GARETH BALE is the No 1 target for Manchester United — but even the moneybags from Old Trafford may not be able to afford him.
There is no doubt boss Jose Mourinho would love to see Real Madrid’s Welsh wizard add some much-needed attacking stardust to his team.
And he was encouraged by Bale’s negative mutterings about life in the Spanish capital after an outstanding two-goal display — including a sensational overhead kick — in Saturday’s 3-1 win over Liverpool in the Champions League final.
Yet, even for United, it would mean offering a colossal package and that could be the major stumbling block.
To land Bale in a five-year deal, they would need to splash out a staggering £349million.
Real would want close to £200m for the winger — even though he has been starting off the bench — but an offer of around £180m could be enough.
Bale, 28, would not want to take a pay cut regardless of the breakdown of his relationship with Zinedine Zidane at the Bernabeu.
Just two years ago, Bale signed a new £650,000-a-week contract — before tax — and he is now effectively tied to Real until 2022.
The one-time Southampton academy star is the third highest-paid player in the world behind team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
Neymar at Paris Saint-Germain can earn more but his complex deal changes regularly due to a string of mind-boggling clauses and bonuses.
Even if United were to match Bale’s wages — and he could still demand more — they would have to cough up £33.8m a season.
That is an eye-watering total of £169m, a figure which would be uneasy reading for United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward.
Asked if United wanted Bale, a source close to Mourinho said: “Yes but where is the money?”
While they are certain to invest heavily this summer to try to close the gap on neighbours City, the sums involved in this deal could simply be too big.
Bale would be an outstanding addition to United and even his harshest critics would have been wowed by his brilliance against Liverpool in Kiev.
He would not only make Mourinho’s side better — and more pleasing on the eye — but he would also be incredibly popular among the fans at Old Trafford and around the world.
Bale has suffered injury problems, though, at Real. There was a calf problem and also an ankle issue between November 2016 and February 2017 when he rushed back too early.
But now, the Cardiff-born ace feels fitter than ever and this season scored 21 goals — just one off his best tally for the club. Away from Madrid, however, his options are slim.
Chelsea are the only other English team who would have any hope of getting Bale but those sums would horrify owner Roman Abramovich even more than a UK visa refusal.
So there is every chance the 70-cap Dragon could end up exactly where he is now. In Spain.
Bale is due to marry childhood sweetheart Emma Rhys-Jones this summer with all the details being kept secret.
But his other pressing issue, if he stays, would be to sort out his standing with Zidane.
Although a shy individual, it was noticeable Bale was not at the forefront of the pictures after landing his fourth Champions League medal.
In the Spanish media on Sunday, all the main photos featured Ronaldo centre stage.
He also cast doubt on his future at the club in a vain attempt to make the post-match talk all about himself, even though — along with Bale’s rival Isco — he suffered a bit of a stinker.
Ronaldo and Bale, though, have always enjoyed a decent relationship and if he were to ask the Portuguese superstar for advice, there is no doubt he would recommend Manchester to Bale.
As ever in football, it will be all about money