Real Madrid have begun "initial talks" with Tottenham over the transfer of Gareth Bale, according to Spanish newspaper Marca.
The report will alarm Tottenham fans who fear the 23-year-old will be prised away from White Hart Lane at some point in 2013, with Marca's close links to Real giving the closest indication yet that Bale could join his former team-mate Luka Modric in Madrid.
Bale featured on the front page of Marca's latest edition, fuelling suspicion that he is headed for the exit door, even though Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas insists he is confident that Spurs can retain the Wales international.
However, his suggestion that 'most clubs cannot afford Gareth' is hardly likely to dissuade the club that paid a world record £80m to sign Cristiano Ronaldo back in 2009, with Bale's rising profile in Spain likely to precede a huge bid from Real Madrid in the near future.
"Initial talks about a deal were held this summer while the two clubs were finalising Luka Modric's move to Madrid," the Marca report stated. "Real Madrid enquired about Bale and was told that he wasn't for sale, but that 'Los Blancos' will be given first refusal when the Londoners do listen to offers.
"It is looking likely that this day will come this summer, because Bale has made it clear that he wants to play for a club where he can grow and compete for major trophies. Madrid has been keeping close tabs on the 23-year-old for some time now and has been blown away by his development."
Marca went on to claim Real Madrid hope to snare Bale for around €35m (£29m), but Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy would look for a much higher fee if he was to sanction a deal for Bale, with a fee in excess of €50m (£41m) likely to be demanded by the notoriously tough deal maker who would lead the negotiations.
Spurs have insisted the ongoing partnership agreement they have with Real Madrid will not hasten Bale's move to the Bernabeu, but few would be surprised if this transfer becomes a reality next summer.