Gareth Bale famously was the only player not to offer his gratitude and eulogies to a departing Zinedine Zidane when the Frenchman shook the club with his shock resignation just five days after leading the club to a remarkable third consecutive UEFA Champions League title.
It’s fairly safe to assume, therefore, that Zizou’s return to the Santiago Bernabeu would probably not have been accompanied by the sound of popping champagne corks in the Bale camp.
This year on the 9th of February, Santi Solari, the then coach of Real Madrid, opted to leave Gareth Bale on the substitutes’ bench for the away match at Atletico Madrid.
When he came on, he scored the goal that made it 1-3 and swung the game decisively in favour of his side. His body language suggested he was at war with the whole world but, nonetheless, his performance for just the half hour that he had played was praiseworthy.
“Why don’t you always play like that?”, he was asked. “I was angry,” he replied. Perhaps you should get “angry” a bit more often, some thought.
We had been here before and on an even bigger stage. His stellar performance in the last Champions League final was due in no small part to his annoyance at being left out of the starting line up; warming the bench when the Welshman felt that it was precisely for games such as these that he had signed for Madrid.
For many, the erroneous perception was that he would fill the ample boots vacated by the free-scoring Cristiano Ronaldo when he moved to Juventus. Up to now those around him have felt that the campaign against Bale has been purely media driven because the messages coming out of the club up to then were positive to the extent that he was accustomed to hearing that while he was fit he would always play every game. That he was the biggest superstar at the club. Perhaps it would have been wiser to give him a bit less to get closer to the maximum of his potential.
At Madrid there have been moments when he has felt respected, loved, admired, primarily because of his speed, effectiveness, headed goals and left foot shots. But that was some time ago. A distant memory and the memories of everyone – not least the fans – at clubs like Real Madrid are either selective or short almost to the point of being amnesiac.
When he was injured against Villarreal on January 3, Diario AS rather cruelly dubbed him ‘Mister Cristal’ (Mr Glass) across the whole of their front page. This latest setback meant that since being at Real Madrid Bale has accumulated 22 injuries missing a total of 84 games.
Now no one is really certain why he is being whistled after just three minutes and with even greater fervour after five…unless of course there is not the interest anymore in looking after him from the top of the club and nobody is telling him the things he wants to hear.
The notion that he has failed at Real Madrid is as contemptuous as it is absurd. When Maradona was asked back in December 2017 what he would do with an injury prone Bale he remarked that he wouldn’t sell him but “give him away as a gift,” a statement that probably said more about the Argentinian than it did the Welshman.
Despite all the injury problems he has suffered Bale has won four Champions Leagues – Liverpool’s Phil Neal is the only other British player to have won as many – and scored in three of them, albeit one of them in a penalty shootout. The first of his two goals against Liverpool in last years final is right up there with the greatest Champions League final goals ever scored.
Now in his sixth season with the club, Bale has at one point or another he won everything that it is possible to win at club level. He is still to this day Real Madrid’s most expensive signing ever.
He is accused of not giving enough but 14 goals from 38 games in all competitions is no bad return for a winger. Are we expecting him to rescue the season? Surely not, because one thing he has never been is a leader….at least not with Madrid.
While he may not be having his best season, with the exception of Benzema, who is playing at their level?
Under Zidane, Gareth Bale finished up totally disconnected from football. He trained but listened more than ever to his own body, more careful and more fragile than ever before. The problem was surely in his own head and when he needed help, a bit of support, an arm around the shoulder from the French coach, none was forthcoming.
He felt alone, isolated, and things are unlikely to be any different second time around.
But the fact remains that Bale does not want to leave Real Madrid. His agent, Jonathan Barnett, said as much this week. Over and above everything else he does not believe that there exists anywhere in the world a club quite like Real Madrid. There are those that say that if he does move it will be difficult for him to motivate himself to continue to perform regularly at the elite level. Real Madrid though, want to sell him.
Manchester United have calculated that his age coupled with what he would cost to buy might not justify making a move for him, yet we all know that in moments of meltdown (such as those that occurred recently at Manchester United) anything is possible. It remains to be seen whether he does leave or not, but if he does the first job for any new club will be to make him fall in love with football once again.