Bale will always be a golfer to Real
Even in Gareth Bale’s greatest moment at Real Madrid there was contention.
The scorer of arguably the best goal in a Champions League final, with his overhead kick to break Liverpool hearts in Kiev in 2018, was only on the pitch as a substitute having been left out of the team.
Afterwards he was unhappy and spoke about leaving the club. “I need to be playing week in, week out and that’s not happened this season,” Bale said as the ticker tape and confetti fell on Real’s fourth Champions League title in five years.
“I had an injury five, six weeks into the season, but I have been fit ever since. I have to sit down with my agent in the summer and discuss it.”
In hindsight, it would have been the ideal time to go and the winger’s departure from Real then would probably have provoked a different reaction from that of relief that “The Golfer” – as Bale cruelly and unfairly became known – has finally left.
No one expects him to go back when his season-long loan ends and certainly not if Zinedine Zidane, who gave up on even trying to hide his disdain, remains as coach. What kind of legacy will Bale leave? In terms of statistics and achievements and, yes, salary, he is unquestionably the most successful British footballer ever to play overseas.
And yet his portrayal in Spain has centred more on his injury record which, admittedly, has not been good, and apparent “off-field controversies” – according to the newspaper ‘AS’ – which amount to a liking for golf and a dislike for late nights.
Maybe Bale, a shy character, did not integrate into the Real dressing-room enough, but that was difficult at first with the dominance of Cristiano Ronaldo, who was apparently hardly warm towards him while the story developed – not helped by comments from goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois – that the Welshman did not adapt to the Spanish way of life.
There were also false claims, which are often repeated, that Bale failed to learn the language, although it is true that he is a reluctant speaker which, again, did not go down well and created the impression of being remote. At a club like Real Madrid it is important to front up.
After Kiev it was Zidane – and Ronaldo – who left and it was Bale’s opportunity, encouraged by president Florentino Perez, to become the main man and take the “Cristiano role”. Maybe he just did not have the presence and personality to carry that off and it is probably a fair accusation levelled at him that he did not grasp his chance. At the same time, it became increasingly difficult as Real struggled. The criticism that can be levelled at Bale is this: did he then do enough to either adapt, fight, or did he withdraw further? It appeared he was guilty to a degree of the latter and that hit its heights when there was the jokey banner of “Wales. Golf. Madrid” unfurled on international duty which caused such consternation in Spain.
For Bale, such an exciting player and yet denied the chance to play, and in that unforgiving, unrelenting glare, it must have been tough. And although there will be fascination as to what kind of player will return to Tottenham, the hope will be that – at least – there will be one who is finally liberated from feeling like a scapegoat trapped in a golden cage.
Last season, after Real messed up by not allowing him to leave for China, Bale barely played and offence was taken in Spain at every image of him sitting in the stands. He now stood accused of being lazy and even disrespectful. By the end he was on the periphery in title celebrations or not even travelling with the squad – he was not at Real’s Champions League defeat away to Manchester City.
It was claimed he was stubbornly sitting out the remainder of his astronomical contract, even if it meant his career suffered. At least that has changed. How will he be remembered in Madrid? Given he was the world’s most expensive player when he joined in 2013, the verdict seems to be that he was a good player who produced some great moments.