Neil Humphreys: Sell di Maria and buy Bale, United
Britain's biggest club must bail out arguably Britain's best footballer.
Gareth Bale belongs at Manchester United. The sun is setting on his Spanish adventure. It's time to come home.
The Welshman's apologists still wave his prize tag in the air as some sort of naive assurance that his future is safe at Real Madrid.
But humility isn't a virtue at the Bernabeu. Their arrogance is second only to their avarice.
Jessie J sings the Spanish soundtrack. It's not about the money. Forget about the price tag. It's about raw, merciless power. All other concerns are secondary.
Bale's supporters emphasise his pivotal role in winning a 10th Champions League for Real last season, but Angel di Maria was Man of the Match in that final and now warms the bench at United.
Real's innate selfishness trumps sentimentality every time.
The teary-eyed di Maria was only the latest victim of the Bernabeu's Blitzkrieg advance on Europe.
Talent gets a player through the door, but there's always a ticking clock. Two years is about the limit of Real's patience.
Ask Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben.
Both produced on the pitch, but the Spaniards aren't interested in competent performers. They're building gods.
Mortals get in the way of the gods, as Bale has discovered. He's not the Messiah, but an extremely talented boy. It's not enough. It's never enough at Real Madrid.
He said he doesn't need to answer his Spanish critics, but he does, every match, every training session, every day.
Their demands are exacting and infinite, a bottomless pit of expectation.
Indeed, Bale's brace for Wales against Israel last Saturday epitomised the great difference in expectations between his homeland and the type of Real fanatic that attacked the winger's car after his poor showing in El Clasico.
In Wales, the 25-year-old enjoys a degree of reverence that leans towards sainthood. At Real Madrid, he plays warm-up man to Cristiano Ronaldo.
His double for Wales was met with the kind of shoulder shrug in Madrid usually reserved for a lame magician who's just pulled a rabbit from a flea-bitten hat.
Great feats of illusion are commonplace among the Galacticos.
Ronaldo bangs in braces for fun. Heroic acts of escapology are Ronaldo's stock in trade.
The Portuguese perfectionist has set the bar so high Bale couldn't clear it with a high-flying Fosbury Flop.
If there wasn't enough room for the Spanish-speaking, Real-worshipping di Maria, then Bale is clearly available to the highest bidder.
He competes for the same left-sided role as Isco, a Spaniard popular with the impatient ultras on the terraces and the Welshman has a greater sell-on value for a club that insist on buying at least one Galactico every season.
Bale also plays in the same position as di Maria. He has followed in his footsteps once already. He can do so again.
According to reports, Paris St Germain are interested in the unsettled Argentinian and boast the spending power to purchase United's record signing.
Spiritually, di Maria never left Madrid. His initial zeal at Old Trafford soon gave way to an alarming, zombie-like presence. He sleepwalked through games.
Di Maria offers United a chance to demonstrate their empire-rebuilding intentions by placing a risky, cumulative bet.
With the Glazers' backing, Louis van Gaal can sell di Maria, top up the difference and place the lot on the No. 11 at Real Madrid.
MADE FOR BALE
United appear to have settled on a 4-3-3 that obviously favours Bale.
On the left wing, Ashley Young's unexpected narrative has made for a rare, uplifting chapter this season, but the 29-year-old is a stop-gap.
United's long-term solution was last seen guiding Wales to the top of Group B in Euro 2016 qualifying, less than a week after enduring infantile abuse from myopic Real followers.
In Spain, Bale will continue to be cruelly punished for not being the world's greatest footballer. The punishment doesn't fit the alleged crime, but cooler heads rarely prevail in such an impatient Galactico culture.
Spanish heads are lost in the clouds, always looking for bigger stars.
In the EPL, Bale's extraordinary talent would be judged for what it is, not for what it lacks when compared to Ronaldo.
He can never be the myth that Madrid crave, but he can be the man for next season at United.
Old Trafford has long been a home fit for British heroes. It's also the home of the Welshman's hero. If he joins United, Ryan Giggs will be waiting for him.
And Bale deserves to walk among kings, rather than the clowns outside the Bernabeu.
'No more excuses not to perform'
Perform or else...
Louis van Gaal has issued a warning to his Manchester United players that he expects to finish the season on a high.
The Red Devils struggled under the Dutchman (photo) in the early part of the season, but two recent performances have convinced the 63-year-old that they now fully understand his football philosophy, reported the Mirror.
The 3-0 win over Tottenham and a 2-1 triumph at arch-rivals Liverpool showed that United's players have finally adapted to what van Gaal wants from them and he has demanded their standard does not drop.
"I think the players know everything about the philosophy, but now they have to perform," said van Gaal in a MUTV documentary aired on Monday.
"I was a slow player so I had to think very quickly. That's why I developed a tactical level that suits me now as a trainer coach."
Van Gaal compared United's early struggles to adapt to his methods with his own efforts to get used to driving on the left side of the road in England.
"It's like somebody coming to England like Louis van Gaal who has to drive with the steering at the other side," said van Gaal.
"You have to learn that. I could have forced many accidents, but I was fortunate I didn't do that.
"I was lucky but it was always going better, so I don't have to warn people in my neighbourhood."
Van Gaal has also denied that he is a "dictator", insisting that he is "very flexible".
He said: "(People) are always thinking I am a boss, maybe a dictator. I am not like that. I am a very flexible man. My wife does know that."
United skipper Wayne Rooney, speaking in the same MUTV documentary as van Gaal, praised his manager.
Said Rooney: "His door is always open. You can speak to him about things other than football and he's a really nice guy." - Wire Services.
Bale not for sale, says Real boss
Real Madrid president Florentino Perez has told English clubs to forget about trying to sign Gareth Bale.
Perez said the former Tottenham star, whose car was attacked after Real lost to Barcelona recently, won't be leaving anytime soon.
"We shall never listen to any offers for Bale," Perez told Marca. "He is the key to the club's future, just as I cannot imagine a future without Cristiano Ronaldo."
The Welsh star has been linked with a return to the Premier League this summer after a section of the Bernabeu crowd turned on him in recent weeks.
Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea have been talked about as possible destinations. - Wire Services.
Di Maria tops list of player shirt sales
Manchester United's record summer signing Angel di Maria might be having a miserable season, but the Argentina international is topping the table when it comes to shirt sales.
According to retailer Sports Direct, which sells Arsenal, Aston Villa, Chelsea, Liverpool, United, Manchester City, Tottenham and Newcastle jerseys, almost one in 10 of their customers ask for a replica of di Maria's shirt.
His tally of 9.59 per cent puts him way ahead of Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez, who is second with 3.8 per cent.
Chelsea's Diego Costa is third with 2.27 per cent, as the EPL's three big summer signings make an impact. - Wire Services.
MOST POPULAR PLAYER SHIRTS
1. Angel di Maria (Man Utd)
2. Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal)
3. Diego Costa (Chelsea)
4. David de Gea (Man Utd)
5. Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
6. Wayne Rooney (Man Utd)
7. Radamel Falcao (Man Utd)
8. Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)
9. Sergio Aguero (Man City)
10. Robin van Persie (Man Utd)