André Villas-Boas said that Gareth Bale had been under no "obligation" to report to White Hart Lane for Tottenham Hotspur's 1-1 friendly draw against Espanyol on Saturday because of injury as the Wales forward's proposed transfer to Real Madrid continued to cast its inescapable shadow.
Bale's no-show for the club's only home fixture of the pre-season was conspicuous and it would surely not have happened had he not set his heart on the move to Real, who have indicated a willingness to pay €100m for his signature. Spurs have strongly resisted the sale.
Villas-Boas watched Roberto Soldado, the club-record £26m signing from Valencia, mark his debut with a goal from the penalty spot and Paulinho also impress in his first appearance for the club after his £17m move from Corinthians. But the manager could not escape awkward post-match questions about Bale's absence and the saga in general.
Bale has not played since 16 July because of a gluteal injury and now a foot problem and Villas-Boas believes that his participation in the club's first Premier League match at Crystal Palace next Sunday is unlikely. Before that, Bale will report for international duty, for Wales's friendly against the Republic of Ireland in Cardiff on Wednesday.
Tottenham's medical staff will pass on all of Bale's fitness data to their Welsh counterparts and the final decision over whether he features against Ireland will be left with the Wales manager, Chris Coleman. "Gareth is training on his own so there is a possibility that he makes a recovery," Villas-Boas said. But it is highly unlikely that he will feature in the match.
"I don't think Gareth was here today … it's not an obligation [because he is injured]," Villas-Boas said. "The only thing I can say about the stories [about Real] is that I am not going to comment. The only thing I can tell you is that the player is under medical department treatment on this pain in the foot that has been disturbing him.
"He is far, far off in terms of fitness regarding what the others have done because he has stopped for three weeks, since the last time he played for Tottenham, so I wouldn't expect [him to play against Palace.]"
Villas-Boas insisted that the high-profile stand-off between Tottenham and Real over Bale, and the related impact on the player's psyche, had not had any effect on the rest of his squad, who have continued their preparations as normal.
But Villas-Boas is frustrated that, with the season only a week away, his squad is unsettled in general, and he predicted plenty more ins and outs before the transfer window closes on 2 September. Tottenham have all but completed the ¤11m signing of the Toulouse midfielder Etienne Capoue but Villas-Boas suggested that the final week might be frenetic.
"What you have to recognise is that five-and-a-half weeks have gone by and, between buying and selling, we haven't had time to train with the team together," Villas-Boas said. "Also, because Soldado and Paulinho arrived last week, they weren't involved in the Monaco fixture [last weekend]. There will be more players to arrive; there will be more players that are going to leave so, at this time, we are still a team in prospect.
"We still have lots of things to do. This last week in the transfer window can be surprising. I can't tell you that we have stopped in the transfer market because we haven't. This means players coming in and players going. We will continue to try and re-strengthen ourselves."
Soldado delighted the home crowd with a performance of instinctive touch and darting menace while Paulinho caught the eye with his skill and readiness to surge into the box. Villas-Boas was also cheered by the return of Younes Kaboul and Sandro as second-half substitutes after long-term injury problems.
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