Gareth Bale pictured by Spanish media swimming in a Marbella villa
Gareth Bale's amazing 100 million euro move to Real Madrid has been the biggest football story all summer, and when the player was pictured lounging in a sunny Spanish swimming pool it seemed the final chapter was about to close.
Over the course of the last few months, the possibility of the Welshman heading to the Bernabeu for a world record fee has gone from far-fetched gossip to concrete reality.
Since late last week, newspapers in Britain and Spain have been reporting that the deal is now set in stone. Both clubs have been talking openly about the possibility of the transfer, and everyone appears to be merely waiting for the lawyers to finalise the crazy £310,000-a-week contract for the 24-year-old.
Bale appeared to be waiting around for the deal, too: with Spurs having given him the weekend off, he headed out to Spain - where else? - to soak up the sun and prepare for his unveiling by Real.
Bale was tracked down by a Spanish media to a villa in Marbella, and was snapped through a gap in the fence enjoying a pleasant swim in the pool.
The Spanish media have since been camped outside the villa in question, but with no more reported sightings it seemed clear that Bale had been told to stay put until it was time for his unveiling.
A time and date was even provisionally set by Real: 2pm on Tuesday, in time for the unveiling and subsequent interviews to take place before the Spanish evening news.
Yet reports emerging from Tottenham on Monday claim that at least one other club has made a bid for the winger.
Manchester City, Paris St Germain and Monaco are the only clubs thought to be capable of matching or exceeding Real's £86 million bid for the superstar - and though it seems nonsensical that Bale himself would want to choose any of those sides ahead of the Spanish giants, particularly considering that the six-year deal he has been offered is worth 97 million euros in wages.
With the world of football at his feet, Bale would surely not want to move to Ligue 1, no matter what financial inducements were offered to him.
A switch to Manchester City might make marginally more sense, though with City having spent £100m this summer they seem to be in little need of Bale's services - particularly given that their weaknesses are in defence rather than attack. Chelsea, similarly, appear to have no need of a world-class midfielder - particularly after their signing of Willian - and need an out-and-out striker rather than anything else.
Financially speaking, Manchester United is a more far-fetched option, though in football terms it makes good sense. Bale would be the perfect long-term replacement for the still-good-but-now-40-for-crying-out-loud Ryan Giggs, but it's hard to see a club that is saddled with such vast debt putting its hands in its pockets to match the £170m outlay that Real are committing to.
Spurs are selling reluctantly, though, and will no doubt want to screw every last penny out of their prize asset. If other clubs are keen, they will do everything they can to invite them to the table in hope of bumping the price up still further.
That raises another possibility: Tottenham could be leaking false information in the hope that they can squeeze another few million out of Real president Florentino Perez.
Such shenanigans seem unlikely with such a vast deal on the table, however, since they won't want to risk blowing it given that Villas-Boas is having so much fun spending the money.
So if Monday's new reports are correct it seems Bale's apple cart has been well and truly tipped over.
Sky Sports News reported on Monday that he is flying back to the UK on Monday; but was it because he forgot his favourite teddy bear, or because he's being dragged into negotiations with a new club?
It's pretty much unthinkable that Bale would take a three-hour flight from southern Spain to Britain on Monday afternoon, only to have to fly back to the Spanish capital the morning after. That in itself, if true, all-but-guarantees that the Real sale is far from a done deal.
In fairness, Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas insisted at the weekend that talks were going on but that nothing had been agreed - something which the assembled media took as nothing more than the usual smokescreen of secrecy over a huge deal.
Now, however, his words have taken on a different hue. It seems that the longest-running transfer saga of the summer still has plenty of twists and turns left before it's all over.
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- Gareth Bale
- Real Madrid