Gareth Bale is having a hard time at Real Madrid. The Welsh winger has divided opinion ever since his €100 million move from Tottenham in the summer of 2013 and faces an uncertain future at the Spanish side.
Los Blancos’ best player earlier on in the season, the 28-year-old received fresh flak last week for his muted celebrations on the bench during Real’s 3-0 win at Juventus and was criticised again at the weekend despite setting up a goal for Cristiano Ronaldo in the 1-1 draw with Atletico on Sunday.
“Nothing that Bale does is worth €100 million,” former Real forward and coach Jorge Valdano said on Spanish radio station Onda Cero this week. “And that is the price he carries around on his shirt.”
Unfortunately for the player, that is indeed true. Injuries have hampered the winger’s time at Madrid and just when he seems to back in full flow, he is often struck down with a new problem. In total, he has had 15 separate injuries in his time at Real and often, those issues have been recurring.
It is easy to forget, however, that he has been an important player for Madrid in his five seasons at the Santiago Bernabeu. In his debut campaign, he netted a superb goal in the final of the Copa del Rey against Barcelona, following that up with a key strike in the Champions League win over Atletico. He also played a big part as Real won the trophy again in 2016-17.
Zidane said from day one that his plan was to play with “the three in attack” – Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo. However, after an injury-hit 2017-18 season which saw the winger benched for the Champions League final against Juventus in his native Cardiff, Madrid were willing to sell the former Tottenham midfielder.
Bale, though, did not want to move. The 28-year-old likes living in Madrid, enjoys the Spanish weather and also the golf – his big hobby away from the football pitch. So he stood firm and there was little the club could do.
The winger’s reluctance to leave meant Madrid had to shelve their plans to sign Kylian Mbappe from Monaco and with no new forward brought in, the side struggled for goals ealy in the season, falling off the pace in La Liga.
Bale still has some problems with the language and is an isolated figure at Real, not really close to any of his team-mates. And sometimes that detachment can show on the pitch, where it is noted that it is the Welshman out there on his own, scarcely communicating with the rest.
Zidane has continued to back his player publicly, yet his responses to the press have not always been convincing and after the 5-3 win at Betis in which Bale was a peripheral figure, he simply said: “Gareth played his game.”
He has also left the winger out of the team’s three Champions League knockout games this season – home and away to Paris Saint-Germain, and then against Juve in Italy last week.
In the meantime, the Frenchman has spoken of Bale being “important”, but said similar last year of James Rodriguez, who ultimately ended up leaving the club. Theirs is certainly not a broken relationship, but nor can it be described as a warm one.
“Gareth is a Real Madrid player and loves Real Madrid and Real Madrid love Gareth,” the player’s agent Jonathan Barnett told ESPN on Tuesday. “All this talk about leaving is written by reporters who have no idea what is going on and who need to write something and don’t care if it is true or not.”
Some of those reporters, however, have a direct line to the Madrid presidency and if a Spanish television editorial is saying that Bale should be sold, it is because their information is coming right from the top.
But Bale will not be bullied and nor should he be. He has helped Real win major prizes during his time in Spain and deserves much more credit for his role at the club. Not that any of that will stop Madrid from trying to sell him again this summer.