‘Crazy’ Real Madrid sign Bale for record fee

Deal done: The world’s most valuable footballer flashes his trademark celebration © Getty Images

Welsh winger Gareth Bale has become the most expensive footballer in history after joining Spanish giants Real Madrid for £86 million. Is any player worth such staggering sums?

For £86 million, you could pick up a Boeing 747 and still have money to spare. You could own Dracula’s castle with all of its accompanying acres, buy 0.5% of Apple’s shares or save 50,000 lives through charitable donations. Or you could procure the services of Welsh footballer Gareth Bale.

Yesterday, after a long summer of rumour and negotiation, Spanish football club Real Madrid finally unveiled Bale as their new record signing. His transfer fee – £6 million higher than that of Madrid’s current star Cristiano Ronaldo – makes him the most expensive player in the history of his sport. His wage, £300,000 per week, also breaks the world record.

Seven-figure price tags for top footballers have become commonplace. Yesterday alone, on the final day of the summer transfer window, the combined spending of English clubs passed £100 million. But Madrid’s latest splurge for just one individual is eye-popping even by these dizzying standards.

Jurgen Klinsmann, a former striker who now manages the US national team, branded the transfer ‘absolutely crazy’. And he is not alone: plenty of commentators are dismissive of the idea that any single player can be worth such staggering sums.

But others insist that the deal is not as mad as it first seems. Bale’s famous name could help sell merchandise worth millions of pounds, making him a valuable asset regardless of his performance on the pitch. And if he helps Real Madrid to glory in top competitions he will bring in even more money for the club.

And Madrid’s decision is not purely a financial one: it is part of an audacious and controversial strategy with the objective of dominating European football. Real hope to assemble a constellation of superstars so glittering that no other team can compete with their brilliance. Their nickname: ‘the galacticos‘.

The Real deal

Every sport has its giants, say Real Madrid’s supporters, and football is no exception: each generation produces a few megastars who tower above even their most talented and tenacious peers. A great team needs great players, and if £86 million is what such players cost then so be it: true genius is worth all of that and more.

But other football managers are unconvinced by this theory. Gareth Bale is unquestionably special, they say. But football games are not just talent contests and a team of great players is not necessarily a great team. Gareth Bale’s pace and power are particularly striking, they admit, but the skills of teammates with less obvious flare are no less valuable. Galacticos? There’s no such thing.

You Decide

  1. Can any footballer be worth £86 million?
  2. Is genius a myth?


  1. Write down a single sentence defining the word ‘genius’ and compare your answers as a class.
  2. The average British income is £26,000 per year. How many times higher than this is Gareth Bale’s salary of £300,000 per week?

Some People Say...

“Modern football is a grotesque spectacle of extravagance and greed.”

What do you think?

Q & A

This kind of thing is exactly what makes me hate football.
You’re not alone: many people are bewildered and even disgusted by the amount of money a top player can command. But modern football is an enormous industry worth around £20 billion each year, and the reason it is such big business is that billions of people passionately care. The 2010 World Cup final, for instance, was viewed by almost half of the world.
Well I’m not among those billions.
Okay, but there’s also a broader debate here: are superstars really so much better than their peers, or do we exaggerate the difference between the best and the rest? The same question could apply to anybody from actors and models to artists and writers, as well as stars from any other sport.

Word Watch

Real Madrid
The world’s wealthiest football club, with an annual revenue of over £400 million, and also one of the most successful. Real is Spanish for Royal, a title granted to the club in 1920 by King Alfonso XIII.
Top competitions
The winner of the Champions League, Europe’s most prestigious competition, is granted prize money of about £9 million. That is a lot of money, but the real financial reward comes with the increased sponsorship deals and merchandise sales that this success brings.
Spanish for galactics. When he became president of Real Madrid in 2000, Florentino Perez promised to bring in one galactico each year, and he has since signed an array of superstar players including Zinedine Zidane, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo. The term ‘galactico’ is now sometimes used negatively to refer to a spoiled and overrated player.


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