A couple of decades ago a show called “The Six Million Dollar Man” ran on TV for a few seasons. The premise of said show was fairly simplistic, the main protagonist, Steve Austin, who had been injured, underwent surgery where some of his body parts were replaced by bionic components. Overall his lifesaving operation cost the government $6 million, hence the title.
Back then it was unthinkable an operation of any kind could ever be as expensive. Nowadays, however, there are reports of individuals paying an exorbitant amount of money for cosmetic surgery. Yes, even in the million-dollar range. Transfer fees for players have passed the million dollar barrier (or Euro for that matter) a long time ago. Time and again have the world-record transfer fees been broken. More often than not one club in particular has set the precedent and distorted the market in the process – Real Madrid.
Out of the top 5 most expensive players in history, 4 were signed by Real Madrid. At present Gareth Bale holds the distinction of being the most expensive player of all-time with a reported price-tag of €100 million, just ahead of his Real Madrid teammate Cristiano Ronaldo, who Los Blancos signed in 2009 for €94 million (or €100 million adjusted for inflation). But whereas Ronaldo has turned out to be a remarkable piece of business, scoring 201 goals in 199 appearances in his first four seasons at the Bernabeu, it raises some questions over the economic viability of Bale’s transfer to the Casa Blanca. After all, Ronaldo has scored more than 1 goal per game for the Merengues since he signed for the Spanish capital outfit in 2009.
At first glance it’s almost impossible to distinguish between the pair. Both Ronaldo and Bale joined Real Madrid after having spent 6 seasons at a Premier League club. Furthermore, both players had a similar market value prior to joining the La Liga outfit. Although Ronaldo at €55 million was valued slightly (10%) than Bale €50 million. Oddly enough, or perhaps as a consequence of Ronaldo’s own world-record transfer in 2009, Bale’s fee (€100 million) was higher than the Portuguese’s.
In both instances Real Madrid paid massive premiums to secure the player registrations. Nevertheless, Ronaldo was somewhat cheaper (if that term is applicable) at a 70% premium to Bale’s 100%. Currently, the market evaluation of Ronaldo stands at €100 million, whereas Bale is valued at €80 million following his blockbuster move to Madrid. Nevertheless, Ronaldo’s has stood the test of time so to speak. Four years into his Real Madrid career is worth every penny the Spanish club has shelled out to secure his signature. Bale’s evaluation on the other hand is a byproduct of the huge sum invested by the Merengues rather than a reflection of his performances in a white jersey. Right now Bale is worth €80 million based by virtue of the €100 million transfer fee that has been paid for him.
Coincidentally, Ronaldo and Bale have been exposed to almost the same amount of top flight football in the English Premier League; Ronaldo has 292 appearances to Bale’s 290. But the latter has inferior goal haul than the Portuguese forward. During his time at Manchester United Ronaldo scored 117 goals, while Bale found the back of the net 72 times.
Nonetheless, Bale has proven to be a bit more creative in creating goals for his teammates, providing 77 assists to Ronaldo’s 63.
Of course, unlike Ronaldo Bale has started his career in a more defensive position as a left-back thus one shouldn’t read too much into his inferior goal haul. After being deployed further up the pitch first by Harry Redknapp, and given a free role by Andres Villas Boas, the Welshman has responded in positive fashion, steadily increasing his tally, even eclipsing Ronaldo’s total in his last season. But it can be argued that by that time Ronaldo’s focus or rather motivation was on the wane due to the sustained interest of Real Madrid that didn’t commence in a transfer in the summer of 2008. For the very first time since his arrival in England Ronaldo’s productivity decreased.
Taking Ronaldo as an example it’s easy to see why Tottenham Hotspurs chief executive, Daniel Levy, who is notorious for being a difficult negotiating partner, decided to sanction the sale of Bale. Unlike Ronaldo, Bale didn’t amass any credit that would’ve mitigated a sub-par season. Ronaldo’s desire to join Real Madrid was well-known and documented so when his dream move failed to materialize his performances levels dipped, not his professionalism though. Moreover, Ronaldo was central to Manchester United’s domestic dominance from 2006 – 2009. Bale, while a scorer of spectacular goals wasn’t as integral to Tottenham as Ronaldo was to the Red Devils.
During Manchester United’s threepeat of titles (2006 – 2009), Ronaldo average a scoring point (goals plus assist per game) of 1,00 (2006-07), 1,15 (2007-08) and 0,73 (2008-09). Meanwhile even at his very best Bale 0,91 (2012-13) was still off Ronaldo at his peak with Manchester. Not to mention he lacks the titles, though not the individual recognition.
Sure, there’s always the argument that Ronaldo had better teammates and a clearly defined role within the Manchester United set-up, but over the 6 year period before the pair joined Real Madrid, Ronaldo’s United only scored 60 goals more than Tottenham, or 10 goals per season on average. A respectable margin, sure. But not as superior as one might’ve assumed given the world-class forwards on the books of Manchester United during that timeframe (Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tevez). If anything it suggests that United relied more heavily on fewer forwards than Tottenham do or did. Either way, neither Bale nor Ronaldo were part of defensive-minded teams.
Manchester United accumulated 83,5 points per season during Ronaldo’s stay, while Tottenham gathered 61,7 points in a comparable timeframe when Bale was with the London outfit. The different starting points make an apple-to-apple comparison impossible. The Red Devils were and still are a Champions League team, Tottenham have just qualified once (twice actually but Chelsea’s 2012 triumph meant Spurs couldn’t enter the tournament).
In absolute numbers Manchester United are indeed superior to Tottenham Hotspurs but it can be argued that the London side has made bigger strides than the Red Devils in relation to their starting position. However, Bale’s rise to prominence didn’t correspond with Tottenham’s newfound status as contender for a Champions League berth. Even though the margins of Manchester United’s leap during Ronaldo’s stay are relatively incomparable; the Red Devils peaked at 90 points (+15 points compared to 2003-04) in comparison to Tottenham’s record best of 72 points (+26 points compared to 2007-08), Ronaldo’s increased productivity turned out to be the (title) winning factor. Bale at this best just gained Tottenham 2 points, meaning he was very much Spurs best player but did he make them a better team all around?
Real Madrid’s Florentino Perez clearly thinks so, and it’s easy to follow his logic. Judging by his exceptional improvement over the last two seasons one could be prompted to believe Bale is the next Ronaldo. When the Portuguese original has cost €94 million it only makes sense to pay more for the new version, especially if Bale has the potential to perform to equal standards. It worked once, why shouldn’t it work once more?
Yet that’s the point where the reasoning behind a €100 million transfer fee goes sideways. Ronaldo, alongside FC Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, have been established as the two best players in the world by quite some distance. Bale’s €100 million transfer fee suggests he’s either not far behind or on the same level already. Unfortunately he’s not. For him to justify such a hefty fee he must perform to Ronaldo’s standards, which in theory is possible. Then again, quite a few things are possible in theory.
Real Madrid pre-Portuguese Ronaldo have averaged 74,3 goals in the 6 seasons preceding his transfer. Since the former Manchester United forward has joined the Spanish side the Merengues have increased their average to 107 goals (+44,6%) or 2,8 goals per game.
If the reasoning behind Bale’s transfer was indeed the acquisition of a player capable of replicating Ronaldo’s performance levels, it would imply that it’s possible to significantly boost the goal tally of Los Blancos once more. Sure, a football match lasts 90 minutes plus overtime, hence it is achievable but not necessarily probable.
What’s more, the assumption that adding forwards equals more goals scored is flawed. One doesn’t have to look further than at Real Madrid’s eternal rival’s FC Barcelona. The Blaugrana have a history of adding forwards to their team but the results have been mixed. The Barcelona outfit has always scored loads of goals but since the treble-winning 2008-09 season (105 in La Liga) more goals have been allocated to fewer players, one in particular, Lionel Messi.
Despite boasting an attack that feature(d) Alexis, Pedro, David Villa amongst others, plus scoring 422 over the last 4 seasons (105 goals on average) in La Liga, none of Barcelona’s forwards has managed to break the 20-goal mark, except Messi. Perhaps it’s Barcelona’s playing philosophy that puts Messi front and center of every attack but it supports the theory that the amount of goals is finite so to speak.
Football isn’t a sport with blowout score lines like Basketball even if the average amount of goals in a single match has increased over the years; it’s still far off what one would consider goal fests.
Something else to consider in Real Madrid’s case is the following, the Spanish capital side has lost two consistent performers in Mesut Özil and Gonzalo Higuain who contributed a not so insignificant amount to Los Blancos total. Özil has created or scored 108 goals in 159 appearances (0,68 scoring points), Higuain 178 in 262 appearances (0,68 scoring points).
Since Higuain, Özil and Ronaldo only played together for 3 seasons; the totals for the two departures will be deducted for that particular timeframe. During that period Real Madrid have scored 326 goals in La Liga, the pair scored 67 goals and created a further 75. Even if they had shared half of those assists in between them – which is very unlikely – the pair would’ve been responsible for at least 100 of Madrid’s goals or 33%.
Therefore, the calculation or hope of an increased productivity with Bale is a longshot at best. The Madrid outfit has to compensate for the loss of Özil and Higuain first, and that’s a task in itself.
At Madrid Ronaldo actually doubled his scoring point to 1,33 (0,62 with Manchester United), which quite simply is unprecedented following a transfer. Had Ronaldo performed to his Manchester standards he would’ve cost Real Madrid €128,000 per appearance.
The calculating is as followed: matches expected to be played over the lifetime of his contract divided by the transfer fee minus the transfer fee divided by goals
But Ronaldo has been performing at twice his previous levels, meaning he effectively costs Real Madrid €64,000 per appearance.
If Gareth Bale performs to his (overall) Tottenham standards which are pegged at a scoring point of 0,51 he’d cost Real Madrid €172,000 per appearance, which is roughly 169% more expensive than Ronaldo. Even if he makes a similar leap than Ronaldo, doubling his productivity (1,02 scoring points), he’d still cost €86,000 per appearance, or 34% more than Ronaldo.
Similarly, Özil and Higuain had a combined scoring point of 1,36 while the German International earned €10 million, whereas Higuain reported salary was as high as €6 million, both gross figures. Meanwhile Bale allegedly earns €20 million gross.
It doesn’t add up, even when the transfer fees for Özil (€18 million from Werder Bremen) and Higuain (€12 million) are included in the calculation.
Bottom line: Real Madrid bought Gareth Bale based on the assumption he could develop into a performer like Cristiano Ronaldo. But to balance the books they had to sell two of their most consistent performers in Özil and Higuain, who not only were cheaper in the acquisition (a combined €30 million to Bale’s €100 million fee) but also contributed significantly to Real Madrid’s goal haul over the last 3 seasons (around 30% in La Liga alone).
Sure, Bale is one player, and it’s only possible to field 11 of them at any given time, yet spending €100 million is a bit excessive, even if Ronaldo turned out to be an inspired buy.
All Real Madrid have accomplished is to distort the transfer market even further. For the sake of future transfers it’s better when Bale lives up to the hype and hits the levels of Messi and Ronaldo, otherwise he’ll always be a reference point for a market that has already spiraled out of control.
Anything less than Ronaldo-esque numbers is inacceptable because nothing else would’ve or could’ve warranted a fee of this size.
Maybe Bale is going to prove the doubters and naysayers wrong but from the looks of it he has been set-up to fail.