Gareth Bale reported for training with Tottenham Hotspur yesterday, amid mounting rumours about a lucrative move to Real Madrid in a possible world record transfer deal.
The 24-year-old Wales winger, voted player of the year and young player of the year last season by his English Premier League peers, was seen arriving at the club's Enfield training ground, north of London, in a black Mercedes sportscar, television pictures on Sky Sports News showed.
His return to training was being closely watched because of persistent questions about his immediate future.
Spurs manager Andre Villas-Boas said during the club's pre-season visit to Hong Kong last week that they were in talks with the highly rated player, who scored 26 goals last season, about a new contract.
He said he was optimistic of reaching an agreement, but fuelled speculation that Bale would leave the club after saying there was currently no deal.
Since then, the British and Spanish media have gone into overdrive, with Bale reportedly being given a price tag upwards of the record £80 million (HK$949.5 million) Real paid Manchester United for Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009.
The Guardian said Real had indicated they were willing to pay a world record £100 million for Bale, while Spanish sports daily Marca claimed that Spurs had demanded a fee of £125 million for the player.
Spurs chairman Daniel Levy has also been reported as having set up a meeting with Real president Florentino Perez in Miami next week, where the Spanish club are due to play in a pre-season tournament, to broker a deal.
Bale's family were even said to have met Levy earlier this week to persuade him to allow the player to go, even though he has reportedly not submitted a formal transfer request.
The Daily Mirror claimed Levy was holding out for the best price for Bale and would be prepared to bring back Luka Modric, who left White Hart Lane for the Bernabeu last year in a similarly drawn-out transfer saga.
France legend and former Real player Zinedine Zidane, now an ambassador for the Spanish capital club, was reported as saying: "If he [Bale] has expressed a desire to join Madrid, then Tottenham should give him permission to speak with us.
"The chance to play for Real Madrid might only come around once in a player's lifetime - and it's understandable that Gareth doesn't want to miss out on it."
Real and Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas added that Bale would be welcomed as he was "one of the top three or four players in Europe".
But former Tottenham star Glenn Hoddle suggested that Bale could be better served by staying in England and building on his impressive performance from last season. "It's one thing setting a standard, it's keeping the standard which is the hardest thing, the consistency," the former Monaco and England midfielder told talkSPORT radio.
"When you go abroad the first four, five, six months could be difficult for him to regain that form, and if his family are not with him 100 per cent all those things come into it.
"I just sense that maybe he might go for the wrong reasons. If he wants to go just for football reasons, it might be better in a year's time or maybe in two."
A number of newspapers said the winger would join the first-team squad, but was unlikely to train because of a muscle injury that ruled him out of the club's two games in Hong Kong.
Tottenham play a friendly against newly promoted French Ligue 1 side Monaco in the principality on Saturday, but it is unclear whether Bale will feature.