Sunderland goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.

It was the Tottenham Hotspur player's last act of a breathtaking season and, briefly, hope crackled around White Hart Lane.

Tottenham had the goal that they wanted to beat Sunderland on the final day. Now all they needed was for Newcastle United to deny Arsenal at St James' Park and they would be back in the Champions League. One of the spin-offs would be that Bale would stay at White Hart Lane.

The line had been peddled hard over the second-half of the season, with the zeal coming from the Tottenham manager André Villas-Boas. At times, it felt as though the mission to keep Bale was the primary storyline in N17, however strange that might sound.

Arsenal, though, did not falter. They closed out their own 1-0 win over north-east opposition and the established order did not change. Arsenal prolonged their proud record of qualifying for the Champions League; Tottenham were cast back into the Europa League. The players' post-match lap of honour fell flat.

"Good luck in Spain, Gareth," shouted one fan, close to the tunnel. They already feared the worst.

Nobody will ever know whether a top-four finish might have sated Bale for another season, convinced him that his club of six years was worth another roll. The Wales forward had surely revelled in wearing Tottenham's colours in their only Champions League campaign to date in 2010-11, when his performances against both of the Milan clubs catapulted him to global prominence.

It was when Real Madrid and Internazionale, among others, first began plotting to prise him away. Could Bale be swayed by the sentiment; the raw emotion of a floodlit White Hart Lane on a grand European night?

The cold, hard truth for Tottenham fans, however, is that Real, who have indicated a readiness to pay a world record fee of €100m for Bale, offer rather more than late-season squeezes to fourth-placed finishes and plucky Champions League adventures. If Bale merely wanted regular Champions League football, he could move to Celtic.

The 24-year-old wants more. He wants to experience a super club, which can compete for the biggest prizes and to test himself at the top level of club football; perhaps, as he is mindful that his country will always struggle to qualify for the major tournaments. And for Bale, the dream has always been Real.

He spoke warmly of the club before he faced them at the Bernabéu with Tottenham in the 2011 Champions League quarter-final, first-leg and it was a sound-bite from that interview which has resonated.

"I'm not afraid to leave the country," Bale said. "I left home at 15 [to join Southampton's academy]. If I leave the Premier League, I'll learn another language … I will grow as a person."

Bale has sometimes been caricatured as a shy, homeboy from Cardiff but it is wide of the mark. He is at the heart of the dressing-room repartee; always dishing out the stick and his composure in interviews and public speaking engagements has become notable.

He was the picture of relaxed confidence when he was interviewed on stage after accepting his Football Writers' Association Player of the Year award last May. Bale knows what he wants. And right now, it is a move to Real.

Can Tottenham keep him? There is no doubt that they would love to and they are resolved to do everything possible. Villas-Boas gave Bale a freer role in the team towards the end of last season, as a marauding No10, and the bond between manager and player is strong. It has been possible to see them more as friends over the past 12 months, as they have even socialised together.

Then, there is the chairman Daniel Levy who, it is fair to say, is not among Bale's nearest and dearest at present. The supreme negotiator has declined to entertain any kind of offer for Bale, even those that must surely bring a tear to his eye, and his refusal to sell the midfielder Luka Modric to Chelsea for £40m two summers ago is evidence that he means what he says.

On the other hand, he finally sold Modric to Real last summer and, despite posturing over Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Carrick, they also got their transfers to Manchester United. In the end, it's the money and mark-ups that talk to Levy, rather than the pleas from players about opportunity and career progression.

He paid an initial £5m to take Bale from Southampton in 2007 and his margins now stand to be dizzying. Levy's stance faces an excruciating test.

Powered by article was written by David Hytner, for The Observer on Sunday 28th July 2013 00.09 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


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