It sounds like one of the most improbable transfers in football history – but Gareth Bale joining Cardiff City would “make sense”, according to his Wales manager Robert Page.
Bale will leave Real Madrid when his contract expires at the end of this season and, as ever, his future has been the source of much speculation.
The 32-year-old will wait until Wales have played their World Cup play-off final on 5 June before making a decision. Whether or not he leads his country to a first World Cup since 1958, Bale will have plenty of offers.
He has been linked with a return to Tottenham as well as a move to Major League Soccer in the United States, while rumours persist that he may consider retiring if Wales fail to qualify.
Then there is the talk of a move to Cardiff, which will not go away.
Bale would have to take a drastic pay cut to join the Championship side. His contract in Madrid is worth an estimated £600,000 per week, more than the weekly wage bill of Cardiff’s entire first-team squad.
However, Bale was born and raised in Cardiff, his family still live there and, whenever he has the chance to come home, he takes it.
Playing for Wales is his absolute priority. He works closely with the Football Association of Wales’ fitness and medical staff, who share a training base with Cardiff in the Vale of Glamorgan.
Then there is the theory that, if Wales qualify for the World Cup, Bale might be able to be more selective with which games he plays for Cardiff – as opposed to Spurs or another top-flight side – in preparation for November’s tournament in Qatar.
“It ticks all the boxes,” says Page. “Ultimately, it’s Gareth’s decision and Cardiff City’s.
“And I think he’s right to say: ‘Let’s throw full focus on to the 5th’ [June, Wales’ World Cup play-off]. Let’s get there first and have that discussion.
“We can carry on talking about it and guess and have our opinion on it, and it does make sense. It makes a lot of sense. He can base himself at a training ground he’s familiar with.
“Ultimately, let’s see what happens on the 5th and I’ll probably be the first one after the game to ask the question.”
Some may scoff at the notion of a four-time Champions League winner preparing for a World Cup by dropping down to the Championship to play for a team who finished 18th in the table this season.
If Wales were to be successful in their bid to qualify, though, Page would be open to the idea.
“If he was playing for Cardiff and we had qualified for the World Cup I wouldn’t change my thoughts or respect for Gareth whatsoever,” the former Wales centre-back adds.
“He would definitely be a part of the World Cup squad anyway. As long as he is out playing football – that’s the most important thing for us.”
Wherever Bale ends up, he will surely feature more prominently than he has done for Real Madrid this season.
Wales’ captain has played only 20 minutes for the Spanish champions since Wales last played in March, when his preparation for the World Cup play-off semi-final against Austria amounted to a mere two appearances for Real since November.
Not that it was a problem on that occasion for Bale, who scored two superb goals to inspire Wales to victory and take them to within one win of World Cup qualification.
“When he turned up in March, he wasn’t playing but he had four, five, six weeks training under his belt so he had that stamina inside him to give himself the best chance,” says Page.
“There is nothing like playing games. He won’t be match-sharp but he was still able to put a free-kick into the top corner and score two goals in a big game for us.
“He will absolutely need to be part of a club and training, even if he is not playing, at that tempo with other players every day.”
Page, his Wales staff and most supporters will not mind where Bale goes this summer. The only option they certainly do not want him to take is retirement.
“I wouldn’t want him to. The door is always open, for what he does in the changing room as well,” Page says.
“I’m blessed – I see how he is with the players. I always tell this story about [Huddersfield and Wales winger] Sorba Thomas when I brought him in for the first time. The only other time he’d seen Gareth Bale was playing Fifa on the Xbox.
“All of a sudden, Gareth’s there, engaging with him and having a conversation with him and Sorba’s in awe of him. You realise he’s just a normal guy, a really nice guy.
“I see a lot of what Speedo [former Wales captain and manager Gary Speed] was in Gareth, and I told him that. Whether you played Championship football or Premier League football, you were treated exactly the same. And Bale does that.
“I’d want him to carry on as long as he possibly can because it’s the influence he has in that changing room as well.”