Gareth Bale: Fans flock to world's most expensive soccer star
Gareth Bale reportedly got 100 million euros ($132 million) for a 6-year contract with Real Madrid, the Spanish soccer club that has won nine European championships.
MADRID — Thousands of Real Madrid fans flocked to the Bernabeu to welcome Gareth Bale on Monday after the nine-time European champions sealed the purchase of the Wales winger from Tottenham Hotspur for what the London club said was a world record fee.
The summer's longest transfer saga finally ended on Sunday when Spurs announced they had sold Mr. Bale to Real for 100 million euros ($132 million) and the La Liga club confirmed he had signed a six-year contract.
The 24-year-old, the latest "galactico" signing engineered by the world's richest club under president Florentino Perez, passed a medical at a clinic in Madrid on Monday morning before signing his contract and being presented to excited fans inside the giant arena.
Wearing a sharp black suit, white shirt, and black tie, Bale listened to a translation as Perez introduced him and described him as an "exceptional footballer".
Real had unearthed a picture of Bale wearing a club shirt as a child and Perez said the Welshman had always dreamed of playing for the club.
"Bale's determination made it possible for him to be here today," said Perez, his speech regularly interrupted by cheers. "The moment he dreamed of as a child has arrived. As of now, this is your stadium, this is your shield, and these are your fans. This is your home."
Bale, who was accompanied by members of his family, then sprung a surprise by making a brief statement in Spanish. He told fans signing for the club was "a dream come true" and he hoped to help them win the "decima," or tenth European title.
He thanked them for their welcome and concluded by punching the air and shouting "Hala Madrid!", the club's traditional rallying cry, drawing another immense cheer.
He quickly changed into Real's all-white uniform, including his new number 11 shirt, and took to the pitch, before throwing and kicking balls into the crowd.
At a later news conference, Bale fielded questions from Spanish and British media and said he was well aware of how important winning the Champions League was for the club.
"I wanted to play Champions League football. It was a massive reason," he said, adding that one of his earliest memories of Real was the spectacular volley Zinedine Zidane scored in the 2002 final against Bayer Leverkusen.
"We want to win the 10th European Cup, and I hope I can help make that dream come true for the club and the fans."
A construction magnate in his second stint at the helm of the club, Perez is hoping the addition of Bale will help Real finally end losing streak in Europe since their last continental title in 2002.
Coach Carlo Ancelotti can deploy his new player in a formidable attacking trio with Portugal forward Cristiano Ronaldo and France striker Karim Benzema as Real attempts to wrest the Spanish title back from arch rivals Barcelona.
Quizzed about which position he might occupy, Bale said he was happy to play wherever Ancelotti decided.
He said he was looking forward to playing alongside Ronaldo, previously the world's most expensive player after joining from Manchester United for around 94 million euros in 2009.
"He's the boss here I think," Bale joked when asked who would be taking the attacking free kicks.
"He's the main player, the best player in the world and I want to learn off him.... Every player here is world class, so I know I can't just walk straight into the first 11, and I'll have to work hard. I enjoy playing all the positions, to be honest, I don't know if I have a preference anymore. Wherever the manager sees fit for me to play, I'll be giving 100 percent and doing what he says."
Bale, who said he was learning Spanish, will join up with Wales later on Monday and could make his Real debut after the international break in their La Liga match at Villarreal on Saturday, Sept. 14.
The price Real paid for him has drawn criticism in Spain at a time when the nation is in the grip of a punishing recession and unemployment is hovering just below 30 percent.
Ordinary Spaniards are also being forced to swallow cuts in wages and benefits and the government is slashing spending on public services like health and education.
"The transfer is nothing to do with me," Bale said when asked about his price tag. "I think that's between Real Madrid and Tottenham. Whether for a penny or whatever I wanted to come to the football club."
(Editing by Justin Palmer)