Bale’s £86m Real nightmare
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When Gareth Bale scored in the final of the European Cup and the Spanish Cup in the same season last year, he did something for Real Madrid that only Raul and Ferenc Puskas had managed before him.
We can be fairly sure that no-one ever tried to kick Puskas’s 1959 Mercedes 180 as it pulled out of the club’s training ground.
The same cannot be said for Bale’s white Bentley, which was attacked as he left Madrid’s Valdebebas training complex in the early hours of Monday morning after the Clasico.
Bale would not expect to have earned the same level of respect as the ‘Galloping Major’, who won three European Cups and scored 156 league goals in 180 games, but he has four trophies in his first year and a half at the club, so the animosity he has encountered is impossible to justify and hard to understand.
‘He scored the winner in the Spanish Cup final; he scored the winner in the Champions League final. He is already a Real Madrid legend,’ gushed Madrid sports daily Marca when Bale won the European Cup in Lisbon last May.
Its rival publication in the Spanish capital, Diaro AS added: ‘Marcelo and Cristiano Ronaldo both scored afterwards but Bale’s was the winner because it was game-over after that.’ Those two publications have changed their tune 10 months on — dedicating pages to fan polls that call for the Welshman to be dropped.
Yesterday 70 per cent of 8,000 supporters responding to one online survey said they wanted Bale left out of the team.
There was no shortage of ammunition in the Madrid press, with statistics such as ‘he never set foot in the penalty area in the second half against Barca’ and ‘he only played seven passes after the break — just three more than Lucas Silva who came on three minutes from time’.
All this supposedly supports the theory that Bale is in decline. But behind the numbers the story is a little more complicated than his critics care to admit.
Bale came back to pre-season training in peak physical condition last summer and was comfortably the club’s best player on the tour of the US, scoring in friendlies against Manchester United and Inter Milan.
When Real Madrid went on a run of 22 straight wins, Bale scored in the 5-1 win over Basle that began that hot streak, he got two in the next game that saw them beat Deportivo 8-2 and netted again in the 5-1 win over Cordoba that followed.
But a thigh injury in October saw him miss three weeks of the season and in his absence Carlo Ancelotti fielded a midfield quartet of James Rodriguez, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Isco. And that is where many of his problems began.
The team kept winning and with the four passing midfielders the football resembled that played by Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona which many Madrid followers had spent so long envying. The purists loved it and they also loved the part played by Isco — a Malaga lad who felt like one of their own.
Bale came back into the team and his part in the club’s historic run picked up where it had left off. He scored in the 2-0 win over San Lorenzo that made Real Madrid world club champions in December.
But when the run came to an end in their next competitive game against Valencia, the season began to unravel and he became the scapegoat. In the defeat by Valencia he was blamed for squandering a late chance and ignoring Karim Benzema’s screams for a pass. The idea that he should make way for Isco now went hand in hand with the theory that he was selfish.
Ronaldo did him no favours in the next game when he very publicly chastised him for shooting instead of passing late in a match against Espanyol. ‘Puta!’ (f***!) shouted the Portuguese, throwing his arms down in disgust.
Bale’s every touch from there on in was whistled, despite the fact that he had scored direct from a free-kick earlier in the game — something that Ronaldo hasn’t done now in over 50 attempts.
The undercurrent of competition between Bale and Ronaldo is another factor. It is no secret that president Florentino Perez sees Bale as Ronaldo’s eventual successor on the pitch as a match winner and off it as a big-money contract winner.
Ronaldo is not enamoured with the idea of being replaced by anyone, and despite the fact that Bale lives in the same luxury neighbourhood as Ronaldo, there is not the closeness between the two that has developed at Barcelona between Neymar and Leo Messi.
When Ronaldo threw a party for his 30th birthday, Bale was invited but did not attend — perhaps wisely, considering the fallout that followed the festivities, coming as they did on the day of a 4-0 Madrid derby defeat.
Bale’s partner Emma Rhys-Jones lives with him in Madrid, although, with a young daughter Alba-Violet not yet three years of age, frequent trips can be made back to Wales. At some point in the future a decision will have to be made about schools. And he will need to be a sure that Madrid is the right city in which to put down deeper roots.
He says he barely noticed the thugs who tried to kick his car as he drove away from the training ground at 1.30am on Monday. But how long before the lack of respect from supporters, commentators and at times even team-mates begins to take its toll?
Yesterday was 10 months to the day since Madrid won the Champions League and Bale arrived back in the city at 4.30am to be greeted by an open-top bus that took him through streets filled with jubilant supporters.
The Madrid homecomings are not as pleasant as they used to be. – Daily Mail