$500k a week: Is Gareth Bale worth that much?

Would you like to be Gareth Bale? Yes, you will get £256,000 (S$508,000) a week to be him. And yes, before you sign, there is also the minor matter of what it means to be him.

It is testing enough to travel to a foreign land to wear the same shirt as a Brazilian Ronaldo. But you will also play alongside a possibly sulky Portuguese Ronaldo, not to mention intrigued team-mates, in a different style of football, against Lionel Messi, with newspapers calculating how much each goal is costing the club, and fans measuring you against the gilded memories of Zinedine Zidane, and waking up to read how every misstep is exaggerated.

It is called pressure. It will come every week with the pay cheque and a whistle. You can read the pressure in the anticipatory comments, listen to it in the murmurs, feel it in the tension that wraps the stadium. You will taste it on your tongue.

Yes, they're looking, all 85,454 of them at the Bernabeu, right at you. Does your wife love you? We hope so because soon they may not.

This is supposed to be a fun life by the way. It is for Ronaldo who views pressure as his preferred snack. But perhaps for you, and me, just amateurs, this is not quite good for our hearts.

But does Bale have the heart for Real? Let us see, let us put him in boots on a field with a ball. We need him to play football because the game has embarrassed itself off the field. It is said the legendary tale, The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, was first printed in Madrid. But the tale of the Incredible Gentleman Gareth of Tottenham headed for Madrid has had an even greater touch of absurdity.

Finally, after 110 days of vacuous stories of Is He, Will He, Can He, he has gone to Spain. A journey during which we have been re-convinced of the shallowness of football. In Spain, says a Guardian report, youth unemployment is at 56.1 per cent. And £85.3 million is being spent on purchasing a footballer. If ever evidence was required of sport's divorce from real life, here it is.

Type "Bale" into Google and Christian doesn't even make an appearance. It is all Madrid's white knight. It is what he is expected to be from his first game. A hero.

He is very good, but great, but a Galactico, but a Ronaldo? The search for their finest self is every athlete's adventure except Bale must live up to an over-inflated version of himself. He did not determine his transfer fee, but he will feel its unique weight when he runs. He is a school caretaker's son who is not at fault, yet he symbolises the excess of football.

Every successive headline over the summer has made us more aware of his price. Dear god, so much? Every night-time TV report has made even the uninitiated curious. Who is this Bale? The longer the discussion, the fluffier the hype, the more cynical the question: Is he that good? And is he capable of being consistently incredible? No less will do.

Only the incredible man then can want and manage such a life. Incredible enough to believe in his own greatness even if he hasn't fully discovered it yet. Incredible enough for this Cardiff boy to believe that a grand Spanish club, willing to pay a record price for him, is not a joke or fiction.

It requires faith, arrogance, effrontery but also an otherworldly confidence. Bale has the nerve of the young and possibly the daring of the great. He will believe he belongs in this company. No, he will have to believe, else a man can fold like an accordion under the pressure.

It makes me want him to succeed for he will be examined by football's judgmental tribe like a lab specimen under a planetary microscope. Perhaps if they wipe away the glitter and dollar signs, they will see just a young man hanging desperately onto the coat-tails of his dream.

By all reports he is a personable, modest-living man, but some of it will invariably change. Galatico isn't just a label, it is a role. His club will want to turn him into a star, a brand, a god. But a Real footballer? We shall see.

And this is the thrilling part of this tale: It doesn't matter what price you pay for a man, the medical tests you run, the scouts you speak to. It doesn't matter because talent is still speculation. It's a possibility. You're never sure how far it stretches. Never quite sure if it can thrive in this company and resist the pressure.

And so we wait. And so he plays. And so maybe watching him is more fun than being him.


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