Gareth Bale’s Overlooked Contribution
On September 1, 2013, Real Madrid welcomed a player amongst huge anticipation and excitement. The mesmeric winger was going to grace the holy turf of the Bernabéu and bring European glory with it. After the disappointment of losing out on Neymar and spending a hundred million euros on a Premier League star, Madrid looked to begin a new era of dominance. But Gareth Bale‘s time in Madrid is up. Here’s a look at Gareth Bale’s overlooked contribution to Real’s recent success.
The Overlooked Contribution by Gareth Bale
Gareth Bale’s Initial Impact
Six years, 102 goals and 13 trophies later, Madrid fans are still whistling the Welshman and are in limbo regarding where he stands amongst the clubs greats. But the winger’s career in Spain started off as well as it could. He was seen as the partner in crime and the future successor of Cristiano Ronaldo. Whether this acted as motivation or pressure for Gareth is still debatable. He often referred to Ronaldo as an inspiration. Bale also regarded him as one of the main factors for him to sign for the club. Ronaldo too defended his teammate on several occasions as the Madrid media piled pressure on the Welshman. The relationship always felt manufactured rather than natural but both projected immense respect for one another.
It materialized well on the pitch too. With Karim Benzema completing the trident, Madrid boasted one of the most formidable frontlines in the world. Carlo Ancelotti guided a rounded team past the semi-final stage of the Champions League for the first time since the merengues’ won the competition in 2002. Bale played a pivotal part in triumphing against Atletico Madrid in the final in Lisbon- scoring a goal in extra time as Real bested their city rivals 4-1. However, it wasn’t the first big game he had produced in. Eight days before ‘La Decima,’ Real beat Barcelona in the final of the Copa Del Rey with Gareth Bale scoring a mesmerizing solo goal at the Mestalla. Despite being plagued by injuries, he delivered the most significant moments of the season. That season epitomizes his six-year stay in Madrid perfectly.
In the following seasons in the capital, Bale has taken his goal tally past the century mark, scored a hattrick at the club world cup, scored perhaps the greatest goal in champions league history and bagged a huge sum of money while doing so. That, in itself, is Gareth Bale’s overlooked contribution. But people tend to forget the crucial goals he scored against Villareal and Celta as Madrid clinched their first league title since 2011-12. These were the moments that ardent Madrid fans will remember Bale for. He provided the team with something that nobody (barring CR7) in that team was capable of- pace, strength, and the ability to produce something special in clutch situations. This was not the same for stars like Cristiano, Kaka or Benzema.
His aloof persona has not helped him though, with other players preferring the ‘galactico lifestyles’ that Real is synonymous with. He’s seen playing golf over meeting up with teammates. His Spanish is still elementary at best and he doesn’t have the best of relationships with Zidane. The media in Spain has called this out consistently. The inability to fully integrate into the Spanish culture has undeniably contributed to his stock dropping in the Spanish capital.
On more than one occasion, Gareth Bale has been criticized unfairly for his performances. But the Welshman’s performances in the past few seasons have been very hot and cold. This has merited some of the flack he receives. The winger would be a spectator on the pitch for large chunks of games. He would miss chances and seem out of sync with his teammates. However, he came up clutch in big games as seen by his equaliser against Barcelona and his wonder goal against Liverpool in the Champions League final. Such mercurial galacticos have often frustrated the Madrid fans. This is perhaps due to the unparalleled potential not coming through and definitely because of the price tag of the player. For all of Gareth Bale’s overlooked contribution to the team’s success, his performances have set the world alight all too often.
Final Nails in The Coffin
Bale was unfairly expected to replace one of the greatest players to ever play the sport after the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo in the summer of 2018. The 2018-19 season will be remembered for his absence more than any contribution. Bale missed large chunks of the season through injury. Even when fit, Zidane benched him. He fielded youngsters like Brahim, Vinicius, and Asensio as Madrid limped towards the end of the season. Zidane has also been very cold on talks over Bale as against his warmth for other under fire stars like Isco, Marcelo, Kroos, and Modric. He didn’t even bring on Bale as Real struggled against Betis during the final game of the season.
During his presser in Texas at Real Madrid’s pre-season tour, he publicly denounced Bale. The Frenchman said, “The sooner he leaves, the better it is for the squad”. It’s a classless statement for anyone to make, let alone someone as celebrated as Zidane. This is something that Real has to eliminate from their culture. Such thanklessness was last seen when Iker Casillas wept alone in a press conference to bid farewell to Real.
Madrid has signed Eden Hazard and the tiresome affair with Neymar continues. Luka Jovic and Rodrygo have also bolstered the frontline. With everything except his contract against him, Bale’s time at Madrid seems to be coming to a rather anticlimactic end.
Football often lives in the present and strives to excel in the future. However, romantics will relive Gareth Bale’s time at the biggest club in the world with awe and fondness. After all, four Champions Leagues is not par for the course, it’s an almighty albatross.