In the Summer of 2013 the one news story dominating the back pages was Gareth Bale’s ongoing transfer saga. This was finally brought to an end when Daniel Levy, the Tottenham chairman, eventually allowed Bale to leave for a reported record breaking sum of £85 million.
Upon signing for Real Madrid Bale declared, “I know many players talk of their desire to join the club of their boyhood dreams, but I can honestly say, this is my dream come true.”
On paper this looked like a magnificent deal for all three parties involved, Real got their next Galactico, Tottenham got a great deal with enough money to rebuild their team and Gareth Bale got his dream move. Everyone was satisfied, including the Madrid fans.
They had a new superstar to watch and another big name signing to reaffirm their status as the biggest club in the world. Any fans who may have been sceptical of Bale’s commitment to the club was surely won over by his efforts to endear himself to the supporters by speaking Spanish at his official presentation to the club’s fans.
It seemed that if Bale could settle into the Madrid team and their style of football then it could be the beginning of a long and successful career for him at Madrid, the only complication was the presence of former world player of the year, Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldo was, and still is, regarded as one of the best footballers in the world and since he signed for Madrid for a record breaking fee of £80 million in 2009 he has gone on to become the key man around which the core of the team is now built. This posed complications for Bale as his arrival was seen as a threat to Ronaldo’s status as the unquestioned superstar of Madrid.
The Portuguese international is often considered an egotistical player and upon Bale’s arrival, Real Madrid president Florentino Perez declared that Bale was not the most expensive player ever, allowing Ronaldo to keep his title and avoiding upsetting the balance of the team.
Bale seemed to understand the dynamic and the importance of Ronaldo to Madrid as shortly after arriving he paid deference to Ronaldo. In an interview he claimed that, “Obviously Cristiano Ronaldo for me is the best player in the world. He’s got everything as a footballer. And I’m going to be training with him and watching what he does and in games playing with him and learning off the best player.”
Bale understood and accepted that as long as Ronaldo was at Madrid then he would be playing second fiddle to him, he had to find his place in the team as a support player and not as the key man he once was at Tottenham.
The Welshman’s first season in La Liga started well after he scored 38 minutes into his debut against Villarreal, but following his debut Bale struggled with injury and he didn’t play a full 90 minutes until Real Madrid’s 7-3 victory against Sevilla on the 30th October. He scored two goals and claimed two assists in that match and following that Bale established himself as a key player in the first team playing regularly, mainly out on the right wing.
In the following weeks he registered six goals in seven games including a hat trick against Valladolid. Bale went on to help Real Madrid reach the final of the Spanish Cup and the Champions League final in 2014. The Spanish Cup final resulted in Madrid facing their fiercest rivals FC Barcelona.
This final became one of Bale’s crowning moments as a Madrid player. With six minutes to go in the match and the scores level, Bale picked up the ball just inside his own half. He knocked the ball down the line, past young Barcelona centre back Marc Bartra, and ran right round the outside of him. He sprinted half the length of the pitch and clean through on goal Bale simply rolled the ball under Barcelona keeper Pinto to claim a 2-1 victory for his team and his first trophy as a Madrid player.
Real’s entire season was dominated by their pursuit of, “La Decima,” their 10th Champions League title. In the final game of Bale’s debut season Real Madrid had the chance to achieve this feat with a win against their local rivals Atletico Madrid. After a last minute equaliser from Sergio Ramos Madrid made it to extra time before Bale was able to secure the winning goal with a close range header into an open net.
The goal might’ve been less spectacular than his one in the Copa del Rey final but it was arguably much more important. Bale scored the second goal in a 4-1 win and in doing so scored his second winning goal in a final for Madrid.
The Welshman ended his first season at Madrid with 44 appearances 22 goals and 16 assists in all competitions. He finished his first campaign at Madrid as a hero, he ensured himself of a place in the club’s history books and he was adored by the fans, it was the perfect end to a, “dream,” season for Gareth Bale.
Bale’s second season started with another trophy after a victory over Sevilla in the UEFA Super Cup but was then followed by a disappointing defeat to Atletico Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup. He started well with five goals in his next six games but then he went through a barren spell with one goal in seven games at club level.
At international level, however, he was turning in magnificent performances with two goals against Andorra and brilliant performances in two 0-0 results against superior teams in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Belgium.
He rediscovered the scoring touch at club level towards the end of 2014 with five more goals in six games including another goal in a 2-0 victory in the FIFA Club World Cup final. Both Real Madrid and Bale ended 2014 in great form with the club at the top of the league table, on a 22 game winning run and now World Champions.
Everything was running smoothly in the Welshman’s Madrid career up to this point but after the Winter break his form started to decline. In his 26 games in 2015 he has now only managed six goals and seven assists which by his, and Madrid’s, standards isn’t living up to expectations, especially when compared to Cristiano Ronaldo’s consistently impressive goal scoring exploits.
During Bale’s decline in form he has attracted increasing criticism from fans and pundits alike. After Madrid’s loss in El Clasico in March some of Madrid’s own fans started to turn on Bale attacking his car as he attempted to leave the stadium.
Although he has a similar playing style to Ronaldo, Bale has come in for criticism for being both lazy and selfish and he has become a lightning rod for any critique of Real in general. Bale has become a media scapegoat, he’s the one who is often singled out for failing to make the grade in terms of his performance level.
The Madrid hierarchy seem to offer Bale little support and it’s left to his agent to come to his defence. Bale’s own teammate Ronaldo has, in recent games, appeared visibly angry at some of his decision making, especially when he chooses to shoot or go on his own rather than look for the pass. Even when Bale scored twice against Levante this still didn’t seem to please Ronaldo.
Following Real Madrid’s disappointing 2-1 defeat to Juventus in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final ITV pundit Roy Keane claimed Madrid were practically playing with 10 men and accused Bale of, “giving absolutely nothing,” to his team.
The Champions League was Bale’s only shot at redemption this season, had he been able to win it again then maybe his poor performances would’ve been excused. However, following a 1-1 draw in the second leg Madrid went out and once again he was the object of the fans dissatisfaction. Bale was abused by the fans for a second time as he attempted to leave the stadium in his car.
With growing criticism, frustration from his teammates, little support from his club and upset fans it appears increasingly likely that Bale’s time at Madrid is coming to an end. With some pundits questioning whether or not Bale and Ronaldo can even play together, the Welshman’s future is looking bleak.
There Is a growing tension between the former Spurs man and Ronaldo, and the latter always has the backing of the adoring Madridista’s, this leaves Bale more and more isolated. Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti did recently attempt to defend him but following his departure from the club, he could well be next on the list to make an exit.
In the eyes of Madrid fans Bale has gone from hero to villain all in the course of less than two years at Madrid and his apparent falling out with Ronaldo is at the centre of it. With persistent rumours about his imminent departure, which his agent recently denied on twitter, Bale’s future seems to lie away from the Bernabeu with a return to the Premier League a likely destination.
However, the Welshman remains determined to turn things around and win the fans back over. To do this he will need to find a way to work with Ronaldo, score goals and win trophies. This is clearly a tough ask for any player but Bale has the ability, the only question is does he still have the desire to fight the critics and fight for his future at Madrid?