Neil Humphreys: Take pay cut, save pride, Gareth Bale
Superstar deserves better than Real boot, but must make concessions to continue his career at the highest level
Gareth Bale should watch Pulp Fiction.
He's probably seen Quentin Tarantino's classic before, but there's a scene that speaks directly to the Real Madrid attacker.
Bruce Willis, who plays a boxer, gets told to put cash before his career and take a dive.
But he's warned of the pain to come, the slight sting. That's pride. He's ordered to bury it. Pride only hurts, it never helps.
It's really not helping Bale right now either.
As opposed to Willis' boxer, he's got to put his career before the cash and take a dive in wages, to stop holding out for the kind of salary that his 30-year-old brittle body no longer deserves.
No one will think less of the Welshman if he took a pay cut in exchange for a more fitting end to a remarkable football odyssey. But he's not considering that option.
According to his agent, Jonathan Barnett, Bale wants his lucrative contract honoured, whether he plays or not. Or he wants the same salary elsewhere, which leaves only China.
That's a country for old men and broken footballers looking for a last, lazy cheque to extend their property portfolio.
Bale is neither. But he's no longer worthy of 17 million euros a season either.
Pride persuades him otherwise, but pride has no control over team selection.
Zinedine Zidane calls the shots and he's already called time on Bale's Real career. Neither man is willing to back down.
Pride and dogma might as well be the names of the Bernabeu mascots; such is their current influence on the dressing room.
It's quite an achievement to feel a tad sorry for a man earning 17 million euros (S$25.9m) a year, but Bale has earned a modicum of sympathy, at least for now.
His apparent "crimes" in Madrid consist of going to bed early, playing a lot of golf and speaking English in interviews to avoid being misquoted (He speaks conversational Spanish).
The Brazilian Ronaldo hosted legendary parties in Madrid, struggled to maintain his waistline and, several years later, ended up in that unfortunate episode with transvestite sex workers in a Rio motel.
But the Real faithful still think more of Ronaldo than Bale.
Zidane is revered as an all-time club great, despite winning fewer trinkets as a player than Bale.
The Welshman has collected 13 major trophies and scored 102 goals and picked up 65 assists in 231 matches. He made more Real appearances and scored more goals than Zidane.
In the Champions League era, Only Cristiano Ronaldo has more winners' medals than Bale's four. And only Ronaldo, Alfredo di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas have scored more times in European Cup finals.
But Bale wasn't even dignified with the opportunity to say goodbye on the Bernabeu pitch last season. He was an unused substitute in the final game.
Zidane's casual dismissal of such a loyal campaigner feels unnecessary, an inelegant way to tear down the curtain on Bale's career.
His injuries and struggles to stay fit - an occupational hazard for any flying winger - should not undermine his staggering achievements.
Bale's ego is wounded, and understandably so.
But that doesn't mean one of the finest British footballers of his generation should settle for sacks of Chinese cash he doesn't need.
The only elite clubs that could conceivably afford his wages - Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona and the two Manchester clubs - either don't want him or have different priorities. Those who might want him can't afford him.
So something's got to give here. The compromise must come from within. Only Bale can pen an appropriate epilogue, perhaps in German.
At the weekend, he didn't feature in a friendly against Bayern Munich. The two clubs were both in the same American town, presumably talking shop.
Bayern have lost Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery and been in the market for a wide man ever since they missed out on Leroy Sane (speculation continues to link Sane and Bayern).
Bale makes for a decent marquee stop-gap and the Allianz Arena is a fine venue for a superstar's swansong.
Of course, the Germans don't pay 17 million euros a season for anyone, let alone an injury-prone winger. There's no deal without a hefty pay cut.
The frustrating thing is Bale still delivers, even if it's sporadically.
He scored for Real against Arsenal yesterday morning (Singapore time) to remind suitors that he can compete at elite level.
That's where he belongs.
His legacy should be a final flourish in a league like the Bundesliga, not a slow boat to China.
Get The New Paper on your phone with the free TNP app. Download from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store now