​Gareth Bale left the Santiago Bernabeu after the loss to Real Betis on Sunday afternoon, Real Madrid's final game of a trophy-less season, their 12th La Liga defeat of the season, without even entering the pitch. 


He departed without a wave of acknowledgement to the fans, without a proper goodbye.


Fake post-match quotes aside, the cold war between Bale and Zinedine Zidane appears to have only one victor, with the four-time Champions League winner seemingly destined to be crowbarred out of the team this summer as ​Los Blancos head into yet another new cycle.


It's an unsatisfactory end for a truly elite talent, a one-in-two ratio forward and the scorer of the best ever ​Champions League final goal - a bicycle kick of such grace and athleticism that it was naturally bested in the Puskas vote by a routine Mohamed Salah curler. 

Gareth Bale

It's a testament to both ​Bale's own talent and the size of Cristiano Ronaldo's shadow that his potential can be seen as in any way unfulfilled.


He may have spent more time on the driving range than in Spanish class and subsequently never fully captured the hearts and minds of the Madridistas but surely Bale, six seasons on from his €100m transfer, deserved a better send-off.


Assuming the Bernabeu bells have tolled for Bale, where next for a soon-to-be 30-year-old on around £350,000 a week?


Neither of the other two clubs in Spain that might be able to afford him will touch him with a barge pole, despite the necessity of summer rebuilds. Italy is an unlikely option on the face of it due to wages. ​Bayern Munich's highest earner is Robert Lewandowski on about £200,000 a week, all but ruling Germany out of the question.

​​Paris Saint-Germain are always mentioned with any big name, but unless either Neymar or Kylian Mbappe actually leaves, they are fine for forwards - assuming Bale doesn't want to retrain as a holding mid.


Portugal, despite its abundance of golf courses, has no team wealthy enough, while China would represent a culture jump far greater than Britain to Spain. Plus golf is still somewhat taboo in China.


Ruling out the other pre-retirement homes of Turkey (not enough golf), USA (possibly too much golf) and Qatar (all bunker, no fairway) that leaves the most likely of destinations: England.


Man City and Liverpool are embarrassed with forwards and even if they weren't, someone sub-27 with a spotless injury history would probably be top of the shortlist rather than a frightfully expensive, footballing elder whose medical would surely make the attending physio nostalgic for the gammy knee of Nabil Fekir.

Gareth Bale

Chelsea are possibly more probable, but then there's that pesky transfer ban...and Pulisic is already arriving. Maybe Bale could be used in some sort of swap deal for Hazard? Hmm it seems a little out there.


A Tottenham reunion is romantic but probably fanciful unless the immovable object of Daniel Levy yields to the unstoppable force of Bale's contract demands.


Arsenal? Nah.


So, that leaves ​Manchester United. And, on the face of it, it does make a lot of sense.


To the outside world, it's a superstar player joining a mega club. For Bale, it's the chance to go back to a league where he has excelled, is revered and won't feel like an outsider - all without having to feel like he's taking a step down (either in terms of prestige or salary). 

Manchester United v West Ham United - Premier League

And for United, it's possibly their best chance to attract the kind of top-tier talent they want, without the humiliating lack of Champions League football next season being a deal breaker. 


In the pros column, United's recruitment team know that Bale is a dedicated professional, who rarely speaks out on internal affairs. He is highly marketable, yet has a reassuringly dull ​Instagram page. He is also unlikely to pick up a back injury or miss training due to late-night Fortnite sessions (let's face it, he's probably more of a Wii Golf man).


More than all that though, Bale would be a statement signing for United, to use the football parlance: A Marquee.


You know, just like Alexis Sanchez.


18 months on, Ed Woodward is still waiting for the end credits to roll on his own personal horror story and to be given the option to go back to January 2018 on his Black Mirror-style choose your own adventure, where the options at the bottom of the screen read: 'Just let Man City have him' and 'Throw in Henrikh Mkhitaryan and offer £500,000 a week'.

The club's decision to pick the latter has proved ​arguably the worst transfer in the Premier League's history, with Sanchez now a pale, limp, moustachioed imitation of the defence-terrorising demi-god at Arsenal.


As well as failing to deliver on the pitch as United stutter through an identity crisis, Sanchez's ridiculous contract has seemingly destabilised the dressing room with everyone from Paul Pogba to David de Gea now thinking out loud 'well, if he's on...'


Ok, just because Bale plays a similar position, is roughly the same age and is also dear beyond belief it doesn't mean he is necessarily destined to become another big-money flop at United, but really why should either party go down that road?


United need to change the patterns of the post-Sir Alex era. They clearly require a real generational fix, rather than papering over canyons to placate sponsors and the voracious talking heads on Twitter. This summer's signings can't be made with #content for the five-star app in mind.

FBL-ESP-LIGA-REAL MADRID-HUESCA

On the player's part, with his fitness record, Bale probably needs somewhere where he can be another arrow in the quiver rather than the last desperate shot at success.


His next move may well be his last big one, and with three years on his contract still to run at Madrid, he might as well take his time and choose carefully. He needs a club to coax out his talents with love, rather than ruthless demand, scrutiny and pressure. 


He's still a superb player, all pace, power and directness even with all the injuries. It's time he found a club that will let him be just that, without asking him to be the saviour.


Man Utd probably need better right now. Bale definitely deserves better.