André Villas-Boas has started to plan for Saturday's friendly against Espanyol without Gareth Bale as the Tottenham Hotspur director, Sir Keith Mills, admitted that the club could not hold the Wales forward against his will.
Mills made the point, in an interview with the Evening Standard, that Tottenham "very much want Bale to stay", in the face of Real Madrid's attempt to take him to the Bernabéu for a world-record fee. But Mills suggested that pragmatism could, ultimately, be decisive.
"If a player is desperate to leave, it's very difficult to force him to stay," Mills said. "We've seen it in other clubs. Even if he has a contract, you can't force somebody to play for you."
Bale is under contract at White Hart Lane until 2016 but he wants to leave for Real, who have so far offered £86m for him which, if accepted, would break the world record that Real already hold; they signed Cristiano Ronaldo for £80m from Manchester United in 2009.
The Tottenham chairman, Daniel Levy, has refused to relent and has attempted to extract an even greater price from the Spanish club. He has told them that he would be prepared to sell if Real were to include the young striker, Alvaro Morata, as part of the deal. Real are loth to lose Morata.
Bale is frustrated that his dream move is in jeopardy and his focus has been affected. He remains in no psychological state to play – an injury would be disastrous for him – and he is expected to sit out the Espanyol game, which will be Tottenham's first and last of the pre-season at White Hart Lane. They begin the Premier League season at Crystal Palace on Sunday week.
Bale suffered a minor gluteal muscle problem almost three weeks ago and he has missed the club's last four friendlies. The injury has been cited as the reason for his inability to train with the first-team squad or play in matches.
Tottenham have been big movers already in the summer transfer window, with Villas-Boas, the manager, overseeing the outlay of £50m on the striker Roberto Soldado, the midfielder Paulinho and the winger Nacer Chadli, but Mills said that other signings were "in the pipeline".
He indicated that another striker could be a possibility. "Strikers are very high on AVB's list of priorities and Daniel [Levy] is trying hard to make sure we have strength up front," Mills said. "It's a really exciting time to be at the club."
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