Reports from every corner of the world suggest that Real Madrid are more than happy to break the world record transfer fee to splash out on Gareth Bale. £85m is a ton of cash, and a club in Spurs' financial position would be hard-pressed to turn down such a ridiculous sum. And if PSG's interest is to be believed, that number would look more like £100m if we throw in our manager as well.
But is it worth it?
Are they? Yes, they just won the Premier League virtually unchallenged, but in four years they still have yet to put together a side remotely as good as they one they had when the Portuguese forward was disemboweling defenses on a weekly basis. With Ronaldo spearheading their attack, they won three straight Premier League titles and capped off their dominance with a Champions League trophy. After selling him, they immediately regressed and surrendered their crown to Chelsea, despite still possessing EPL top scorer Wayne Rooney and a stellar Dimitar Berbatov.
Can Spurs hope to avoid a similar regression without possessing a supporting cast of attacking talent anywhere near that quality?
Let's see what happened last time.
Last summer we were faced with a similar problem. We lost Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart and had a sizable transfer kitty to replace them. Moussa Dembele came in to replace Modric, but as good as Moose has been, it's telling that we're still shopping for a truly creative passer in midfield. Sigurdsson and Dempsey came in to replace Rafa, but both of them combined haven't been able to fill the shoes of the departed Dutchman (at least in the short term).
It's possible that for more cash better replacements could have been found, but the rest of the Modric money was earmarked for other dealings. Even had Modric and VDV stuck around, there were still gaping holes in the squad that needed to be filled. So the rest of the money that came in was reinvested in Hugo Lloris and Jan Vertonghen.
Even though we replaced the players who left and upgraded the squad, it's hard to say we had as good a team as the one that so nearly finished third in 2011/12. And if it wasn't for Bale going lights out in 2013, the record points total consolation prize we earned last season probably wouldn't have been there to paper over the cracks. (and that record points total had as much to do with how bad the bottom half of the table was as it did with how good Spurs were. the gap from relegation to 8th was about the size of the gap from 7th to 8th.)
We did well to mitigate the loss of two of our best players and balance out the squad and we stayed at about the same level, but we certainly didn't take any great leap forward.
Is there any reason to expect reinvesting the Bale money won't produce similar results?
So let's say we get out £85m, what do we do with it?
Just like last year, we've got several other holes in the team that need upgrading, regardless of whether or not Bale goes. So unfortunately, that means we can't just spend £85m on Ronaldo. Sorry. At least one striker, midfielder, and left back probably need to come in, besides replacing Bale. And if we do it wrong, we won't get baled out again by someone revealing that they're a superhero in a Spurs kit. The odds of someone stepping up next season and going from "good player" to "Top 10 player in the world" strikes me as more than a little unlikely.
The most prominent links we've had this summer have been: £20m Bernard, £20m Paulinho, £25m Leandro Damiao, £25m Roberto Solado. That's £90m, and we still haven't bought a left back. Are we a better team? It's hard to be confident that we would be. That's a lot of talent coming from abroad who has to adapt and some young players who may not have an immediate impact. Not to mention that at least one of those strikers is someone we absolutely need to purchase regardless of selling Bale.
Maybe those are the wrong guys to buy, maybe you think we could spend that money better and get better talent. But after selling Bale for £85m, you'd better believe we'll be held to ransom for even second tier talent and the truly elite players will cost even more than their already outrageous price tags.
If we sell, what kind of replacement talent can we attract?
Another big question mark is, what kind of talent can we attract to Spurs in the absence of Bale (and perhaps without AVB as well). It's all well and good to imagine a hypothetical universe where we just drop £50-60m on Robert Lewandowski and Marco Reus and have money left over, but in the real world that move is never happening. So what draws a team to Spurs?
1. We don't pay outrageously high wages.
2. We don't offer Champions League football.
3. We won't have a star name people would like to play alongside.
4. Without AVB, we don't even have a coach with a vision for the future.
We have a very good team in an attractive market in a big city with a legitimate chance at qualifying for the Champions League. And that's our big selling point. We're a stepping stone for guys with a view to the top, a great opportunity for the overlooked, and the perfect place for the occasional star who bigger clubs strangely just don't need (i.e. Lloris).
I'm not trying to sell our beloved club short, but we have to be realistic when we consider the kind of fantasy signings we'd all like to make. We've been snubbed in the past, and even backwater Brazilians like Damiao can act like they're too big for the better half of North London. We're a bubble team, and we'll mostly bring in bubble-caliber talent.
Even if in the long term we eventually emerge a stronger team, is it worth sacrificing the short term?
This is not to say that signing Bale will doom us to mediocrity forever or anything extremist like that. After all, we sold Berbatov for £30m in 2008 and two years later we qualified for the Champions League. Bernard could emerge as a truly world class talent and Damiao could be the next Ronaldo and then we're sitting pretty.
But imagine if instead of selling Berbatov, we hung on to him. And added Modric. And then brought in VDV the next year. How good could that team have been? It's an unrealistic dream maybe, and selling guys like Berba and Luka paid for the players who followed, but there's a sense that it's always one step forward two steps back with this team. You gotta speculate to accumulate, but it might be nice to just accumulate for a change.
Whatever happens with Bale, we need to strengthen the squad. And there's too much smoke swirling around right now for there not to be even a little fire. Right now is the time to consolidate what we have and push on, not hit the reset button. United, City and Chelsea all have new managers. Arsenal and Liverpool probably won't be as terribad as they have been forever. We've got a manager with a project to build and the core of a team that can really achieve something next year if a few more pieces are added to it. It's a season in flux, and we are well-placed to flux our way to the top.
Selling Bale and buying guys like Erik Lamela and Mario Gomez isn't the worst thing in the world, but keeping Bale and buying Mario Gomez is that much better. It may be naive to ask Levy to forget about the whole business side of running a football team and just buy us good players for the love of god please. And it may seem short-sighted to forego a huge windfall just for one more year with our heart-handed talisman.
But the reality is that selling our best player for the quick profit, that's the short-sighted move. That's the move that doesn't show perspective. If we sell our best players every year, we don't shake that reputation easily. We don't want to become Arsenal, slowly losing our grip on the top of the table as our captain agitates for a move away every summer. We want to go the other direction. Play the long game, Levy. Let AVB build something on the pitch. Let this team progress and see how high our ceiling is.