Time has passed for Manchester United to make their Gareth Bale dream a reality

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When Manchester United look to spend their riches this summer, Gareth Bale should be the last port of call.

This is not through any lack of ability for the Wales wonder. The self-confessed potential availability of someone capable of the unfathomable feat witnessed in Saturday’s Champions League final victory for Real Madrid would usually be a gift from above for a side whose football acted as a replacement for sleeping pills during much of a dreary 2017/18.

Neither is it a question of pure finance. A record turnover of $767 million for 2016/17 will be bettered, once again, when the latest figures are announced.

In this area, executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward never errs.

Within this frame, wages rumoured to come in at £650,000 per week (Dh3.2m) – an amount that does not markedly exceed resident Chile superstar Alexis Sanchez’s pay packet – and a transfer fee approximated at anything upwards of £80m (Dh389.2m) should not make board members wince.

It is rather the unsettling conclusion that the staggering bicycle kick, a contender for the greatest goal ever scored in a showpiece, produced by Bale represents the final high point in a career of supreme achievement.

There is a reason why Zinedine Zidane has seemingly grown so cool and why Madrid might relish a last chance to cash in on an asset they valued at a landmark €100m (Dh423.5m) back in 2013 when they snatched him from Tottenham Hotspur.

Bale will turn 29 in July. Not ancient, by any stretch, for elite players indoctrinated in the monastic standards required at the highest level.

However, for a performer whose assets are best evidenced at high speed, the nagging spectre of injury should cause United manager Jose Mourinho to hold serious reservation – never mind owners, the Glazers.

2017/18’s 39 appearances was the Cardiff-native’s best since 2014/15’s high-water mark at Los Blancos of 48 run-outs. Some improvement on the preceding 27 games from 2016/17.

Yet, Madrid had 62 fixtures to fulfil in all competitions. Bale’s figure represents just 62.9 per cent of that amount.

Calf problems have bedevilled his stay in Spain. They sidelined him twice during last winter, alone.

Like the Mona Lisa residing in a private collection rather than The Louvre, what good is owning such a prized asset if you cannot display it?

The obvious counterpoint to this is 2012’s game-changing recruitment of Netherlands striker Robin van Persie from Arsenal. The then 29-year-old’s injection of goals was crucial to Sir Alex Ferguson’s subsequent glorious send-off, yet the Netherlands striker exerted an ephemeral influence at Old Trafford.

In two further seasons, he would not make more than 30 appearances in all competitions or score more than 20 goals. His waning powers acted as anchor on a squad already hamstrung by the maddening tactics of David Moyes and Louis van Gaal.

Sanchez’s early stumbles at 29-years-old point to the continued dangers of chasing a quick fix.

Recruits within the age range of 25-year-old Brazil and Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder Fred plus 19-year-old Porto right-back Diogo Dalot are what is required.

This is a lesson from recent history worth heeding. Especially when the coherence and long-term planning witnessed across town at Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City is taken in mind.

Even worse for Bale’s prospects is the fact he made just 26 starts last term. An amount that equates to just 41.9 per cent of Madrid’s total.

Only 18 minutes of action were afforded to him in both legs of the European semi-final against Bayern Munich, plus a solitary half in the preceding round against Juventus.

The depth of attacking talent in the white half of the Spanish capital – Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Isco, Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez – is not reflected in the red half of Manchester.

But this adds further evidence to the adage that Bale is a target with a premium price tag who no longer is considered a premium asset.

Bale is expendable and United are the gift horse Madrid have long banked on exploiting.

The near misses of 2007 at Southampton and 2013 at Tottenham were the time to land him. Bale now represents an alluring dream that should not be made real.

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Marcus Rashford will be ‘major player’ at World Cup, says Ashley Young

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Rashford's meteoric rise is set to continue at the World Cup.

Ashley Young feels his Manchester United team-mate Marcus Rashford has the potential to “set the world alight” and is sure the forward will be a “major player” for England at this summer’s World Cup.

Young has also expressed his confidence in the entire squad in terms of the Three Lions “going there to try to win” the tournament in Russia.

While Rashford, 20, has been in and out of the United starting line-up under Jose Mourinho, he scored 13 goals for the club last season to take him to a total of 32 in all competitions since being handed his Red Devils first-team debut by Louis van Gaal in February 2016.

He registered a brace on that debut, in the Europa League, and has also netted on his Premier League, EFL Cup, Champions League, England Under-21 and England senior bows.

Asked how he felt Rashford would cope with his first World Cup, Young said: “I think he’s going to cope really well.

“I’ve said it from the time I saw him in the youth team – he’s got a massive future ahead of him. He’s a fantastic player and if he keeps going the way he is, he can set the world alight.

“It’s the World Cup coming up and that could be his stage to show everybody just how far he’s come from when he made his debut.”

Young added of Rashford, who has netted twice in 17 England appearances: “I think if you look at the goals he has scored on how many different debuts, it just shows in itself he steps up in the big games and he can produce.

“He’s definitely been fantastic for us at United and he’s definitely going to be a major player for us at the World Cup.”

The pair are part of what is set to be the third-youngest squad to represent England at a World Cup, with Young the oldest member of Gareth Southgate’s 23-man party.

The 32-year-old feels it is a “fantastic group” with “some exciting players who can change a game in a moment”, and said: “For me, the squad can achieve as much as it wants to.

“I think there’s definitely going to be a good tournament from this England squad.

“We are focused on going to the World Cup, and not just being out there – it’s going there to try to win a World Cup, and I have every confidence in everyone’s ability in the squad that we can go and do that.”

Heading to a first World Cup himself marks the continuation of Young’s impressive rejuvenation, which last November saw him make his first England appearance in more than four years.

After years as a winger, the former Aston Villa player – who has been capped 33 times and scored seven goals for England – has been catching the eye as a full-back for United.

And Young stressed with regard to that: “I still see myself as an attacker, especially with the way that we play, with the full-backs or wing-backs high up. I would rather be in the attacking half than defending.”

He added: “I think if you’re aware on the pitch, have a good footballing brain and read the game well you can play in any position. I think I’m one of those players who has a good footballing brain.

“Wherever the manager calls upon me to play I go and give 100% for the England shirt and to do as well as I can.”

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Man United granted place in Women's Championship for next season

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Manchester United’s application to enter a women’s team in next season’s FA Women’s Championship has been approved by the Football Association.

The FA announced their decision on club licence applications on Monday, placing United in the second tier of the competitions along with the likes of Doncaster Rovers Belles and Millwall Lionesses.

Until announcing the intention to form a team in March, United were the only current Premier League club not to have a professional women’s equivalent.

United chairman Ed Woodward said: “The board is delighted that the FA has approved the application.

“Starting a professional team from scratch is challenging for rewarding and we will make every effort to provide the support and experience for the new women’s team to be successful and to uphold the fine traditions of our great club.”

Former England star and current England number two Casey Stoney is strongly tipped to become the first coach of the United women’s team, which will be based at The Cliff, the club’s historic training ground.

Next season’s Women’s Super League will be extended to 10 teams, with Brighton & Hove Albion Women and West Ham United Ladies replacing Sunderland Ladies in the competition.

The future of Sunderland Ladies, who turned part-time and this week revealed losses of over £400,000, remains unclear after the club was also denied a place in the Championship alongside United.

A Sunderland spokesperson said: “Following today’s announcement by the FA, we will take some time to fully consider the options available to us in relation to Sunderland AFC Ladies.”

The decision in respect of which clubs were successful was made by The FA Women’s football Board, following a detailed review and assessment, and it remains subject to appeal.

Baroness Sue Campbell, The FA’s Head of Women’s football said: “Such is the strength of women’s football in this country, there have been some difficult decisions to make but they’ve been made with the sport’s best interests at heart.

“This is a hugely exciting time for the game and I am hopeful that we will look back upon this as one of the most significant decisions made in its history.”

Provided by Press Association Sport

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