Signing Gareth Bale on loan from Real Madrid could prove to be a shrewd piece of summer business for Manchester United. But if things actually get to that stage it will be because the Old Trafford club have already have failed in their longstanding primary summer objective.
Jadon Sancho is the player United want, the player they identified more than year ago as the ideal solution for the long vacant void on the right flank, and the player they were ‘confident’ of getting.
But with United unable to negotiate a fee they deem to be acceptable with Borussia Dortmund – the Bundesliga side have stuck rigidly to their €120m (£108m) valuation – there is no sign of a deal being struck, despite Sancho’s willingness to return to England.
Unless they are willing to cough up the cash – there are no guarantees of that given the financial climate amid the coronavirus crisis – Ed Woodward and his negotiating team are increasingly faced with having a squad short on attacking options for another year unless they look at alternatives.
Bale, whose relationship with Real Madrid now seems beyond all possible repair, has emerged on the radar as a possible option in that sense. The 31-year-old Welshman, who United tried to sign when he was a teenager at Southampton and later even outbid Real to buy from him Tottenham in 2013, is a different type of player to Sancho, but his arrival would add to the squad.
A fit and motivated Bale is still an asset to any team. A move away from Madrid, while he still enjoys the Spanish lifestyle, could also be the fresh start he needs to kick his stalled career back into gear.
With four Champions League titles to his name – and an active role in winning three of them – Bale should have nothing to prove. But he does, in chief because of the way that last 12 months have panned out in the Spanish capital.
The problem for United is that it will be a deal that requires a level of negotiating skill that has seemingly been beyond Old Trafford officials over the past seven years.
First of all there is the issue of it being a loan, something which Bale’s agent, Jonathan Barnett, categorically ruled out as recently as July: “The best players in the world do not go out on loan.”
As much as anything, it appears to be a status thing for the Bale camp. United, at least sensibly uninterested in a permanent deal because it doesn’t fit their long-term strategy, would have to convince Barnett that a loan is in their best interest.
Similarly, Woodward and chief negotiator Matt Judge will have to skilfully persuade Bale to either take a pay cut to join United, or Real to subsidise his salary for a year in Manchester. That is some task and neither man has covered himself in glory when it comes to transfer dealings.
With such a poor record to look back on, United fans are hardly filled with optimism.
Objectively, were a suitable deal possible, Bale would not a bad addition to the United squad this summer if he is motivated to play for the club. But what it would represent if it does come to pass is yet more overall failure in the transfer market that it even got to this stage.
It doesn't change that had the Sancho talks had been successful, Bale wouldn't be on the agenda.