Gareth Bale: new world-record transfer, or frustrating, increasingly boring, summer-long saga without a fruitful ending?
The Tottenham Hotspur winger-cum-No. 10 has been hitting the headlines since the end of last season after coming close to helping his team qualify for the Champions League, courtesy of his 21-goal haul in the Premier League.
Spurs ultimately finished fifth, just missing out on the coveted competition, but that did nothing to diminish Bale's value to the team, nor his overall standing in the league in terms of quality and contribution.
Manchester United and Real Madrid have been the two teams—as per Metro—linked most often with a move for Bale this summer, but so far, either no firm bids have been received or Spurs have resisted the temptation to sell.
The problem is, nobody seems to know exactly what's going on.
To Talk or Not to Talk?
Conflicting reports are one thing, but when two prominent media outlets report the exact opposite information, something has to be going wrong somewhere.
Darren Lewis of Mirror Football reported on Sunday that Spurs chairman Daniel Levy was simply refusing "point-blank" to discuss anything with Bale or Real Madrid regarding a potential transfer. The stance was said to be irrespective of how big Real's bid was. Lewis also revealed that Bale's agents are angry over an agreement from last year that should have allowed the player to head to Spain this summer if he desired.
On the very same day, Neil Ashton of the Daily Mail summarised how Levy had accepted that Bale would be moving and was specifically heading back to talk to other Tottenham club officials about the move.
Simon Johnson of the London Evening Standard further reported on July 18 that any bid from Manchester United for Bale was doomed to failure, with Spurs set to ignore any bid from them at all.
So, specifically talking, or specifically ignoring?
Let's head back in time.
In 2011, Eurosport were rating Bale at £40 million with a move to Manchester United on the cards. Fast forward a year, and it was still the £40 million marker, but this time plus a player, with Manchester City linked via Mirror Football.
Into February 2013, Real Madrid were linked with a "sensational" £40 million bid, according to the Daily Star, though the amount seemed rather mundane by then after two years of the same figure being attributed to the same player.
Then in March, Metro reported the same: Real Madrid and £40 million.
And now, into the summer months...
Oliver Holt of Mirror Football says United were prepared to pay £60 million, Matt Law of the same publication says Spurs turned down an £81 million bid from Real Madrid, and Neil Ashton of the Daily Mail indicates that Spurs want £85 million plus a player. All of those stories came in the space of less than two weeks.
Over in Spain, Marca continue to report that an £80 million bid from Real was turned down, but that talks are ongoing.
So what has happened that Bale's transfer market value, established at £40 million for two years, should suddenly more than double in the space of a month or two?
Could it be that, really, nobody knows?
Bale's Wishes, Spurs' Stance
While inner financial workings of clubs and their respective valuations of a player to be bought or sold might not necessarily be accessible information, how about the thoughts of the player or clubs themselves? Contact can be sought, questions can be asked and reported on.
So who is reporting what they've been told, and who is merely speculating?
From the point of view of the player, David Hynter of The Observer reports that Bale has "always dreamed of playing" for Real Madrid and that the Welshman was distraught with Levy's rejection of Real's offer. John Cross of Mirror Football takes the line that Bale has actually gone so far as to tell Spurs that he wants to leave and join Real Madrid and that he will not sign a new contract with the London club—or hand in a transfer request.
And then there's an exclusive from David Woods at the Daily Star—that Bale only wants to join Manchester United.
It's all very confusing and contrary, making it difficult to establish which party is closest to the actual truth of the matter.
Along with the earlier reports of Spurs refusing to negotiate at all, there are other apparent stances that the club is taking. Neil Ashton indicates that Levy will sell Bale if Real offer £85 million plus a player, while Darren Lewis of Mirror Football touches on club officials being worried that the winger's head is "being turned" by Real.
The Daily Star have reported further on the situation, with Paul Brown writing that Spurs were furious with Real's "dirty tricks" and wanted the Spanish side to back off—before David Woods discovered five days later that they'd recovered admirably to decide that Javier Pastore would be Bale's replacement.
BBC Sport have reported on the whole range, from manager Andre Villas-Boas talking about a new contract for Bale, to the player himself deciding he wants to talk to Real, to former boss David Pleat suggesting that the 24-year-old is "too young" for a move to Spain.
So...no particular agreement on anything other than Real Madrid being heavily involved in a potential move and an awful lot of speculation.
Bale is obviously a target, and like the previous media-heavy coverage of transfers of the likes of Luka Modric and Cesc Fabregas, this one will likely end up with Bale moving on from London.
The question is, will Bale, like those other two players, be forced to wait out another season with a club for which he apparently no longer wants to play, or will he get his wish and be transferred in a potential world-record deal this summer?
Keep reading the media updates to find out if that's the case. Just don't expect them all to get it right the first time. Or together. Or, in some cases, at all.