It sounds like one of the most unlikely transfers in football history – but Gareth Bale’s arrival in Cardiff City would “make sense,” according to his Welsh manager Robert Page.
Bale will leave Real Madrid when his contract expires at the end of this season, and as always, his future has been a source of much speculation.
The 32-year-old will wait for Wales to play in the World Cup play-off final on June 5 before the decision. Whether he leads his country to the first World Cup since 1958 or not, Bale will have plenty to offer.
He has been linked to returning to Tottenham and also to moving to Major League Soccer in the United States, although there is still talk that he might consider leaving if Wales fails to qualify.
Then there’s talk of moving to Cardiff, which won’t just go away.
Bale would have to drastically cut his salary to join the championship. His contract in Madrid is estimated at £ 600,000 a week, more than the weekly pay of the entire Cardiff first team.
However, Bale was born and raised in Cardiff, his family still lives there, and whenever he has the opportunity to return home, he will take advantage of her.
Playing for Wales is his absolute priority. He works closely with the Wales Football Association’s fitness and medical staff, who share a training base with Cardiff in the Vale of Glamorgan.
Then there is the theory that if Wales qualifies for the World Cup, Bale could be more selective in preparing for the November tournament in Qatar, in which games he will play for Cardiff – unlike the Spurs or other best parties.
“He’s checking all the boxes,” says Page. “In the end, it’s Gareth and Cardiff City’s decision.
“And I think he’s right when he says, ‘Let’s focus on the fifth.’ [June, Wales’ World Cup play-off]. Let’s get there first and discuss.
“We can keep talking and arguing about it and having an opinion on it, and it makes sense. It makes a lot of sense. He can base himself on a training ground he knows.”
“Eventually, we’ll see what happens on the 5th, and I’ll probably be the first to ask a question after the match.”
Some may ridicule the idea of a four-time Champions League winner preparing for the World Cup by relegating to the championship to play for the team that finished 18th in the table this season.
However, if Wales were successful in its efforts to qualify, Page would be open to the idea.
“If he played for Cardiff and we qualified for the World Cup, I would not change my thoughts or respect for Gareth,” added the former midfielder for Wales.
“He would definitely be part of the World Cup team anyway. As long as he plays football outside – that’s the most important thing for us.”
Wherever Bale ends up, he will definitely perform more prominently than this season for Real Madrid.
The Welsh captain played for the Spanish champion just 20 minutes after Wales’ last match in March, when his preparations for the World Cup semi-finals against Austria involved just two Real matches since November.
Not that it was a problem for Bale on that occasion that scored two great goals to inspire Wales to win and make them one World Cup qualifier.
“When he showed up in March, he didn’t play, but he had four, five, six weeks of training, so he had the stamina to give himself the best chance,” says Page.
“It’s nothing like playing games. He won’t be sharp on the match, but he still managed to play a direct kick into the top corner and score two goals in a big match for us.”
“He will absolutely need to be part of the club and train, even if he doesn’t play, at this pace with other players every day.”
Page, his Wales team, and most fans won’t mind where Bale goes this summer. The only option they definitely don’t want him to take is retirement.
“I don’t want him to do it. The door is always open, even because of what he’s doing in the locker room,” says Page.
“I am blessed – I see how it is with the players. I always talk about it [Huddersfield and Wales winger] Sorba Thomas when I first brought him. The only time he’d seen Gareth Ball was to play Fifa on the Xbox.
“Suddenly Gareth is there, hanging out with him and talking to him, and Sorba has respect for him. You realize he’s just a normal guy, a really nice guy.”
“I see a lot of what Speedo does.” [former Wales captain and manager Gary Speed] was in Gareth and I told him. Whether you played championship football or Premier League football, you were treated exactly the same. And Bale does it.
“I want him to continue as long as he can, because that’s the effect he has in that locker room.”