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Tuesday September 3, 2013 MYT 5:42:01 PM
Tuesday September 3, 2013 MYT 5:43:45 PM
by iain rogers
Gareth Bale of Wales controls a ball during his presentation as a Real Madrid player at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, September 2, 2013. REUTERS/Paul Hanna
MADRID (Reuters) - As Real Madrid's latest world record "galactico" signing, Gareth Bale will inevitably be compared with some of the illustrious names that have pulled on the white shirt of the nine-times European champions before him.
President Florentino Perez smashed the transfer record five times in his relentless pursuit of the elusive "decima", or 10th continental crown, luring Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane, Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo and now Bale to the Bernabeu.
Those five players together cost the world's richest club by income almost 400 million euros ($527.54 million), a quarter of which Real agreed to pay Tottenham Hotspur for Wales winger Bale in a deal unveiled on Sunday.
Construction magnate Perez has also splurged around 215 million euros on the likes of former Brazil striker Ronaldo, David Beckham, Karim Benzema and Xabi Alonso, hoping they would help end a dismal run of European failure since the club's last Champions League title in 2002.
It was clear at Bale's presentation that success in Europe remains Perez's overriding obsession and the player himself referred to the "decima" in his first words to Real fans.
"The Champions League is a massive reason for me coming here," Bale told a later news conference.
"I didn't want to just be playing in it, I want to win it," the 24-year-old added.
"I'm sure that everyone in the club wants to win it and I definitely want to help achieve that goal and the 10th."
However, a look at the achievements of Real's most expensive signings under Perez suggests that when it comes to Europe's elite club competition, Bale does not actually have all that much to live up to.
The only two players among the group mentioned above to have won the Champions League with Real were Zidane and Figo, both in 2002 when the Frenchman netted a spectacular volley in the final against Bayer Leverkusen.
Zidane is now an assistant to Real coach Carlo Ancelotti and will be partly responsible for making sure Bale fulfils his potential and lives up to his price tag.
If he had done nothing else but score that famous goal in Glasgow 11 years ago he would probably still be a Real legend. But during his stint in Madrid between 2001 and 2006 the club's only other major honour was a solitary La Liga title.
He netted 38 goals in 155 official games, hardly a flop but there were times when Real's demanding supporters lost patience with him and he was barracked and whistled.
Perhaps a better comparison for Bale is former England midfielder David Beckham, who also made the move from the Premiership to La Liga when he joined Real from Manchester United in 2003.
While undoubtedly a huge success in terms of Real's marketing strategy, something Perez is keen to replicate with Bale, Beckham's 158 official games yielded just one La Liga title.
After a poor run, Perez was forced to step down towards the end of the former England captain's time in Spain before returning for a second stint at the helm in 2009.
One of his first acts was to seal the purchase of Cristiano Ronaldo from United for what was then a record fee of 94 million euros.
The Portuguese forward, the last player to win the World Player of the Year award before nemesis Lionel Messi scooped the last four, has an incredible scoring record of 202 goals in 202 official games for the Spanish club.
Another Champions League crown - he won the competition with United in 2008 - has eluded him, however, and his major honours are one domestic league title and one King's Cup, both under former coach and compatriot Jose Mourinho.
Bale is unlikely to match Ronaldo for goals but can certainly challenge him as the team's dominant personality, although he was keen to play down any rivalry on Monday.
"Ronaldo is the best player in the world and I want to learn from him," Bale told reporters.
"He's the boss," he joked when asked who would be taking the attacking free kicks.
"I don't think I need to help him. He has already shown that he is the best in the world."
Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the Perez era is Kaka, who has returned to AC Milan after moving to Real from the Italian club in 2009 for 65 million euros.
Club officials have argued that the Brazilian has made a key contribution to Real's marketing strategy but Kaka, now 31, consistently struggled to repeat the form that won him the World Player award in 2007.
Perez says he inherited the model of paying exorbitant prices for top talent from his predecessor Santiago Bernabeu, who hired players including Alfredo Di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas and Francisco Gento during his presidency between 1943 and 1978.
The trio helped Real win five European Cups between 1956 and 1960, while Gento went on to win another in 1966, making him the only player with six continental crowns.
Bale, who has inherited Gento's number 11 shirt, is undaunted.
"I've seen the ones a bit before my time, Puskas, Di Stefano," he said.
"So, yes, there are a lot of players who were here that have been unbelievable. World-class and legends of the game.
"Hopefully I can become the player I want to be and be in that league."
(Editing by John O'Brien)
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